Review: AFI – Crash Love

It seems to me that there have been two AFIs (well three if you want to be picky, but the less said about the dodgy punk band that released their first few albums the better). The first was the creditable pseudo-goth/punk band that released Black Sails in the Sunset and The Art of Drowning on Nitro Records, and the second was the much more commercial major label beast that produced Sing the Sorrow and Decemebrunderground. If anyone is unsure, Crash Love sits firmly in the latter camp and is in fact even further down the pop-rock road than AFI have ever trodden before. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this choice: if a band wants to go in a more commercial direction they shouldn’t be crucified because of it. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve sold out and the transition from “Clove Smoke Catharsis” to “Medicate” may be a perfectly natural one. However, what is essential is that the quality is there, regardless of what style the band are playing. Sadly, for the large part of Crash Love, this is just not the case.

Anyone who is familiar with Decemberunderground will know what to expect, and while some of the strengths of that album remain, many of its inherent weaknesses are even more glaring. Starting on a positive, Davey Havok’s voice is just as delicious as it ever was, potentially justifying alone the huge heart-throb status he seems to have obtained in the past few years. Although certainly far lighter than at the turn of the millennium, it still retains elements of darkness which work well to contrast the poppy style of the album. Additionally, the musicianship of the band is still very solid, and if you’re fairly attentive when listening to the album there are chords and hooks embedded in the songs that are much more complex than the majority of pop-rock bands out there. The problem is that these interesting musical elements are deeply hidden under a layer of production so thick and smooth that Dorothy Hamill could have won a gold medal on it. It’s a huge shame because throughout their career one thing that AFI have always been is distinct. Up until very recently there was something about them that set them apart. On Crash Love, this just isn’t the case. The production drowns out practically all of their individuality, and if it wasn’t for Havok’s distinctive voice you’d be hard pressed to identify this band as AFI on first listen, even compared to Decemberunderground or Sing the Sorrow.

And then there’s the lyrics. Oh dear lord, the lyrics. Davey Havok is now in his 30s, so how exactly are we supposed to take him seriously when he sings lyrics that are so bad a high school student would disown them from his English class efforts at poetry. Lines like “I’d tear out my eyes for you my dear” and “I’d die if you only met my eyes before you passed by” are so horribly trite and cliched that it becomes cringe-worthy. This is the band who wrote “God Called In Sick Today” and these lyrics are the best they can some up with? Not impressive in the slightest. They’re not all this bad. Songs like “It Was Mine” and “Darling, I Want to Destroy You” are much more complex and meaningful lyrically but examples like this are too few and far between on this twelve track album.

Thankfully, the album isn’t a complete washout. The aforementioned “Darling, I Want to Destroy You” and “Beautiful Thieves” are musically and lyrically far more interesting than the rest of the album, and rank up near “The Days of the Phoenix” in the all time AFI top tracks list. It’s just a shame that the excellent ideas on these songs aren’t translated to the others. “Medicate” is “Miss Murder” but far less catchy and memorable and “It Was Mine” is a failed attempt to rehash the brilliance that was “Endlessly, She Said” from Decemberunderground. “Sacrilege” is also very interesting as it tackles organized religion as a topic which is potentially far more potent than the love-stricken by-the-numbers efforts that populate most of the album. Again, however, the song is let down by appalling lyrics. Reducing the entirety of something so complex as someone’s faith to the line “Is this one big joke? I can only hope” just lacks any recognition of the significance of dealing with such a difficult issue.

But throughout all the failings on this album, there is still hope. Certainly it seems that AFI will never again record an album the likes of The Art of Drowning again. However, the few highlights of this album show that they’ve not entirely forgotten who they once were, and they retain the ability to imbue songs with an individuality that most bands producing a comparable kind of music lack. “Darling, I Want to Destroy You” and “Beautiful Thieves” show that, when on form, AFI can still produce the goods, and the idea behind “Sacrilege” shows that they still have the scope and vision to aim big, even if their execution has let them down here. However, the simple fact is that Crash Love is not a very good album in the midst of a glut of similar artists producing similar sounds. For AFI to remain relevant in their second incarnation they need to maintain the individuality that once served them so well. Otherwise future albums like Crash Love will get washed away in the tides of an increasingly stagnant pop-rock scene, and AFI will go right along with them.

Final verdict: 6.5/10

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