When it comes to AFI’s legacy, there are two sides to the story: there is the independent, hardcore punk outfit that shook stages of local circuits for several years in the 1990’s, and there is the considerably more popular band that signed to a major-label in 2002. The debate continues to rage on as to which version of the band is “better,” but the fact of the matter is AFI has never been the same one-trick pony some punk bands can often remain. By the time the new millennium rolled around, The Art of Drowning was goth-punk perfection and shot AFI’s name into the stratosphere. They were no longer the wildly spastic hardcore band that answered things and stayed fashionable — they were now full-blown rock stars (oh snap, someone call the DIY police, because they be breaking all kinds of punk rock “laws”).
So here we are, nearly 20 years since their inception and is AFI anywhere close to who they started out as? A resounding hell and no, as the band has yet again reinvented their sound to arguably upset their older, more stubborn fanbase and reel in listeners more fond of their post-Drowning material. Crash Love is by no means a work of art, but it’s a nice step-up from the mildly enjoyable 2006 release Decemberunderground, which was ironically drowning itself in electronic beats and cheesy synthesizers. Maintaining a far more straightforward approach, Crash Love is certainly more in the vein of pop-rock 80’s glam like The Cure or even solo Morrissey, and even touches upon modern-day Alkaline Trio (do Davey and Matt Skiba swap journals?). AFI is still gothic in nature, but their sound is tighter, larger than ever and well-rehearsed, proving this is still one finely-tuned machine.
Kicking it off with two choir-backed rockers, “Torch Song” and “Beautiful Thieves” are dramatic arena-style rock that rely on Adam Carson’s precision on the drumkit and Davey Havok’s emotionally surging vocals, one of the band’s main draws. With “End Transmission” hinting at Sing the Sorrow-era material, it’s a magnificently jazzy number which rolls along nicely on a slick bass line from Hunter Burgan (who, as an excellent bassist, needs a little more to do here on the record). “Too Shy to Scream” is the first genuine pop track to show up, full of big handclaps and power chords that would make Green Day, um, well, green with envy. However, it’s charm derives from Havok’s cheeky vocal delivery (he still loves to throw in that little “oh!” cat-call every now and again) and overwhelming Adam Ant influence. “I’m Trying Very Hard to Be Here” and “Darling, I Want to Destroy You” are the types of songs you’d figure could have been written for the last record, but Joe McGrath’s steady hands keep AFI’s feet on the ground here, pacing the tight rhythm section to match Havok’s savvy cries; both tracks go hand-in-hand with one another to give much of the record its pulse.
”Veronica Sawyer Smokes” is the album’s most overwhelming misfire, shifting from massive hooks to a jangly indie-pop mentality. While it wants to be a single reminescent of Robert Smith’s most radio-friendly tracks, it takes some of the edge off the record’s first half (guitarist Jade Puget doesn’t get much to do in the middle portion of the record). From there, Crash Love doesn’t exactly roll itself into a ditch so much as it swerves here and there, struggling to find its way back onto the road. “Cold Hands” is painfully cheesy (“Your serenade turns to filth when I leave so / Please, cut the love song”) and “Okay, I Feel Better Now” hints are reliving protocol of previous AFI songs, but begins losing it’s muster by the final act.
Nonetheless, after Decemberunderground failed to hold any sort of longevity with many fans, it’s good to see that AFI still has enough powerful chords left to supply a nice alternative to those who just think Green Day is too soft. “Medicate” is a choice single to reflect both sides of Crash Love’s affair with the goth-punk/modern-rock sound, and despite the lack of the band’s roots, fans have to understand AFI is no longer that angry, sarcastic punk band anymore — every member has strengthened their craft to coincide with each individual’s influence. All grown up and still yearning with a taste for melodramatic, gothic romance, AFI has purposely crashed time & time again, only to get up and rebuild it all over again at every turn.