Against Me! are, as has been said before, probably the best folk-punk band around, and are widely believed to be the "next big punk band" with their latest LP, "Searching For A Former Clarity." "Crime, As Forgiven By.." was their second full EP release in 2001, (after 2000's 12" debut "Against Me!") in 7" form (on Sabot Productions) and in CD form (on Plan-It-X Records). It was also their first release to achieve major circulation, as "Against Me!" only had an issue of 145 due to a production defect. For people coming into Against Me! more recently with their 3 full-length LP's, "Crime, As Forgiven By.." is an interesting listen as you can definitely hear where elements of Tom Gabel's songwriting style developed, and there are also alternate versions of songs on full-length debut "Reinventing Axl Rose" present. It is important to note that the 7" version was missing "Impact" and "Burn." which were added as bonus tracks on the CD version.
On the CD only two members of the group are present; Tom Gabel (vocals and guitar) and Kevin Mahon (drums and backing vocals). Gabel's voice here is even rougher than on "Reinventing Axl Rose," and the overall sound has a rougher production, giving the guitar more space to account for the lack of a bass guitar. However, "Crime, As Forgiven By.." has some of Against Me!'s best songs, and the production is pretty much irrelevant. The sound of the band here is really great considering there is only two members and the guitar is all clean. It sounds like a halfway point between the quieter introspective acoustic sounds on "The Acoustic E.P" and the distorted balls-out punk rock of "Reinventing Axl Rose." It really gives a unique sound especially when the clean guitar is bashed out at breakneck speed in the manner you'd usually hear distorted and supported by a thumping bass part.
To the songs though. "I Still Love You Julie" is the original version of the song also featured on "Reinventing Axl Rose," though in a more stripped down version. The song is one of Against Me!'s weaker songs and I feel it gets the CD off to a slightly weak start. It sounds much better with the full band behind it on "Reinventing Axl Rose" but it does set the scene for the rest of the EP well, showing off all elements of Against Me!'s sound (on this record) - anthemic choruses, good lyrics, jangly clean guitar, thumping drums and raw vocals that are halfway between passionate singing and rougher screaming. The album really gets going with "What We Worked For." Starting with a quiet stop-start guitar part Tom's vocals come in, talking about making music, the song keeps going and getting thicker and faster, referencing musical icons such as Elvis and Les Paul. The way the chorus is worked up from the first time you hear it spoken to a quietly strummed guitar to the harmony part that replaces it at the end along to a heavily strummed guitar accompanied by Kevin smacking the hell out of the drums is fantastic. Track three, "Y'All Don't Wanna Step To Dis" is a very good song (with a great title), though it is set out almost in two halves and as the second half is basically the first half played faster it feels like it is repeating itself too much and it is quite easy to switch off from. The line "And America, still sleeps tonight" is great though and presents some great imagery for the song. Of all the songs, it is perhaps this one that sounds the "folkiest" and most nostalgic, which is a great part of Against Me!'s armory - the fact that they touch on the right nerve to make you feel like you've heard it before even though you haven't, and plants a great smile on your face that doesn't leave (a good example of this is the song "Pints Of Guinness Makes You Stronger").
The last song on the original EP is "Walking Is Still Honest," which was also featured on their debut self-titled release and on debut full-length "Reinventing Axl Rose." "Walking Is Still Honest" is one of my favourite Against Me! songs, and I heard this version before the version on "Reinventing Axl Rose." Both are excellent in their own right, unlike "I Still Love You Julie." The version here, although it doesn't have a full band behind it, as on "Reinventing Axl Rose," is sparser and slower and the great guitar riff is made more prominent. The next track, "Impact," was a bonus track added to the CD version of the EP. This was, unlike many bonus tracks, a great idea because it adds a lot to the record and is one of Against Me!'s very best tracks. It has a great guitar riff, again brought to the fore owing to the lack of a bass guitar, and the vocals over the top are excellent, sung at the perfect tempo and with just the right amount of grit to them, adding a great amount of feeling to the song. The chorus is great, with just the line "Impact!" shouted, pushing the point forward. The only bad thing about the song is that has an almost false ending and sounds like it should go into something else instead of stopping dead. The final song is "Burn," also a bonus track. "Burn" is again, a fantastic song, and provides a really good ending to the CD. The intro riff is typical of Against Me!'s folk-punk stylings and continues through the verses, and as the song moves into the chorus, simple offbeat ska-upstrokes off-set the 4/4 drums and vocals brilliantly. In the outro Kevin does cowboy-style backing vocals "yeee-haw!" which somehow manages to work despite slightly over-playing the bands musical roots in American western folk music.
Overall, "Crime, As Forgiven By.." is a unique album. Not quite punk but not quite folk, it meets in the middle providing an original and compelling sound which you won't find in bulk on Against Me!'s full-length albums, but if you liked "Eight Full Hours Of Sleep," "Cavalier Eternal," or "Unsubstantiated Rumours (Are Good Enough For Me To Base My Life On)" then most likely "Crime, As Forgiven By.." is an essential record. Otherwise it is still a recommended purchase if you want to hear what early Against Me! sounded like, and naturally owing to the inclusions of "What We Worked For," "Walking Is Still Honest," "Impact," and "Burn," it is recommended to anyone who likes Against Me! as they are four of their very best songs.