Anti-Flag: American Spring

Anti-Flag have been in the game for quite a while. On American Spring, they show that it may be time to throw in the towel.


American Spring

Label: Spinefarm
US Release Date: 2015-05-26
UK Release Date: 2015-05-25

Sometimes, when a band makes essentially the same album over and over again, it's depressing because it's indicative of a creative rut; however, in the case of Pittsburgh punk rockers Anti-Flag, the thematic repetition of their music is sad for a much bleaker reason. Across 19 years and nine studio albums, in addition to a handful of EPs and collaborations, the group's politically-charged lyrics have remained largely unchanged. Of course, the problems they were confronting back on albums like Die for the Government (1996) and Underground Network (2001), by and large, haven't gone away.

Anti-Flag started out independent, were briefly signed to a major label, got dropped, and then went back to the indies. Throughout it all, they have stayed quixotically devoted to the idea that punk music can affect real political change; mountains of evidence to the contrary have never seemed to dull their enthusiasm, and bless them for that.

However, their ninth studio album American Spring breaks with convention, pulling punches in a way Anti-Flag albums never had before. The targets are more vaguely defined this time around than they have traditionally been, ambiguous to a distressing fault. While older Anti-Flag songs like "The W.T.O. Kills Farmers" and "The Neoliberal Anthem" made their targets completely explicit, the enemies on American Spring are ambiguous and hazily defined. On the Tim Armstrong-assisted "Brandenburg Gate", the narrator "lost [his] baby to a foreign war", but the lyrics are about as clear as "American Pie"; a Cold War setting is suggested by the song's title, but extracting anything clearer from its lyrics is an exercise in futility.

The identifiable themes -- an apathetic populace, perpetual warfare, and the corrupt corptocracy that makes up American politics -- are ones Anti-Flag have expounded upon countless times. The problems haven't gone away, and with the major difference to Anti-Flag's lyrics being that they're no longer naming names, it seems best to try and approach American Spring strictly from a musical perspective. Lyrically, it's something like the old schoolyard rhyme; "Second verse, same as the first / A little bit louder and a little bit worse."

Musically, the opener "Fabled World" is an absolutely great time, with a massive sing-along hook (complete with "whoa-oh" accompaniment, naturally) and a driving rhythm gleefully leading the listener to have just about the least accurate impression of the album possible. The diminishing returns sink in fast after the quite strong "The Great Divide" and the aforementioned "Brandenburg Gate". This opening trio of solid tracks is followed by very little of any note. Anyone who's heard an Anti-Flag album before knows what to expect from the rest of American Spring, and for the uninitiated it's hardly an ideal starting point. The crunched power chords and shouted vocals blend together to make the latter three quarters of the album an increasingly indistinct mess of generic punk, only barely livened up by the slightly-amusing "Low Expectations" ("this place, it sucks, and I don't give a fuck") -- but the emphasis is on "barely" here.

Anti-Flag have had a long run, close to 20 years now, and in their time they've made more great music than many bands could ever claim. On a musical level, The Terror State (2003) is every bit as much of a pop-punk classic as Green Day's Dookie, and it has the advantage of not having been subjected to decades of radio overplay. But on American Spring, Anti-Flag are finally starting to show their age. The record benefits from a strong start, but even that doesn't last very long at all. As for the rest, it's just far too many interchangeable songs that go in one ear and out the other. Anti-Flag may still have a good album or two left in them, but this one certainly is not it.




Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Street Art As Sprayed Solidarity: Global Corona Graffiti

COVID-19-related street art functions as a vehicle for political critique and social engagement. It offers a form of global solidarity in a time of crisis.


Gretchen Peters Honors Mickey Newbury With "The Sailor" and New Album (premiere + interview)

Gretchen Peters' latest album, The Night You Wrote That Song: The Songs of Mickey Newbury, celebrates one of American songwriting's most underappreciated artists. Hear Peters' new single "The Sailor" as she talks about her latest project.


Okkyung Lee Goes From Classical to Noise on the Stellar 'Yeo-Neun'

Cellist Okkyung Lee walks a fine line between classical and noise on the splendid, minimalist excursion Yeo-Neun.


Alastair Sim: A Very English Character Actor Genius

Alastair Sim belongs to those character actors sometimes accused of "hamming it up" because they work at such a high level of internal and external technique that they can't help standing out.


Joe Hertler & the Rainbow Seekers Head "Underwater" in New Video (premiere)

Celebrating the first anniversary of Paper Castle, folksy poppers Joe Hertler & the Rainbow Seekers release an uplifting new video for opening track, "Underwater".


Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith's New LP Is Lacking in Songcraft but Rich in Texture

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith's The Mosaic of Transformation is a slightly uneven listen. It generally transcends the tropes of its genre, but occasionally substitutes substance for style.


Buzzcocks' 1996 Album 'All Set' Sees the Veteran Band Stretching Out and Gaining Confidence

After the straightforward and workmanlike Trade Test Transmissions, Buzzcocks continued to hone their fresh identity in the studio, as exhibited on the All Set reissue contained on the new box-set Sell You Everything.


Patrick Madden's 'Disparates' Makes Sense in These Crazy Times

There's no social distancing with Patrick Madden's hilarious Disparates. While reading these essays, you'll feel like he's in the room with you.


Perfume Genius Purges Himself and It's Contagious

You need to care so much about your art to pack this much meaning into not only the words, but the tones that adorn and deliver them. Perfume Genius cares so much it hurts on Set My Heart on Fire Immediately.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Confinement and Escape: Emma Donoghue and E.L. Doctorow in Our Time of Self-Isolation

Emma Donoghue's Room and E.L. Doctorow's Homer & Langley define and confront life within limited space.


Political Cartoonist Art Young Was an Aficionado of all Things Infernal

Fantagraphics' new edition of Inferno takes Art Young's original Depression-era critique to the Trump White House -- and then drags it all to Hell.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.