September 24, 2018 Anti-Flag – American Reckoning (Album Review)
Back in November 2017, Punk titans Anti-Flag released the stellar American Fall. Now, they deliver us an American Reckoning, a largely acoustic take on their previous two full-length releases, which arrives on Friday, September 28, 2018, thanks to Spinefarm Records.
Formed in 1988 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Punk Rockers Anti-Flag would undergo a multitude of line-up changes before finally delivering their debut full-length, Die for the Government, in 1996. Over the next nineteen years, more lineup configurations and ten albums would follow, ranging from 1998’s Their System Doesn’t Work For You to 2015’s American Spring. Openly opinionated and always with wisdom to dispense, Anti-Flag are especially known and beloved for their sociopolitical lyrics and activism; advocacy of progressive political action groups such as Greenpeace and Amnesty International; as well as being avowed supporters of animal rights and groups such as PETA.
With today’s political climate offering more than enough material for a dozen albums, Anti-Flag – Vocalist/Guitarist Justin Sane, Vocalist/Bassist Chris #2, Guitarist Chris Head, and Drummer Pat Thetic – have opted to cull together some of their finest material off 2015’s American Spring and 2017’s American Fall to create an American Reckoning. It’s a kind of sociopolitical greatest-hits-gone-acoustic, with three bonus cover tracks that fit the atmosphere flawlessly. Buckle yourselves in!
American Reckoning opens to “The Date Is Over (If You Want It) (Acoustic),” a stripped-down take on the original that appeared on 2015’s American Spring, which fully retains its grit. This arrangement allows the weight of the track’s lyrics to provide a gut-punch that clashes ironically with the sweetness of the acoustics; and yes, it’s still on your back, folks. Change will always start with YOU!
The wonderfully catchy “Trouble Follows Me (Acoustic)” gets the layered harmony treatment in its acoustic rendition. It is certainly not as massive as its electric twin, but the bite remains intact, as does the power of one historically-referenced line in particular: “Hard work will set you free – now that’s a fuckin’ dream.” Infectious “American Attraction (Acoustic)” stays exactly that – bombs, drugs, blood and all; it sounds like a dream, even if it’s a nightmare!
The apathy that is condemned in “When The Wall Falls (Acoustic)” remains very much the same and, like its counterparts, there’s an irony in the sweet acoustic sounds that anchor the band’s on-point, harshly condemning lyrics. Here, in particular, there is a lyrical play on a famous quote from publicly outspoken Anti-Nazi, Theologian Martin Niemöller; something that ultimately hits heavy in the feels. This pairs perfectly with its apropos successor, “Racists (Acoustic).” “It’s in the things that you say and you don’t say,” begins a sadly accurate look at racism in America in 2018. The track somehow hits harder in the acoustic format, with everything stripped down and the spotlight turned fully toward lyrics that condemn willful ignorance.
Angelic group harmonies weave throughout American Spring’s “Set Yourself On Fire (Acoustic),” where the band are literally on fire, sonically speaking. Next, another track off that same 2015 album, “Brandenburg Gate (Acoustic),” receives an equally stellar treatment. Catchy as its electric counterpart, with an undeniable beat, the acoustics of “Brandenburg Gate” focus on the personal toll of war and the pursuit of “freedom.”
Before you even dare to think that they have gone “soft,” the boys amp it up for a trio of new tracks, well, new to them: this is a collection of classic covers that fit the Anti-Flag agenda beautifully. That said, they go old school Punk for John Lennon’s “Gimme Some Truth,” which fits flawlessly into the collection despite being over forty-years-old. Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” is an iconic anti-war track that hits just as hard today as it did in 1966, and almost seems as though it was written for Anti-Flag. Cheap Trick’s classic “Surrender,” which has been deemed “the ultimate 1970s teen anthem,” gets the Anti-Flag love, as well. It’s a fun, less political note to end on; and yet there’s still a message, folks. Pay attention!
Who said punks can’t sing? Strip them down, hand them an acoustic, and Anti-Flag still possess the impassioned vigor of their fully electric selves. With a keen eye for sociopolitical commentary, these punks are dead-on in their lyrical observations, and American Reckoning’s acoustic arrangements only serve to highlight those insights. In short, this is the perfect companion to an already killer pair of albums (that being American Spring and American Fall, yes), an addition to the Anti-Flag oeuvre that fans will want to own, for sure. For these reasons, CrypticRock give Anti-Flag’s American Reckoning 4 of 5 stars.