It’s still mindblowing that some people genuinely believe that music and politics shouldn’t mix, given that the two have gone hand in hand since the 1940s and, in such a hostile climate where something new to rally against comes up seemingly everyday, the most populist way to get that message across proves to sometimes be the only effective one. A band like Anti-Flag have made that their entire M.O., staunchly relaying their anti-war and sociopolitical standpoints through the classic medium of highly-charged punk. What’s more, the ongoing turbulence only seems to galvanise them more with each time; for an album with a name and artwork as evocative as American Fall, the chances of this album being a restrained affair are fairly slim.
And while eleven albums in, Anti-Flag are still charging with some degree of incendiary purpose, American Fall isn’t exactly their most bracing album to date. In terms of a full-throated broadside aimed directly at the United States’ current political landscape the band are pulling any punches here, but the cracks of a band nearly three decades into their career are beginning to break through to the surface now. For the most part, American Fall is more of a mid-paced effort, heading further down the pop-punk route sonically that the band have flirted with in the past in what feels like the partial influence of Good Charlotte’s Benji Madden as co-producer. It all means that tracks like The Criminals and I Came. I Saw. I Believed aren’t as fiery as the potentially could be, and while by no means toothless, it’s hard to avoid thinking how much harder this album could have hit with a bit more bite to it; just look at Liar for the best example of that, driven by Chris #2’s prominent bassline and with the sort of stampeding pace that drives home the fact that this band aren’t resting on their laurels just yet.
On a similar note, there is an overall benefit for American Fall going down this route, namely the fact that, while broader, the message does hit on a wider scale. Put next to an album like Green Day’s Revolution Radio, American Fall still comes from a band who clearly still believe in their punk ethos, and tailoring their sound for wider appeal with keeping that integrity intact does work overall. Of course there are odd moments where Anti-Flag veer away from their desired results, like the ill-advised ska-punk of When The Wall Falls, but with their big, power-chord-driven hooks and production that admittedly does feel slightly truncated but keeps a lot of the main intent, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to suggest that tracks like Racists and Casualty could slot between blink-182 or modern Green Day without much disturbance. Even better is when the band do go darker and push themselves a bit further, like the aforementioned Liar or the darker, more outwardly aggressive guitar tones of American Attraction and Digital Blackout.
Even then, the music is largely peripheral to the message, something that mightn’t see Anti-Flag breaking new ground, especially for them, but hitting the same bullseyes that continue to remain relevant taking points. Racists serves as something of a lynchpin here, denouncing the sort of bigoted attitudes that have become worrying common in the US especially, while The Criminals and Liar attack a government that allows such behaviour to slip through the net while simultaneously running the country into the ground. Coupled with tracks like American Attraction and Throw It Away that round out a picture of America as a particularly grim place at the minute, Anti-Flag’s disillusionment is one that feels entirely convincing.
That’s why, for as much as American Fall‘s fire simmers rather than rages, it still works overall. Putting it alongside Revolution Radio again, Anti-Flag feel nowhere near as cynical or old as other bands vying for similarly broad social commentary, and their persistence in biting lyrical detail is still commendable, even thirty years in. American Fall mightn’t be their crowning achievement, but to see Anti-Flag continuing as a force for good when so many punk acts of their vintage would be more than happy to play it safe is what automatically earns them a lot of good will. That the music itself continues to be as enjoyable as it is is definitely a nice bonus.
For fans of: Green Day, Billy Talent, Rise Against
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘American Fall’ by Anti-Flag is released on 3rd November on Spinefarm Records.