For a minute, many moons ago, Flotsam & Jetsam was poised to move into the upper echelon of thrash bands. They came along in the first wave of thrashers, releasing an absolute monster in their debut, 1986’s Doomsday For The Deceiver, before famously losing their bassist to Metallica. Even then, their trajectory continued upward – for a short while, at least. Their high-watermark was (and seemingly forever will be) their sophomore effort, 1988’s No Place For Disgrace.
Disgrace saw Flotsam sign with Elektra Records, a short-lived relationship that produced only this one outing. But what a great record No Place For Disgrace was (and is). Most everything came up Milhouse for Flotsam in 1988: Two records in by then, and even with the bassist switch, the band had gelled. The performances on No Place were stellar. Disgrace also had a great batch of songs (minus one, to be discussed later), the best even better than those on Doomsday. Inoffensive in the moment, Disgrace’s production would later prove dated, like so many thrash albums of the day. It was thin and lacking a certain punch, though admittedly not as much so as some other offerings by Flotsam’s peers. (I’m looking at you, Practice What You Preach.)
Post-Disgrace, the upswing didn’t last. The band didn’t graduate to the top tier. Elektra failed them; Flotsam floated to MCA, released one further production-challenged thrasher and a series of radio-friendly (and radio-ignored) efforts. Nothing worked, and the band would sink beneath the waves, forever to be the Thrash Band That Coulda Been A Contender.
Now, some twenty-five years later, Flotsam is re-visiting their finest hour, re-recording the entire album since they don’t own the master tapes. According to the press materials, this latest Disgrace is designed to correct the original’s production concerns. Maybe it is, and that’s a noble effort, or maybe it’s a cash-grab – the cynical amongst us will decry it as such, I’m certain. Either way, the band now owns recordings of the songs that comprise the best album it ever recorded, and that’s something in its own right…
Except that every Flotsam fan, even the most casual one, already has this album.
So there’s no really compelling reason to buy it again, if you want to get down to it, unless you’re just a Flots maniac. The new version is punchier, more modern – that much is true, but it’s hardly enough to truly change the game. The old version isn’t unlistenable – sure, it’s dated, but so is …And Justice For All, and neither Disgrace nor that record features Jason Newsted. (Thanks – I’ll be here all week.) This new version is exactly what it says – a re-visiting, but it’s more the Gus Van Zant version of Psycho than it is a Dark-Knight-esque reboot of a struggling franchise. It goes through the motions, frame by frame, adds some color that wasn’t there before – it plays the part, speaks the lines, walks the walk, but to what end?
Still, in either version, No Place For Disgrace is Flotsam’s best, though it isn’t quite perfect: There is a bad apple in Disgrace’s bunch, the head-scratching inclusion of a Flots-ized cover of one of classic rock’s most god-awful tunes, “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting.” Being as that track was the single, the video, the “hit,” here it is again, re-recorded and still terrible. (I cop to loving 70s Elton John, but that song is as lame as its titular grammatical error. Kill it with fire.) Discounting that one track, which I highly recommend doing, No Place For Disgrace shreds from top to bottom, a cross between power and thrash metals, all soaring vocals and fiery riffs that the band would never again equal.
Vocalist Erik AK has always been Flotsam’s foremost feature, and he still sounds great, two-and-a-half decades later. He can’t quite hit those piercing highs like he used to, but most of his range has aged very gracefully. Doomsday and Disgrace are the only times his performance doesn’t overshadow the rest of the band, largely because they’re the only discs upon which the songs and the riffs are strong enough to stand equal to him.
Flotsam die-hards will surely buy this, but there’s little need to. You’ve heard this before, quite literally. If you haven’t, if you don’t own Disgrace, then correct that mistake immediately. Either version will do, although the historian in me will forever say “Go with the original,” and I can’t quite quiet that inner voice. I wish Flotsam had added any kind of a bonus to this 2014 incarnation – a previously unheard track, demos, live versions, anything to sweeten the deal.
Still, if re-playing and re-issuing their best is what it takes for Flotsam to recapture the light of their halcyon days, then I’m all for it. If this does that, then I’ll buy a copy right now. But my inner cynic says that No Place 2014 is a band repackaging a product that they had to recreate in order to control, to profit from. There’s some tragic nobility in that, but it’s not a particularly creative one.
I love old Flotsam, and this is old Flotsam, even if it’s new. I don’t want another version of No Place For Disgrace – I want another record that rips like it.