I think you got a low self-opinion, man," Henry Rollins bellows at the opening of his last album, The End of Silence, sounding like a rock & roll motivational counselor. On Weight he and his cohorts (guitarist Chris Haskett, bassist Melvin Gibbs and soundman Theo Van Rock) come pounding back with similarly expurgatory material castigating weakness, lies and ignorance, praising self-confidence and growth with similarly cathartic results.
If anything can be said about Rollins, it's that he has energy to burn. In fact, it's no small marvel that he could tear himself away from his other roles spokenword performer, music publisher and columnist long enough to record a new album, let alone one that applies his gifts so well. He may not have said, "The unexamined life is not worth living," but he sure lives by it and be forewarned: He exposes raw nerves and rails against perceived injustice at full tilt. What keeps Rollins from sounding preachy is the allencompassing nature of his rage: When he focuses his anger outward, he doesn't spare himself a single lash of fury (his muttered "You're so fucking weak" on "Step Back" gives you the feeling he could be talking into a mirror).
Falling in the cracks between his hardcore punk roots and the nouveau metal of, say, Soundgarden, the band's skintight grooves admirably support Rollins' vocals, shouting rants not too far removed from rap. Ice-T's work on Body Count keeps coming to mind by way of comparison, particularly on "Civilized," an undulating slice of street life that dissects the illusory sense of power a gun can bring. At its best on such tracks as "Civilized," "Alien Blueprint" and "Shine" the album delivers in a way dub poetry can, helping you forget that there's no vocal melody to speak of.
The band deserves a lot of credit for this; it has all the versatility and raw virtuosity of Bad Brains and keeps Weight sounding fresh from track to track. With Haskett's imaginative guitar work standing out, the group can throw down the odd Hendrix hook ("Step Back"), do some muscular riffing ("Fool") and surprise with the spooky textures that embellish "Tired."
Rollins' lyrics focus almost exclusively on issues relating to personal integrity, and even the simplest conceit can turn into gold in his hands. For instance, "Liar" seems unremarkable, even a bit hackneyed, in its portrayal of a liar, until Rollins gives it a brilliant spin: After being exposed, the liar seduces his victim anew with a hilarious mock-sincere apology ("I will never lie to you again/Because now I see the destructive power of a lie"). Songs such as "Volume 4," a catalog of despair over a dead friend, and the coming-of-age tale "Alien Blueprint" work similar magic.
It's only when Rollins takes on an issue larger than his personal experience that the approach breaks down: In "Wrong Man," his response to female fear of male violence is to take it personally, trivializing that fear and making him sound touchy ("I'm not a rapist in waiting/I'm not the one you should be hating").
Even when he overreaches, however, he can make you think. Rollins' judgments generally center on the kind of things people agree on when they can't agree on much else: Lies hurt people; praise can go to your head; you can't let other people run your life. That such mundane messages could sound so gripping so essential is worthy testimony to the force of his music and his talent for keeping a finger on the pulse of his rage. (RS 680)
(Posted: Apr 21, 1994)
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