Friday, 3 December 2010

Anti-Flag - The People Or The Gun

Allow me to be frank: In terms of new music, 2010 has been a barren wasteland of sand, more sand and dog turds. I thought I must've missed something in my coursework and A-level-imposed exile from society during the earlier months of the year, but since then I've been digging around on my hands and knees in the piles of generic, manufactured, Auto-Tuned to death excrement, and there really has been only two records worth noting this year - Feeder's Renegades, and Bad Religion's The Dissent of Man. Even Paul Smith, a veritable oracle on punk and rock 'n' roll music, and a man who has his finger relatively on the pulse of new releases, was at a loss to recall any decent records emerging this year.

If there has been anything I've missed in my musical dumpster diving, then please do endeavour to bring them to my attention, but for now, fuck it, I've had enough. Let's sweep aside into the recycle bin the droves of monotonous bilge that have made up 2010, and cast our minds way back to 2009, which while not being a classic year, was a damn sight better in terms of records. It appears, however, that I was too busy sticking the boot into Green Day for producing the obese, flatulent monstrosity that was 21st Century Breakdown to notice that another band had put out a political punk rock record - and what's more, it was infinitely better. Welcome then, to Anti-Flag's The People or The Gun, an album that, had I known about it at the time, could've gone up against The Submission and AFI for the 'Album of 2009' challenge belt, and given both a seriously bloody nose. It really is an absolute treat, and I thank Paul for finally bringing it to my attention.

I've long had a soft spot for Anti-Flag -
It doesn't particularly matter if you agree or not with the strident political and social observations present on nearly every song of theirs, as there's a lot to admire in the blisteringly hooky and punchy punk rock that these sentiments are attached to. They have a back catalogue positively teeming with anthems, and I'd recommend 2004's The Terror State and 2005's For Blood And Empire to anybody wishing not only to get into the band, but the genre of punk rock in general.

However, the latter of those two albums was released on a 'major' label, RCA Records, and this brings us to a sticking point with latter-day AF. Having openly stuck two fingers up at major labels earlier on in their career, their decision to defect to the dark side was met with howls of derision, and 2008's The Bright Lights of America was a lacklustre damp squib. They were subsequently dumped by RCA right around the same time the object of so much of their ire, a certain George W. Bush, was being forcibly ejected from the White House. Instead of putting their feet up and congratulating themselves on a decent decades' work, the band regrouped, returned to the independent arena with SideOneDummy, and instead refocused their crosshairs onto new targets, of which there are still plenty.

This fresh impetus of rage and rebellious frustration is what drives The People or The Gun, but what is refreshing about the record as a whole is that it is no backwards grab at credibility (hell, it's unlikely the band gave a shit about such trivial things in the first place), rather, a condensing of all the best moments and successful experiments of the last five to seven years into eleven tracks of vibrant hooks and varying degrees of punch. The slower numbers balance out the white-hot intensity of the faster tracks, giving a nice feeling of pacing and flow - it's no good just bombarding someone with endless sensory overload, as this simply dilutes the power and message and grows tiring really quickly. Exhibit A: The already mentioned 21st Century Breakdown. Exhibit B: The last few Call of Duty videogames. Anti-Flag are masters of pacing, and what helps is that when they do deviate off-script, some charming surprises crop up - 'The Gre(A)T Depression', loosely based around a Bob Dylan number and featuring guest vocals that read like a who's who of modern punk rock, is a nicely melodic, vaguely Springsteen-esque piece, and 'This is The First Night' uses a more folky rhythm to emphasise the uplifting lyrics.

That being said, it's when the band are foaming at the mouth with rage that the best tracks arise. Opener 'Sodom, Gomorrah, Washington DC' has all the battering ram energy of a runaway freight train, complete with religious references that would make Bad Religion proud, 'The Economy is Suffering...Let It Die' is a stinging indictment of the bank bail-outs strung to an outrageously catchy chorus, and 'You're Fired (Take This Job, Ah, Fuck It)' is a 60-second slice of crunching hardcore punk with a very AFI-esque backing vocal line. The highlight of the entire LP, and indeed one of my favourite punk rock songs for quite a while, is the fantastic 'We Are The One', which sounds not dissimilar to Rise Against's 'Savior' - with the big difference being that it's much, much better. Unfortunately they cannot quite sustain the same level of quality throughout, and the end of the disc isn't quite as strong as the start, but the clincher here comes in the overall consistency - there's not one bad track on the LP, and not once will you be reaching for the 'skip' button.

So, a punk rock group who not only survived a weakening of their powers in the hands of the big bad major label wolf, but emerged on the other side stronger than ever before? How many other bands can you think of who have managed to pull that one off, aside perhaps Bad Religion? If you were one of the many cynics who turned their backs on Anti-Flag the moment they signed on the RCA dotted line, you can come in from the cold now - this is a brilliant return to form. For everyone else who never doubted Anti-Flag's continuing power in spite of their dalliances with the darkside, then rejoice and rock away - you've just been proven right.

Album Details:
Label: SideOneDummy Records
Release Date: June 9th, 2009
Rating: 9/10
Standout Tracks: 'Sodom, Gomorrah, Washington DC', 'We Are The One,' 'You're Fired (Take This Job, Ah, Fuck It)'.

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