Ask a random music critic to come up with a shortlist of the best rock songs of the Noughties, and it’s quite unlikely his or her picks will include any offerings by walking Hot Topic billboard AFI. The California quartet (which started as a snotty hardcore outfit before gradually morphing into a goth/punk/emo/alt-rock hybrid obsessed with all things black and somber) is very much a people’s band, one whose increasingly ham-fisted aspirations of seriousness and grandeur is directly proportionate to how many records it sells. Though AFI wishes for its records to be taken as Art, its ambitions have been undercut by a misguided (and frankly adolescent) understanding of what that means, best evidenced by singer Davey Havok’s unabashedly purple lyrics (sample lines from “The Days of the Phoenix”: “The words were mystical as / Purring animals / The circle of rage / The voice on the stage appeared”). Thus, you probably won’t find many AFI tracks on year-end “best-of” critics’ polls
Yes, AFI is pretentious as all hell and Havok comes off as little too in love with the sound of his voice whenever he sings, but nevertheless the group has always had a knack for thrilling, full-throttle rockitude (it’s never a good idea for this band to move at anything slower than a restless clip—witness “Miss Murder”). With the proper focus and the right touch, AFI is indeed capable of greatness—and its magnificent 2003 single “Girl’s Not Grey” is proof of it. Indeed, it’s one of the best the past decade has produced. Seriously. I mean it.