It is commonly said that good things come to those who wait. If you’re an AFI fan, that wait has most certainly paid off. After more than three years since the release of the electro-tinged “Decemberunderground,” AFI finally returns with “Crash Love,” a much more direct effort that sees the quartet fulfilling its unique vision of no frills rock that sticks to guitars, bass, and drums. Ditching the electronic embellishments including the poppy synthesizers and artificial beats that cropped up in “Decemberunderground” and in “Sing the Sorrow” to a lesser extent, AFI’s “Crash Love” is more of a meat and potatoes affair if you will.
But that doesn’t mean that AFI has lost the layers of subtlety that have made them much more than a standard rock band. Considering that guitarist Jade Puget and vocalist Davey Havok were previously mired in their electronica band, Blaqk Audio, the onslaught of guitars is a welcome change.
Rather than falling into the drudgery of straight-up power chord rock, Puget mixes his heavier, chunky riffs in cuts such as “Cold Hands” with more intricate, harmonious fretwork on the Cure-like unadulterated pop charmer that is “Veronica Sawyer Smokes,” where he channels The Smiths’ Johnny Marr with chiming sequences as he lets the high notes ring nice and bright. Whereas most other bands would employ two guitarists, Puget succeeds in performing double duty, interspersing the thick, power chord rhythms with more subtle, nuanced melodies, keeping the songs dense without sounding muddled.
Living up to this ethos, Lead single “Medicate” screams radio-friendly with its catchy intro and chugging palm muted riffs. It’s arguably the most traditional rock song in the band’s catalog, ending with a squealing solo by the usually humble Puget, who employs some tasteful tapping to show off some of his finest chops since “Dancing Through Sunday.”
Although “Medicate” might light up the radio charts, “Beautiful Thieves” is a more interesting listen, starting off with a series of piercing harmonics before lurching toward an expansive chorus while “End Transmission” is the band’s epic moment, propped up by Hunter Burgan’s dirty bass lines. Perhaps the most dance-friendly track, “Too Shy to Scream” has a pulsating quality driven by its raucous shuffle beats and hand claps on top of fuzzy guitar that represents a slight departure from the norm.
On the lyrical side of things, for those who took a profound liking to singer Davey Havok’s abstract introspection laden with vivid imagery, his more literal and direct approach this time around may be a bit of a disappointment. Not to mention, his lyrics occasionally come off a bit bland: “I’d tear out my eyes for you my dear / anything to see everything that you do,” he sings in the otherwise explosive opener, “Torch Song.”
Meanwhile, his obsession with Winona Ryder is a bit misplaced on the album as he reveals, “I saw you every time I close my eyes / in the Hughes film I had scored, produced and starred in, in my mind.” For an otherwise serious writer, this unnecessary profession of teenage love is a letdown.
Yet, even when Havok’s lyrics let him down, his superb voice makes up for it, mixing aggression and yearning melody that take center stage when all else is faltering, a distinction that has set AFI apart from its contemporaries, especially in the cathartic and not so morose “Darling, I Want to Destroy You.”
Luckily, the band makes it all come together on “Sacrilege,” the most classic-sounding AFI track on “Crash Love.” Drummer Adam Carson pounds away at the snare and puts in some off-beat cymbal crashes to create the song’s frenetic pace, sure to please older fans of the days when AFI was a fast-charging punk band. Havok also delivers some of his better lyrics, proclaiming, “I alone seem to see disgrace / as I watch these mad dogmatics govern our entire race.” And for those wondering if the gang vocals have disappeared, rest assured. There are still plenty of group chants, especially on “Sacrilege” and “I Am Trying Very Hard To Be Here,” which will have you unable to resist the urge to chant along.
The fact that AFI has reached album number eight is an achievement in and of itself. But even more impressive is that it has once again made an album that doesn’t resemble its predecessor, keeping its sound fresh and interesting without straying too far from the core. Hopefully the fire fueling the creativity continues to stay inside.