Whenever an established punk band releases a new album you can guarantee that the ‘punk police’ will surface online, complaining that it doesn’t sound anything like their older material. Some people are quick to offer criticism when a band’s sound evolves, especially when they take creative risks. It’s no surprise then, that when Anti-Flag dropped the first single, ‘American Attraction’, from the new album back in August, a lot of people weren’t too sure what to think. I’m not sure that ‘commercial’ is the right word, but there’s something about this song which is quite different to the Anti-Flag that we’ve grown to love over the years. This isn’t the raw sounding punk rock that the older fans were calling for, this is a big rock song. It’s a big rock song that will appeal to a much wider audience than the band ever have previously, and given the state of things politically right now, that’s very important. What’s also important is the fact that American Attraction is a fucking great song.
In terms of the overall sound, American Fall is somewhere in between the big rock sound of the lead single and catchy, woah-driven punk rock that we’ve always associated with the band. You could say that generally it’s quite a lot poppier than anything they’ve done before, but I’d be more inclined to say they’ve simply written a selection of great, catchy songs. In a sense it’s poppier, but another, they’ve just written some bigger, better choruses.
One particular highlight is the song ‘Racists’. Lyrically, it’s a political song that covers new ground, even for Anti-Flag. It’s a scathing attack on the centre ground. It’s an attack on people who you might not think of as a problem. There are plenty of songs about how fascism is bad, and we all agree, but this is the first song that I’m aware of to go after the Average Joe, who might not know his behaviour is problematic. This song isn’t targeting the Donald Trumps or Nigel Farages of this world – it’s attacking the guy in the pub who says “Oh yeah, I know a black guy. He’s alright” and doesn’t realise what is wrong with that statement. Songs like this are so important, because they make people think. There will no doubt be some more casual Anti-Flag fans who re-think their own behaviour on the back of hearing this song, and that can’t be a bad thing. Oh, and it’s the kind of song that will be stuck in your head for days after one listen too!
‘Racists’ is actually a fine example of the album as a whole. The lyrics tackle the subject of inequality, fascism and the general state of global politics right now, and whether it’s the ska influenced, Rancid-esque ‘When The Wall Falls’ or the super pop-punk ‘Trouble Follows Me’, every single track is one that you just can’t help but sing along to. The punk rock community has always needed Anti-Flag, and they’ve always been there for us. With this combination of big pop hooks and potent lyrics, Anti Flag might well be about to go much further and inspire an entire generation of music fans to take action against injustice.
2017 has been a great year for punk rock. Genre heavyweights such as The Menzingers, Propagandhi, Hot Water Music, The Smith Street Band and Flogging Molly have all released great new records. American Fall is not only the best of the bunch, it’s the most relevant and crucial album of the year. On 3rd November, do yourself a favour and buy this album.