On the way home last night I started out with a bad bus experience (as in, the first bus wasn’t going where I wanted to go, and the second one didn’t stop). When I finally did get on board my foul mood was almost immediately cured by an older lady who decided to engage me in conversation (even though my headphones make it very clear I don’t want to engage in conversation).
She told me with great delight how she was busing downtown to get sweet and sour dipping sauce at McDonald’s, then off to Burger King to get chicken nuggets and finally to 7-11 for a “drink” (she was less specific on the drink, but I’m certain she had something in mind).
She looked like someone with very little money who had lived a hard life but her eyes sparkled with joy over her dinner plans. It reminded me to appreciate the little things and not get too wrapped up in minor inconveniences. So thanks Random Bus Lady, for getting me back on the path.
Disc 1126 is… Weight
Artist: Rollins Band
Year of Release: 1994
What’s up with the Cover? Feathers fall. Given the album’s title, maybe the idea here I that even a feather has weight.
How I Came To Know It: I knew the single “Liar” from when it came out, but it was my friend Andrew who recently suggested I start my Rollins Band journey here. Well done, Andrew!
How It Stacks Up: I have a Black Flag album featuring Henry Rollins, but this is my only Rollins Band album…so far. I feel like that is going to change.
Ratings: 5 stars
This album was a revelation, a mix of insight, groove and directed fury. When Rollins shocks you (and he does) he shocks you with purpose, a musical assault designed to shake you by the shoulders and wake you up.
“Weight” walks a line between punk, hard core and groove metal with an easy grace that showcases Henry Rollins at his most fearless and creative. Like all great records, “Weight” knows exactly what it wants to be and the confidence in that vision gives the record momentum that sweeps in and takes you for a ride.
Rollins alternates between a spoken word style (he is also a spoken word performer) and a raspy punk-metal delivery that reminded me a little of Pantera’s Phil Anselmo. The music follows suit, occasionally low and atmospheric, but more often crunching out metal riffs that are sharp and clear and hit you right in the spine. A lot of bands in 1994 were trying to fuzz up their sound, and I appreciate that the Rollins Band keeps things crisp without sacrificing one iota of heavy.
However, “Weight” is more than just guitar riffs and power (and the occasional tasteful bass solo). This is a record with something to say – hardly surprising when Henry Rollins is on the microphone.
So many angry albums are accusatory, but “Weight” is equally reflective, with Rollins openly sharing his anxieties and fears. “Disconnect” is all about the crushing mental paralysis that comes from thinking too much. Most smart people have some version of the hamster wheel in their head, and Rollins is open about his struggles in keeping it under control. On the surface the song is an appeal to disconnect, but it is more accurately about finding balance when your mind is racing.
The album doesn’t shy away from social issues, but Rollins approaches his topics as an individual, eschewing campaign slogans and stereotypes and greeting the listener person to person. Does he take sides? You bet he does, but he won’t put himself into a mold. On “Civilized” he delivers a rage-laden anti-gun message where he calls out criminals and police with equal vitriol. Don’t like that comparison? Rollins didn’t want you to. He isn’t demanding that his listeners agree, but he is pushing you to see things from a new angle.
“Wrong Man” is a direct appeal to treat each person you meet on their own merits – it seems obvious but we all need to guard against past experiences clouding our judgment about new people. It’s also a reminder that like that lady on the bus, most people are pretty decent if you give them a chance.
By taking the role of the villain in “Liar”, Rollins is able explore just how manipulators manipulate and how to stop them. Rollins himself is quite a fast-talker but he never uses his powers for evil. On “Liar” he shows how ugly the people who do are inside.
The album ends with “Shine” a groovy and inspiring anthem about self-empowerment. But make no mistake, this isn’t Disney-style empowerment, nor is it some kind of New Age “everyone is special/no one is special” logic loop. This is a kick-in-the-pants call to action because life is short, and if you want to make a difference you better get at it right now. As Rollins puts it:
“I’m talking to you. Hero time starts right now
If you think you’ve got 100 extra years to mess around, you’re wrong.
This time, it’s real. Your time is now. It’s hero time.”
Rollins is empowering you but he is also calling you out. You wanna be a liar or you wanna be a hero? It’s time to pick a side. This song fills me with an unnatural vigor every time I hear it.
In fact, this whole album filled with positive energy and a feeling like every moment counts. “Weight” can be angry, and it can be accusatory in places, but it is an album that at its core is about making the world a better place, one person at a time. That’s five stars of kick-ass in my books.
Best tracks: all tracks, but I particularly love Disconnect, Civilized, Liar, Step Back, Wrong Man and Shine. Oh whatever – just listen to the whole thing.