AFI has matured considerably since we last saw them. The adolescent simple punk themes have been replaced with more ominous overtones and a more mature sense of self. Not to say that the pubescent themes have completely grown up. More likely, they’ve grown into awkward young adulthood, but each comes in its time. “Crash Love” is an exercise in introspection, a long question in being and state of mind. AFI is a band in transition, as it seems like they’re trying to forge a bridge between their old sound and something they themselves can’t quite define.
Don’t get me wrong; most of this is still sugary pop-punk. That said; it’s a different brand of sugary pop-punk. More Green Day, less Blink 182. That alone doesn’t make it perfect, but the progression in theme makes AFI far more palatable than they were in previous efforts. Their music and attitude seems more serious, refined, and focused. Present in the album is a great share of straight rock and roll themes and sensibilities, though they are seldom pushed to the fore.
Elements I’m not used to seeing from them intrigued me, like the almost swing-drum beats in “Too Shy to Scream.” Unfortunately, the band never goes back to trick, and fails to explore the depth of the idea. A swing punk band (with no brass section,) is something I could have gotten my teeth into a little bit.
For each song like “The Torch Song” or “Beautiful Thieves” that plays with something new, AFI matches that effort to a too-easy three chord radio romp. Every time the band experiments, they grasp the safety ladder offered by a song like “Veronica Sawyer Smokes,” or “Okay, I Feel Better Now.” It’s these interludes into the band’s figurative “home base” that draw back from what otherwise was a somewhat imaginative effort.
There a handful of catchy songs here that I can’t help but enjoy on some level, like “Medicate,” or “I am Trying Very Hard to Be Here,” which don’t really push the envelope, but are well put together and get in your ear without letting go easily. The guitars are easy and the progressions predictable, but that doesn’t take away from the core hook that the song offers. In rare occasions, less can be more. Throw in a couple solid guitar licks and a classic punk sing-along chorus, and it makes you shake your head that AFI doesn’t write all their songs like that.
The last third of the album, with tunes like “Sacrilege” and “Darling, I’d Like to Destroy You,” offer more of the rock/punk synthesis that the band is trying to bring to bear, but don’t expound any further into those themes than any other part of the album. “Cold Hands” has a terribly catchy, almost metal guitar hook, but the chorus is fairly weak in both construction and muscle.
“Crash Love” reminds me a lot of the old Worthless United album “A Nation Under,” (though much, much better produced) in that it’s got some promise, and might even have a solid foundation, but never quite decides where to go from there.
It’s a tough album to place. There are not enough new ideas for true old-school punk fans to try them again. I worry they may have pushed some of their old fans away in what might be interpreted as an attempt to grow up with them. In the end, I’m on the good side of ambivalent toward the album, as I can see its appeal without having it appeal to me. Assuming there’s a next effort following this one, I might check in to see if the progression continues. If you’re at all curious about it, rent before you buy.