|Album Rating: C|
Anti-Flag's biggest problem as a band today might just be fans like me. Back in the day, being a fourteen year old white kid with good grades from a decent neighborhood that still felt a little out of place in high school meant the need for an outlet to the confusion and frustration. Punk rock, or maybe "punk rock," happened to be that vent. I can remember going to Anti-Flag shows with my friends Dave and Spaz and loving every second of dancing around to 'Spaz's House Destruction Party' and 'Davey Destroyed the Punk Scene' (it's true) and feeling like I really belonged to something. I can recall looking around the pit of sweaty, vest-clad punks and picking out the ones without green mohawks that looked to be a lot like me - that is, relatively normal, happy kids with typical high school angst and a need for that same outlet. Even if the shows were just a means to feeling better about typical freshman-year grievances and the government wasn't personally dicking us over, it felt pretty real as we shouted "Fuck the flag and, FUCK YOU!" together at the tops of our lungs. Most of all, I remember wondering what it all meant, what it would all become, and when I would finally tell my well-meaning father to piss off.
I find that I don't think so much like that anymore. I find myself thanking my dad for nudges in the right direction as I interview for positions with some of the most prestigious financial firms in New York City. I find myself, in hearing about UC Berkeley kids with the parents to put up the tens of thousands of dollars in tuition but not the sense to at least be relatively cooperative with enforcement officials, thinking things like get a damn job, hippie. Whether or not I can readily admit it, I find myself identifying more and more with the other side. In reminiscing about those shows, those skate sessions with kids my parents hated, and those too-small band tees, I wonder how many of those same show-frequenting kids find themselves in the same position as me, wondering what the hell it was all for anyway.
Unfortunately or not for Anti-Flag, The General Strike is a record that takes no time to sit back and ponder these things. Everything about the album - from its sub-thirty-minute playtime, to Sane's insistence in 'The Ranks of the Masses Rising' that our voices are needed NOW, to the incessantly forward-pulsing drumbeats that urge you out of your seat and onto the street - it all sends the message that the time to act is indeed now and that tomorrow is just too late. Anti-Flag could very well be right in that regard, with African warlords enslaving prepubescent captives for his military and government legislation that threatens our internet freedoms, but the execution simply fails to motivate. It may hinge on hypocritical to say it, but comparing the Pittsburgh punk outfit's best albums with their less-well-received ones, the difference seems to be how landlocked on politics the band chooses to be or not to be. The People or the Gun never really took hold on account of its more level-headed approach to "alarming the masses" - in other words, it didn't have any pit-worthy singalong tracks like 'Die For Your Government' or 'Drink Drank Punk'. Anti-Flag were becoming less of a fun band to piss off your father with and more a nagging plea for action. The Bright Lights of America flopped accordingly as well, with the anti-capitalism heroes of yesteryear releasing the record via industry juggernaut RCA records, a move that felt like a knife in the back for a lot of the band's followers. Yet The General Strike aims to take back what some of their previous records seemed to have lost, and, while doing so on some minor accounts, falls short on many others.
Anti-Flag made a wise choice in releasing their shortest full-length to date. If RCA's involvement in producing The Bright Lights of America didn't give fans a reason to cringe, it's painfully long play-time did. The same band that brought a song like 'Indie Sux, Hardline Sux, Emo Sux, You Suck!' simply could not afford to fill an album with some of the four-plus minute filler found on Bright Lights, so it's at least refreshing to see a new record with some insistence on brevity. The punk quartet's most memorable songs to date have often been amongst their shortest, and the shift back to a more urgent style of songwriting is by all means a welcome one. Still, The General Strike just lacks the enjoyment factor that made previous Anti-Flag releases feel so damn right. The use of a clip from the recent "occupy" protests at the onset of 'Nothing Recedes Like Progress' and the movement's general influence in the record's call-to-arms songwriting is an expected but otherwise unimpressive ploy, with the campaign as a whole accomplishing little more than elevating levels of inter-class irritation. Speculation was made during the album's recording process that the ongoing protests would indeed impact Sane and co.'s subject matter, but little evidence was there that it would do so in such unspectacular fashion. In a lot of ways, a record like The General Strike comes off more as a nagging reminder of what's left to be done than it does as a standalone musical endeavor - it's just tough to wholeheartedly side with these guys when they've extracted all the play and left only the work that's forever looming on a bleak horizon.
Still, one can't help but fist-thrust along to minute-long penultimate track 'Resist', with its fire and intensity matched only by its perseverance, borne by a band that's absolutely refusing to back down. The chorus of 'I Don't Wanna' digs its nails in deep with youthful grit and pure sonic rebellion. '1915', despite succumbing to a more alt-rock than punk rock sway, has all the elements of a damn well written track. If nothing else, we've got to maintain an enormous amount of respect for Anti-Flag's unwavering persistence in the face of consistently receding and challenged social progress. With that said, it's difficult not to feel as if their stay on the political pulpit is nearing its end. The Pittsburgh punk rock foursome is beating a dead horse with The General Strike. Young punks are growing up and trying to find their place in an economically unforgiving economy. Voices are being squelched in favor of more promising benefits packages. People are getting trampled on and hurt while others live comfortably enough to not notice. Or maybe it's just me, missing the fucking point.
The General Strike is out March 20th on SideOneDummy Records.
1. Controlled Opposition
2. The Neoliberal Anthem
4. This is the New Sound
5. Bullshit Opportunities
6. The Ranks of the Masses Rising
7. Turn a Blind Eye
8. Broken Bones
9. I Don't Wanna
10. Nothing Recedes Like Progress
12. The Ghosts of Alexandria