Black Flag - Who's Got the 10 1/2? (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Black Flag

Who's Got the 10 1/2? (1986)

SST Records

Named after some bizarre Rollins stage banter that may have been commentary of the “macho” punk scene… or may have just been some freak-deeky ranting… Who’s Got the 10 ½? captured Black Flag in their second to last incarnation. Of course, long running members Greg Ginn and Henry Rollins were the focal points of the band, but bassist Kira Roessler was still adding her unique popping bass. Unfortunately, drummer Bill Stevenson had been removed from the group with the mostly unknown Anthony Martinez stepping in. Within a year, Roessler, of course, would be replaced by C’el Revuelta, and the band would shamble to an end with what Ginn once masochistically referred to as the greatest Black Flag lineup… ugh.

But, while the seams were splitting during the 10 ½ era, the band was still a of nasty, is somewhat loose, unit. “I’m the one” found Ginn merging punk and metal into undulating menacing riffs while Rollins was in pure mania-mode, his voice already shredded before taking the mic. Rollins doesn’t speak very fondly of this time period in his books, but it sure does sound like he’s enjoying being the unhinged madman on stage.

To a degree, this explains part of Ginn’s actions. As Ginn broke further and further from standard hardcore, and as Rollins became more and more a focal point, Ginn’s unusual and often difficult compositions seem to try to draw listeners back towards him, even if it was in confusion –something Ginn seemed to enjoy immensely. That being said, not all of these tracks are used to their full potential. Martinez doesn’t have the power of Biscuits, the style of Stevenson, or the unrelenting machination of Robo, resulting in a somewhat lagging band. Take “Annihilate” for example. The studio version rumbles like a tank, but here it had somewhat of an iron deficiency. It doesn’t help that Ginn seemed to purposefully sink the “Easier” material in favor of the more complex lines- see also “Wasted” and the monotonous “Gimme Gimme Gimme” jam.

Likewise, Rollins had completely formed the older Black Flag songs into his own mode and the humor of songs like “Wasted” was gone, resulting in a somewhat dry take of the tune. It was a bit of a teeth clincher when he yelled “oh yeah!” in an almost Motley Crue take.

But, 10 ½ did have its merits. If anything, it showed that the later tunes could pack a punch when properly executed. Songs like “Bastard in Love” and “In My Head,” when removed from their underbaked studio takes and performed in a full-power context, really are interesting new takes on punk, or at least, alt-rock and were as unique as they were invigorating. Plus, the here-and-there Black Sabbath aping really was used in a thrilling, unexpected new context. “Modern Man” crushed.

10 ½ served as an important document as Black Flag at its most removed from its origins. Perhaps the record’s most effective function as that the later-day Black Flag songs not only had potential, but when that potential was utilized, there were depths to the band that had previously only existed in slight glimmers. It was a shame then, that the band would collapse so soon after wards, and it’s a double shame, that there were no live documents of the band during its classic era(s).