This week it’s a look back to 1994 and the height of what came to be known as “alt-metal.” It was a strange time where a lot of different sounds got airplay as the fallout from 1991 left room for a variety of acts to get a moment in the sun. Our subject today would see his most commercially successful effort here. It would divide long-time fans and those who came on with the album but also serve as a point where he entered the wider public consciousness, a place where he has hung out in various forms since.
Rollins Band – Weight
Released April 12, 1994 via Imago Records
My Favorite Tracks – Volume 4, Disconnect, Divine Object Of Hatred
Weight was the fourth album from Rollins Band and came after a complete reconfiguration of the band, save namesake frontman Henry Rollins. Henry had done a lot to this point as the former vocalist of punk icons Black Flag, as well as a series of books and spoken-word albums on top of the Rollins Band.
Nothing about Henry Rollins screamed “put me on MTV and make me a star” but that is exactly what happened in 1994. Weight and its hit single would lift Rollins’ profile into the mainstream, where he remains a figure across several mediums to this day. Between acting, novels and his renowned spoken word tours, Henry Rollins has become a wizened “aging alternative icon” (his own words), and Weight is where the spotlight would first shine.
Anyone looking for Weight on Spotify will be disappointed, for reasons unknown to me most of the Rollins Band catalog isn’t there. It does appear in full audio form on YouTube, its digital presence is otherwise scarce.
Leading off is one of the album’s two singles and the lesser-celebrated one. No matter, the song is still worthy and one of the album’s highlights.
Disconnect is an anthem about getting away from all the information and chilling out. The notable thing about it is that it was written in 1993 and released in 1994, when the Internet was just getting out there. This isn’t a disconnect from the Internet, it’s a disconnect from the general shit of society that was still ever present even before the ‘Net.
The music employs a groovy feel along with a heaviness that stands out from the crowd and flows throughout the album. Henry Rollins and his talk/shout style of vocal delivery might be unconventional but works very well across the soundtrack to the shit that goes through his head.
The second track tells the tale of getting caught up in the wrong kind of lover and the feelings of uselessness and shame that come with that. It’s a well-versed song that communicates a message far too many of us have learned the hard way, sometimes more than once.
A fast-paced banger that outlines the rise and fall of a musical celebrity. I don’t know the backstory of the song so I’m not sure if it was just something Henry came up with or if it’s actually about someone in the industry. Around the time of the song there were many rock stars falling from grace so it can be seen as a look at how things really went even if it’s not based off anyone in particular. And the song is another shining example of how metal and groove can work together well, a lesson we’ve learned a lot about since.
This harsh track sees Henry lamenting the life of crime and gun culture. It’s a topic close to home for Henry, who lost his best friend Joe Cole in an armed robbery outside their Venice Beach house in 1991, which Henry was able to escape from.
The song does not hold back and equates the armed criminal to the vulgar slang for that which hunts the criminal. For an album full of hard-spoken moments, Civilized is one where Henry is speaking straight from hard-earned experience.
Divine Object Of Hatred
It’s a masochistic turn into being the whipping boy here, as Henry is torn apart by people who can’t stand his existence. No telling where this song came from but it’s a pretty grisly and hard look at being a scapegoat. It’s also a very groovy tune for its hardcore subject matter.
This was a song that the band would jam out to in rehearsal as a warm-up. Someone from the record label told them they had something there and should make a full song out of it. After doing so, Rollins and company figured they had a b-side at best. The label disagreed and fought for Liar to be released as the lead single.
The label won the argument, of course. And the label was right.
The song keeps it quiet in the verses as Henry outlines how he takes advantage of someone’s fragile psyche and becomes a personal messiah. Then the very simple yet iconic chorus kicks up the volume while Henry screams “I’m a liar!” It’s the little twist in the adversarial relationship – Rollins is often talk/shouting about being on the “good” side of such things but in Liar he is playing the villain. And Rollins plays his part well. The third verse especially is a great example of acting in song, going from the plea for forgiveness into the inevitable result is just great song-work.
