Saturday, 10 October 2009

AFI - Crash Love

One characteristic that sadly blights a lot of music nowadays is the feeling that we've been here before. Too many times a song will come on the radio, and I will sit and think "Hang on, that sounds like x band", before the DJ proudly announces that it's some 'hot new talent' or something. Cue a bemused look from me at how such a blatant act of ripping off can go unpunished. Of course, bands will always sound similar to something else, and will always sound a bit like who they were inspired by - that has always happened, and will continue to do so. But there are too many bands or artists nowadays who are either digging up past glories and ripping them off wholesale or just copying themselves in the same mould as a contemporary of themselves. Examples? Two off the top of my head: La Roux's shameless (and very bad) graverobbing of '80s electro-pop and the seemingly hundreds of identikit bands who have followed in Fall Out Boy's footsteps since that group blazed a mainstream trail a few years ago now, complete with the same haircuts, same guitars, same lyrics, same sound, and same posturing, give or take a few exceptions. Like I said, there will always be a crossover between bands, and no band can ever sound completely separate from everything else that has come before it, but it is becoming increasingly harder to find bands willing to not just accept their influences, but meld them into a unique combination which listeners will recognise as theirs and theirs only.

Which brings me nicely to AFI, a band who have managed this feat very well in recent years. Starting out as a slightly sarky bunch of punks, they slowly started daring to blaze their own trail out of the punk scene near the end of the '90s, and when 2003's magnificent 'Sing The Sorrow' arrived, their transformation was complete. STS stills sounds quite like nothing else I have ever heard - it has elements of hard-edged punk rock 'n' roll, heavy parts, ballad parts, dark and mystical elements, all combining to create a dark and unashamedly gothic listening experience. 'Decemberunderground' cranked up the mystery and dark imagery another notch with a heavy electronic overtone to their unique sound, but what let down this release was that it did appear to plod in places, although it still had the power to be a rip-roaring record when it wanted to be. Now we arrive at 'Crash Love', and I'm gonna state this right off the bat - this is a belter.

Simply put, I love albums with a fantastic opening track, and CL doesn't disappoint - after around 15 seconds of odd ambient noise, 'Torch Song' crunches and crashes, before vocalist Davey Havok gives his trademark cry and the song roars into life, guitarist Jade Puget's opening salvo of notes ripping through the noise and lifting the fists into the air straight away. It's an absolute belter of a song, led by a monstrously catchy and seismic chorus, single-handedly putting in the shade a hundred other rock bands with arena-rock aspirations. 'Beautiful Thieves' is a more subdued affair, led by a slightly blink-182 style verse riff (think Stay Together for the Kids style and you have a good idea), until the chorus arrives to blow you away. What hits you immediately, and will be obvious already to longer-term AFI fans, is that, while AFI have the outrageously catchy choruses of many of their peers, they also have the full songs to go with them - the songs aren't simply big choruses with some mediocre verses padded out in between.

With CL, AFI are also forging another unique path for themselves - they are somehow managing to walk the tightrope between catchy MTV pop-rock and more hard-edged goth rock 'n' roll, without falling on either side; for example, the foot-stomping, Adam Ant-baiting 'Too Shy To Scream' has a real Fall Out Boy vibe to it, but at the same time, there is no mistaking at all that this is Havok and company. Likewise, the belting lead-off single 'Medicate' has a little hint of Green Day about it, but Puget's imaginative little guitar runs and lines and neat drum fills from Adam Carson, as well as the trademark 'everything crashes down and then builds back up again' which only AFI can pull off with this degree of class, put you in no doubt as to who this is - indeed, AFI make forming a nifty slice of catchy, energetic rock 'n' roll look a damn sight easier than Green Day have done in recent times. In a perfect world, the strutting 'I Am Trying Very Hard to Be Here' would be the theme tune to a new teen drama show, but again, the fact that it rocks a bit too hard means that it stops just short in this aspect. In my mind, this has to be the perfect combination - pop sensibilities and melodies balanced with enough hard rocking and rolling to keep it firmly away from being the scene kids' new band of choice. Brilliant.

What is also pleasing is that it shows that they have moved another step forward without loosing their identity in any way. Sure, the pacey 'Sacrilege' sounds like an out-take from the Sing the Sorrow sessions, and the lyrics are still unashamedly emotional and deep to a large extent, but overall Crash Love shows a nice progression on from past glories. Havok in particular is allowing himself to be a little more bold and slightly flamboyant with his vocals these days, and while there is less screaming this time round, the emotion and power is more evident in his voice than ever, backed up as he is with the massive-sounding gang vocals that pop up all over this LP. What does let this disc down however, is that it is still not quite consistent - 'It Was Mine' is a bit of a plodding song to end on, and might have been better placed being mid-disc, and some other songs do suffer from being filler, but then again, I defy any band to write 12 songs of equal quality as the highlights of this LP - it would be a massive ask. But I'll sum up this record like this: a common argument in the whole illegal file-sharing debate is that, if artists want people to pay for their music, they should work hard to make music which is worth paying for. If that is the case, then AFI fully deserve your money for this release - I was happy to give them mine to have it on CD. It is that good an album.

Album Details
Label: Interscope Records
Release Date: September 29th 2009
Rating: 8/10
Standout tracks: 'Torch Song', 'Medicate', 'End Transmission', 'Too Shy to Scream'.

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