Overseen by producers Joe McGrath (Alkaline Trio) and Jacknife Lee (Bloc Party, R.E.M.), AFI‘s Crash Love is an ambitious bid for attention retention from a fanbase who’s rapidly outgrowing their double-wide eyeliner and long since tired of crybaby sissyboys in girl pants. It seems that manhood – or some mutant variation of it – has made a return, while there’s yet to be an artist to come along and singlehandedly make complete asses of the scene as Cobain did to hair metal in the dawn of the ’90s. It’s all gotten too deep now, too saturated… but one can still hope.
At any rate, AFI have honed their musical execution to a surgical precision, and there’s nobody on the scene today who can do it with such conviction and style. Too Shy To Scream is a monster live hit in waiting, a lovesick shoegazer anthem with a chorus that speaks to a million teen girl diaries: I’d die / if you only met my / eyes before you passed by / Will you pause to break my heart?
To untuned ears, a lot of desperate pleading about the culture of celebrity, tales of personal loss and anthems of defiance get tired pretty quickly. But regardless of their history, there are trap doors and fills on every end of Crash Love to keep any true music fanatic from casting AFI in the shit heap with the innumerable somewhat-similars. The rhythm section of Adam Carson (drums) and Hunter Burgan (bass) remains the band’s given foundation, allowing guitarist Jade Puget room to fine-tune his evolving sense of arrangement. Puget shines brighter than ever on Crash Love, yielding to what the song calls for more often than in the past, but not without kicking his own bar up more than a few notches; his solo work at the end of Medicate would do Tom Morello proud.
What appears to be a conscious decision between Havok and Puget to stride through the hallways of John Hughes’ fantasy world pays off well. Nowhere is this more evident than on the aptly-named Veronica Sawyer Smokes and the ’80s-power-ballad-on-speed Sacrilege. Cosmopolitan goth and trendy passion-addict activist clash, a blur of fishnet and fingernails, ending in tragic fashion. Curtains.
Speaking of era callbacks, the intro and lead in Darling, I Want To Destroy You could’ve been a throwaway from Pearl Jam’s Vs., and that’s not at all a put-down. Instead of ramping upwards, however, we get a slow-walking-through-white-curtains ballad that falls far short of its potential. There’s some redemption in the same-era Cold Hands, which looms large and cuts the fat straight away, but the chorus doesn’t escalate the way you want it to.
The mystery and drama run deep as ever on Crash Love, but what barbs the hooks is that AFI have collectively committed to a vision, and by combining the hormone-surfing emo formula with their hyperkeen awareness of what makes an anthemic jam a massive fucking 25,000 person singalong, the band has meticulously built the framework to hit the strongest note of their career. This isn’t the classic masterpiece it was foretold to be, but it could very well be the predecessor.
Reviews published prior to February 23, 2015 used a 1-5 star rating system.