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Howard Zinn once said that, “Civil Disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience“, and that’s something that punk rock bands like Pittsburgh’s Anti-Flag take to heart so much that they’re ripping right into their goddamn ribcages.
From one side of neat perspective, America, at times, seems like a boiling pot of riots, protests happening every week or so, right-wing douche canoes holding back basic human rights, and endless debates about gun laws. Perhaps that’s why so many punk rock bands aim their sights on the political spectrum. Anti-Flag have been speaking out, talking back, and raising awareness to a host of local and international issues for yonks now, and this record is no different in that sense.
Yes, in the sense of critiquing modern politics and bullshit policies, ‘American Spring’ is Anti-Flag through and through, but this is by long and far the most accessible album they’ve made to date. That’s right, more so than ‘The Bright Lights Of America’.
Much like older songs such as ‘Turncoat’, ‘The Ghosts Of Alexandria’, ‘The Bright Lights Of America’ (the song, not the album) and ‘Cities Burn’, this album is centred on the choruses, on the anthems, on having uplifting choruses, and on being far more melodic. That’s not a bad thing per se, but the album sometimes lacks the urgency and aggression that made ‘The Terror State’ and ‘For Blood And Empire’ such fantastic listens to begin with. ‘The Debate Is Over’, ‘Low Expectations’, ‘Without End’ and ‘Fabled World’ are the main songs that come to mind when discussing this album’s catchier moments. While you wouldn’t call this record a full fledged pop-punk record, it’s not quite the angry Anti-Flag of the earlier days (who has been missing in action for several years now and whose family have practically given up hope on) maybe save for ‘The Great Divide‘ and ‘To Hell With Boredom‘. So, maybe pop-punk in the sense that NOFX and The Descendants are pop-punk, ya feel? Finally, the four-piece seems to take a few cues from The Clash and dive into old school punk with ‘Brandenburg Gate’, which also features some added guitars and vocals from Rancid’s very own Tim Armstrong.
Of course things still remain political, and the band keeps their guns cocked and loaded with ‘Sky Is Falling’, which takes a shot at the U.S’s use of drones and their low score rate of killing the actual targets. It’s a powerfully delivered song and it’s one that is also relevant, as you know, terrorism in any and all of its forms is often a weapon of fear. Another track that stands out due to the themes it discusses, is ‘The Debate Is Over‘, which deals with the very real threat and issue that is climate change. And you can’t mention this four-piece and their ideals without mentioning the (rather beautiful) artwork of the album and its title. Just imagine an Arab Spring right across the US…fuck…
Well, anyway, while these are good, fun songs, the absence of sonic aggression of oldies like ‘The W.T.O. Kills Farmers’, ‘Depleted Uranium Is A War Crime’, and ‘Spit In The Face’ does hinder the album’s impact slightly.
Finally, and rather interestingly, singer/guitarist Justin Sane only sings on a couple of tracks here, whereas bassist/vocalist Chris ‘#2’ Baker takes the lead on vocals for nearly the whole of the album. Perhaps this is due to his recent divorce and the band wished to throw him a bone and let him get out any pent up emotions and thoughts or because Sane (real name Justin Cathal Geever) is getting worn out on singing duties. Well regardless, there’s a reason the band have two singers – they both work perfectly within the framework of the group’s overall sound. Plus, Baker has what is arguably the stronger voice of the two, so him leading the songs doesn’t ever one feel out of place.
In 2015, Anti-Flag are still politically focused, yet their music isn’t quite as in-your-face or as aggressive as long time listeners will find out. Maybe it’s them trying to break into a bigger market, or about just growing older and not wanting to play as fast anymore but whatever the case, this is the band’s catchiest and “simplest” work to date. It’s still a really solid record, but ‘American Spring’ doesn’t fully stack up against the band’s older, better releases.
1. Fabled World
2. The Great Divide
3. Sky Is Falling
4. Brandenburg Gate
5. Walk Away
6. Song For You Enemy
7. All Of The Poison, All Of The Pain
8. Break Something
9. Without End
11. To Hell With Boredom
12. Low Expectations
13. The Debate Is Over