In true Anti-Flag-ian form, this piece will appear as a an album review and a commentary. Upon listening to The Bright Lights of America, as well as researching the band’s history and reading reviews of this album, many quandaries come forth into the mind of the honest listener. What criteria is set forth by the so-called music critic and should they be instead labeled as a cynic? It seems that those limber bones and elitist minds, which reside in front of the laptop’s screen inside a major music publication, technically debase each album that crosses their cluttered desks. Have they forgotten the emotive quality that even a simple piece of music can affect the listener? Even within the straight-forward motion of the punk genre, “critics” tend to pick apart arrangement, performance, and vocal flaws in order to devalue the artist’s work. Understandably, it is job to find the defects in the album. Often, the “critic” forgets their passion and connection which draws them to a life driven by a soundtrack. Were Black Flag, The Ramones, and The Sex Pistols creating technically sound albums? No, they were records driven by anger, resentment, passion, and heart. Some of these things, the honest listener may find in Anti-Flag.
The Bright Lights of America, Anti-Flag’s second major-label release, brings forth a new direction. Anti-Flag has made a career of creating leftist political manifestos by way of furious, striking punk rock. Yet, their newest album takes two improbable turns. First, Anti-Flag softens such manifestos for more personal “politics.” The songs tell stories and lyrics depicting social struggles, deterring from anthems against war and Bush-era policy. Subsequently, the album’s title track details society’s weight on the burgeoning youth and how “cutting” becomes a mean to cope. With the fierceness of “The Modern Rome Burning,” Anti-Flag pounds away with a message of how humanity is bred into a nation of imprisonment. Their gang-vocals chant away people’s struggle into dissent and the track is preceded by a commentary from Mumia Abdul-Jamal, a death-row inmate. Although the messages throughout the album are strong, gang-vocals and repetitive choruses run rampant. Despite the chant’s strengths, they sometimes feel counter-productive.
Anti-Flag’s second turn into a new direction appears as the expansive musical arrangements. Not to fret, The Bright Lights of America is chalk-full of mosh-inspiring, speed-induced anthems. Although, the album is vigorously flared by delicate intricacies. The opening track, “Good and Ready,” harkens an old-school punk vibe but concludes with a children’s choir providing a haunted call and response interlude. “Go West” is a rebellious ballad of adventure, highlighted by a harmonica intro. As well, cellos, brass, and other orchestral instruments shape the album’s integral tracks.
Anti-Flag’s The Bright Lights of America is a strong approach into a new direction. It strikes a similar punk rock chord alongside the likes of A.F.I. and Strike Anywhere. Ultimately, the listener’s journey through the record will define its final resting place.
Standout Tracks: “The Bright Lights of America”, “The Modern Rome Burning”, “We Are the Lost”
1. Good and Ready
2. The Bright Lights of America
4. The Modern Rome Burning
5. If You Wanna Steal (You Better Learn How to Lie)
6. No Warning
7. Spit in the Face
8. We Are the Lost
9. Go West
10. The Smartest Bomb
11. Shadow of the Dead
12. The Ink and the Quill (Be Afraid)