Anti-Flag – [Album]

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

…Well, that was fast. About three years ago, Anti-Flag finally stepped up (some would say, “Sold Out,” but that's over-reaching unnecessarily) and signed a deal with a major label conglomerate in the form of Sony BMG, RCA and Red Distribution. The theory for the change was sound enough, they wanted to reach a larger audience and make a greater impact upon the world at large with the political manifesto so integral to their image. The added bonus was that the change would help them grow up and stretch artistically so, after proving to long-time fans that better financial backing wouldn't spoil them on For Blood And Empire, Anti-Flag took the single biggest risk of its career with the ambitious Bright Lights On America. Featuring epic instrumentation that included string and orchestral accompaniment – some of which was even played by the band – and an über-producer (Tony Visconti – on David Bowie fame and others), The Bright Lights… played like an all-or-nothing shot at creatively leaping forward but, while it was a very good record, Anti-Flag's audience wasn't ready (or wasn't willing) to grow with them and it flopped. Hard.

Whether RCA dropped them at that point or the band simply tucked tail is irrelevant; in order to recoup, Anti-Flag found themselves in an ugly position that required they choose to either roll over or fade into obscurity. The People Or The Gun is Anti-Flag's SideOneDummy debut and finds the band recoiling (they might call it 'going back to basics') to the safe-play, politically opinionated (and contrived) permutation of punk rock that first built them a fan base and made them controversial with Republican parents and punks that had already been around the block (like Joe Queer) and knew better than to buy the hype.

In that spirit, while there's no doubt that Anti-Flag's new album is very formulaic sonically, for those fans that missed the band at their speediest, crunchiest level of socio-political frustration, The People Or The Gun doesn't disappoint. The slogans fly fast and furiously from the word go as singer Justin Sane takes aim at corporations (“You Are Fired (Take This Job, Ah, Fuck It”), global money worries (“The Economy Is Suffering… Let It Die”) and, of course, the US government (“Sodom, Gamorrah, Washington DC (Sheep In Shepherds clothing)”) with more enthusiasm than he did while Bush was in office – which is saying something – and coaxes fiery performances from the rest of the band; playing like their careers depend on it (and, realistically, they probably do) – they need to make back some ground from the Bright Lights debacle). It's powerful, incendiary and spry.

And, for the first time, it also puts the band's sense of humor up front in the mix too; while there has always been the hope among fans that not all of Anti-Flag's posturing and sloganeering is totally humorless, The People Or The Gun marks the first occasion on which the band has actually had the sack to show it. There's no way to not laugh at Justin Sane (in a good way) as he utters lines like, “When the cities burn down, we'll all be warm” (in “The Economy Is Suffering… Let It Die”) and the paraphrase of David Allan Coe in “You Are Fired (Take This Job, Ah, Fuck It)” both make it worth the price of admission and make softer, weaker moments like “The Gre(a)t Depression” and “The Old Guard” totally permissible. With each little dig, the band pulls the rug out from under the establishment, their fans and themselves and, in that way, the most prescient indictment comes in the form of the hidden song at the end of the record; that unnamed goof sums up the approach of this effort perfectly as it takes pot shots at Anti-Flag fans, their critics and members of the band itself (drummer Pat Thetic's “I get paid by the drum beat!” line is priceless) and puts all of them on level ground in so doing. It's not brilliant, but it's smarter than all of the pseudo-political posturing elsewhere on the album combined.

So is Anti-Flag desperate to make back some ground and save a little face after the poor reception of The Bright Lights Of America? Maybe, but by humanizing their music (if only to a degree) and being brave enough to laugh at themselves, Anti-Flag has finally found a way to relate to a larger audience in a way that evaded them previously: The People Or The Gun holds jokes and politics together in a way that makes it a gateway drug – like Intro To Punk And Politics, 2009 edition.


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The People Or The Gun
comes out June 9, 2009 on SideOneDummy Records. Pre-order it here on Amazon or pre-order it from the band's web site and receive a free mp3 download.

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