Gone Fishin’
Public Flipper Limited
Sex Bomb Baby!


Going against the grain of early ’80s hardcore, an oeuvre itself considered to be antithetical to popular music of the time and even, to some degree, its punk heritage, Flipper was never cut out for success. In fact, the band seemed to revel in its born to lose stature, stridently keeping to its perspicacious vision of chaotic minimalism while gleefully exploring its own ennui. Nevertheless, the band eventually won the respect, if not the hearts, of its hardcore brethren, and is now considered groundbreakers in an eventually stagnant scene.

Like its peers, Flipper built its reputation on its live shows, which in the San Francisco band’s case often denigrated into a test of wills between band, audience and venue. But with debut Generic, Flipper proved themselves capable on wax. The album is considered a classic, and for good reason. The band balances pugnacious attitude with fanciful, sonic experimentation and cathartic energy (when it’s needed). “Life Is Cheap” “The Way of the World” are stocked with simple, but poignant social commentary, while “Sex Bomb Baby” buoyantly builds upon three chords and a simple refrain into a wooly and wild skronk romp. Generic is a masterstroke that shouldn’t be underestimated.

Generic, follow-up Gone Fishin’, singles collection Sex Bomb Baby and live compendium Public Flipper Limited (its title a jab at PIL, who purportedly lifted the idea for their Album from Flipper) have all been reissued recently by Water Records, remastered to bolster the sound as much as can be expected and with new commentary from Henry Rollins, Krist Novoselic (fill-in bassist on the band’s recent reunion), King Buzzo, and Steven Blush (author of American Hardcore), all of whom ardently profess their love of the band.

Though Flipper never really topped Generic, each of the band’s subsequent records are more than worthwhile listens. Sex Bomb Baby, whose odds and ends span between ’79 and ’82, is highlighted by “Ha Ha Ha,” a sizzling indictment of suburban life, and “Brainwash,” a scatological 26-second refrain repeated over and over in a manner worthy of its namesake. Gone Fishin’, released in 1984, hints at directions the band may have eventually taken, with new instruments and less direct song approaches, had the band not splintered in 1987, right before bassist Will Shatter’s overdose. PFL isn’t quite the same without the accompanying board game into which the original vinyl version’s sleeve could be converted, but still hasn’t lost any piquancy in the last 20 years.

Like the west coast equivalent to Mission of Burma, Flipper was both of the times and dislocated from them. The sloppy mesh of creativity, leftfield ideas, and wry humor they brought to a genre supposedly rooted in free-thinking, but often stifled by its own signifiers, was truly singular, and these records are clearly incriminating evidence of just that.
Stephen Slaybaugh