In so many ways, AFI are the band that aspiring rockers dream of forming in their wistful, Utopian youth.
An actual musical career rather than a temporary role. Longevity borne from touring, word of mouth and natural progression. Signed to a major label yet patently doing everything on their own terms. Displaying their influences but with a sound somehow unique and inspiring countless others. Genre-crossing, with an abundance of street cred. Band members whose personal lives remain private despite famously worshipful fans. Platinum records, yet in truth, still a cult band.
Those who fell under the spell of 2003’s breakthrough album Sing The Sorrow and 2006’s consolidating Decemberunderground will find themselves as infatuated with Crash Love. It may be AFI’s eighth album but there is no sign of fatigue, waning in quality or the song remaining the same. Crash Love is fresh, different and demanding of your time, while retaining all the characteristics that turned an upstart Californian punk outfit into boundary-shaking world-beaters.
Any fears that the passage of time or the sad death of past producer Jerry Finn would lead to AFI’s edge being blunted are quickly dispelled with opening duo Torch Song and Beautiful Thieves. Jade Paget’s guitar lines are crisp and enticing; Davey Havok’s vocals as emotive as ever; the choruses big, bold and beautiful; while the backing choir vocals, particularly in Torch Song, straddle an unorthodox divide between gospel and goth. Darkness has seldom sounded so uplifting.
The catchy, rhythmically-driven End Transmission reminds us that this band are in love with The Cure but what may be news is their donning of the cap to other British bands of the ’80s. Veronica Sawyer Smokes is the sound of The Smiths if Morrissey had relocated to LA 15 years earlier than he actually did. Meanwhile, Too Shy To Scream is shocking – like the Adam And The Ants rhythm section jamming with Trent Reznor‘s guitars before unleashing yet another gargantuan chorus.
AFI’s hardcore heritage is still intact in the form of the energetic Medicate and Cold Hands. The former aptly demonstrates AFI’s ability to rise above the ordinary as it switches gear from driving tuneful punk into an arena-sized, anthemic finale (“I feel nothing at all”) that teleports the listener from the living room to the live gig.
And the concert connotations are not done there with Darling, I Want To Destroy You and It Was Mine showcasing all the fist-pumping, grandiose, yet unpretentious stadium dynamics that AFI have managed to make a signature.
If the anti-religious rant of Sacrilege is neither as aggressive nor as memorably melodic as one might expect, then this sin is forgivable when it comes sandwiched within a plethora of musical good deeds.
With fewer studio effects and electronic twiddles, Crash Love is a simpler rock record than its US number one predecessor Decemberunderground. If anything, it’s better however, and shows that while fusing goth, punk and pop doesn’t need to be rocket science, when AFI are involved it’s very definitely an artform.