The song hit the Billboard charts and the video was a constant showcase on MTV. I’d wager that the video’s influence far outshines any charts or sales figures, everyone was abuzz about Liar in 1994. It’s odd to call a punk and alternative icon like Henry Rollins a one-hit wonder, but in the case of Liar, he truly was.
And for Rollins he wishes the one hit was anything else. Liar has become a bit of a pariah in the Rollins Band lexicon. I can understand it – the song was conceived in a jam session and was aired out as a warm-up joke, then it becomes the one song out of a long career that breaks mainstream. It goes to show the unpredictability of music and hit making. It also took someone who was a figurehead of the DIY punk ethos and made him a mainstream darling, something that did rankle long-time Rollins fans while also exposing him to a whole host of people who hadn’t previously heard of him. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
For my money, I think Liar is a great song. I’ve never been one to feel a band should be ashamed of making a hit or of more public exposure. Rollins can, of course, feel however he wishes about his art, but the merits of Liar and Weight have been something I’ve argued with others about on this here Internet many times over the years. And I don’t apologize for liking it more than other stuff he’s done that 35 people saw live in a bowling alley parking lot.
This is a super heavy tune about confrontation and adversity. It’s basically Rollins punking someone out and it works very well. It’s a great song to get pumped up for working out or, uh, confronting someone I guess.
The song deals with the issue of dating life and specifically not being like other guys who have been shitty to women. The song is fine but I’ve honestly never got that much into the subject matter. Back then I didn’t care because I’d never experienced anything like that. In these times the song feels a bit off – like, if some woman doesn’t want to date you for whatever reason, just go date someone else. I don’t know that a song-length treatise about how “I’m not that man” is really necessary. But here it is just the same.
This is a doom-influenced, plodding number that explores everyone’s favorite topic, the futility of existence and the existential crisis. The song is sometimes titled “Volume” as opposed to Volume 4 in some mediums. I don’t know why, I would hazard a guess that Volume 4 is used for the Black Sabbath reference as Henry is a huge fan.
The song stands apart from the rest of the album – here the groovy heaviness pounds the hopeless lyrics into the listener’s head. It is a wonderfully orchestrated dirge that culminates in the savage line “I walk around from day to day and wait around to die – like He did.” The capitalized “He” being an obvious reference and really bringing the brutality of the song home.
Things chill out for a moment, at least musically. It’s a trippy, sort of psychedelic jam that seems a bit out of place for the straightedge and straightforward Rollins. Lyrically it is the same sort of vibe as the prior track and being tired of stuff is a pretty universal thread.
The album ends with two motivational or self-help tracks. This song outlines the futile grind of trying to fit in with a crowd that doesn’t want you. It’s better to be yourself and move on from the problem. It’s a pretty nice song and it switches direction quite a bit after the doom and gloom of the preceding few songs.
Another “self-help” track that gets into how there’s no time to mope around and the time is now to get it done. Though it’s odd subject matter for the sort of music I’m into the song does work well.
Weight would be the one true brush with success for the Rollins Band. It placed far higher on the Billboard charts than the band’s other work and Liar was a mega-hit on the airwaves. The group would not equal the feat with any future material and Rollins would eventually lay the band to rest in later years. Rollins himself would go on to acting roles, being a frequent contributor to music-related TV shows, hosting a long-running radio program and expanding on his spoken-word touring. To date he has remained in the public eye through many avenues.
No matter how Henry feels about his hit song, Liar and Weight fit right in the 1994 scene, with rock and metal going in every different direction after the cataclysm of 1991. You truly can just yell over your music and make something of it, provided you actually have something worth yelling about.
2 thoughts on “Album Of The Week – April 18, 2022”
Was never a fan of Rollins. But your review is written so well that I’m going over to YT to listen.
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It was kind of odd to spend money on a CD full of someone essentially yelling at you.
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