There was a time when AFI were one of the most respected and praised acts of their genre. From the hardcore roots of earlier albums ‘Answers That Stay Fashionable ‘and ‘Shut Your Mouth And Open Your Eyes’, ‘to breakthrough offerings ‘The Art Of Drowning’ and ‘Sing The Sorrow’, they were the undisputed kings of all things punk and gloomy. But it was with 2006’s ‘December Underground’ that things started to change, with some hailing it as a mainstream masterpiece, whilst others found it too much of a departure from their original sound. Fast forward to 2009, and after successful outings at the Reading and Leeds Festivals, we’re faced with ‘Crash Love’, an album many hoped would see AFI return to their less commercial side.
Opener ‘Torch Song’ gets the album off to a promising start. Back is their trademark dark anthemic sound, but crucially without the more mainstream feel that may have polarised some fans last time around. ‘Beautiful Thieves’ and ‘End Transmission’ both follow in a similar vein – so far, so good. It’s only with the likes of the far too breezy ‘Too Shy To Scream’ and ‘Veronica Sawyer Smokes’ that the cynicism creeps in. Those who loved ‘Miss Murder’ will relish in these undeniably catchy, carefree blasts of unapologetic pop, while the rest of us mourn as the band further slide into generic blandness. Sure AFI have always been about big choruses and catchy hooks, but both feel too sickly, verging on camp, and lack any real bite for a band of this calibre.
Fortunately lead single ‘ Medicate’ refreshingly returns to their punkier origins, as does album highlight ‘Sacrilege’. Both fast paced and aggressive, yet juxtaposed with frontman Davey Havok’s soaring vocals; it’s almost like the band’s much celebrated time with Nitro Records all over again. Bookended with the epic ‘It Was Mine’, the album certainly goes out with a bang. Whilst ‘Crash Love’ may not be the return to form some had hoped for, it is certainly not a lost cause. With hints of their acclaimed past glimmering through, even the diehards will find something to love from this offering. Ultimately a mixed bag, that depending on your outlook is either a band unselfishly catering for all of their fanbase or a band struggling between their past and present. Either way, inevitably, it’s in its consistency that ‘Crash Love’ falls a little short.