Review Summary: Crash Love is subtle and intricate, an unexpectedly focused affair.
Throughout AFI’s 15 year, eight-album tenure, they’ve never stuck with the same sound for more than a couple of albums. This approach has cost them two founding members and a replacement bassist, while, like any punk band that have released more than one record, they’ve been accused of selling out several times over. From their Misfits-inspired beginnings, they’ve taken in a beefier, Black Flag-influenced sound, absorbed goth rock influences with the addition of guitarist Jade Puget and fiddled with electronic pop on 2006’s unfairly-maligned Decemberunderground
, but their evolution has always been progressive- not necessarily in the musical sense, but in their unwillingness to turn back and re-tread former glories. Crash Love
smashes precedent to pieces, but, far from being a regression, it’s the best move they could have made at this stage in their career.
To call Decemberunderground
an existential crisis might be a bit of an over-statement, but its effects were not lost on the band. Despite broadening their appeal substantially, Decemberunderground
divided fiercely both the band’s casual and hardcore fan base. The Despair Faction will always keep the faith, but, even so, many were disillusioned by the changes. Though they’ve never explicitly admitted it, Jade and singer Davey Havok created the side-project Blaqk Audio as a vent for their electronic work in order to preserve AFI as a pop-punk project. As a result, Crash Love
does sometimes feel like a step backwards, with loud echoes of 2003’s Sing The Sorrow
and 2000’s Art Of Drowning
, but they’ve also managed to incorporate enough new influences to keep things fresh, and the result is a far more subtle and accomplished record.
plays its strongest hand right off the bat. ‘Torch Song’ fades in slowly with mournful, dissonant feedback, before launching into a guitar riff strongly reminiscent of ‘Days Of The Phoenix,’ while the cherubic layered vocals on the chorus recall a later single, Sing The Sorrow
’s ‘Silver & Cold.’ The strong start continues with ‘Beautiful Thieves,’ a sturdy glam rocker with a bombastic chorus and a semi-facetious lyric that continues Havok’s ambiguous relationship with the glamour of death and the macabre: ”If we run this light, take a little right / No one will care at all / We can burn it and leave, for we are the beautiful thieves / No one suspects at all.”
The early songs in particular make it clear that Davey’s fascination with death and self-destruction has dissipated not one bit. And, while Crash Love
never quite hits the lyrical highs of Sing The Sorrow
, it’s earthier and more relatable on a human level. That said, ‘Veronica Sawyer Smokes,’ which may just be the best track ever written about Winona Ryder, has him at his verbose best, singing: ” I saw you every time I closed my eyes, in the Hughes film I had scored, produced and starred in, in my mind.”
Nevertheless, it’s Davey’s vocal contribution that makes the song: the layering of voices on the chorus is sublime, and he litters the track with minor inflections that simply didn’t appear on the previous album: for such an idiosyncratic vocalist, his performances on Decemberunderground
were almost deadpan, owing in the main to the album’s overbearing synth-pop influence.
Jade Puget, too, steps up in a big way. ‘OK, I Feel Better Now’ is his standout performance, as indeed it is for the band at a whole. He starts off with a trademark chiming chord sequence, before working in strummed octaves and some unexpected, game-changing chord changes in the third verse. The continuous innovation suggests he may have written the greater part of the song. The track builds to a grand, almost U2-like crescendo that almost certainly bears the imprint of producer Jacknife Lee, he who manned the boards for the Irish band’s How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb
. It’s one of the few moments on the record that feels over-produced (the others being throwaway single ‘Medicate’ and the otherwise infectious ‘I Am Trying Very Hard To Be Here’), as in general the album is polished in a way that accentuates rather than conceals their unique features.
doesn’t demand the listener’s attention to the same degree that Decemberunderground
did, but closer inspection reveals a more intricate and well-constructed album. It rarely lacks for quality, but it does occasionally sound a little disjointed: tracks like ‘Too Shy To Scream’ and ‘Medicate’ are fun, but they sound misplaced next to the more subtle and refined ‘Beautiful Thieves’ and ‘Veronica Sawyer Smokes,’ so the album itself doesn’t always add up to the sum of its parts. Nonetheless, Crash Love
is an unexpectedly focused affair, and a couple of AFI classics-in-waiting therein make it well-worth a flutter.