Give Anti-Flag their due: They’re pretty relentless. For more than 20 years, the spirited Pittsburgh punks have worked tirelessly to make their music count for something more than cheap thrills and mindless rebellion. But the band’s latest, American Spring, shows some cracks in the armor. “There must be more to life than this,” frontman Justin Sane muses to himself on “Walk Away”. That’s a worrysome thought coming from one of the genre’s most populist champions, but maybe there’s something to it. Sane may or may not be contemplating his band’s punk rock lot in life with that line, but either way, American Spring feels a little boxed in. Ten albums into a fruitful career, Anti-Flag is still chiseling away at the social ills that irk them, but it’s hard to shake the feeling we’ve been here already.
Opener “Fabled World” starts swinging out the gate with both fists clenched, as the band laments “the new Jim Crow” and ” the new slave trade.” “Sky Is Falling” covers some new sociopolitical ground to good effect, echoing global concerns over drone strikes. Musically, the band continues its shift toward anthemic pop punk, but American Spring’s best moments come when punk feels more like a side dish than the main course. “Brandenburg Gate”, featuring Rancid’s Tim Armstrong on guest vocals, might have the messy fingerprints of the Clash and Billy Bragg all over it, but it’s easily the record’s poppiest, most infectious tune.
American Spring shows Anti-Flag can still put up a fight, but they’re not landing punches here as cleanly as they used to. “These times can leave you torn apart,” Sane sings on “Fabled World”. A line like that used to fuel the band’s best moments; here, it sounds more like business as usual.
Essential Tracks: “Brandenburg Gate”, “Sky Is Falling”