Anti-Flag – ‘American Reckoning’

By Tom Walsh

For a band that has spent an almost 30-year career providing the soundtrack of the counterculture, the political climate of 2018 should be fertile ground. As the presidency of Donald Trump in the US and the toxic atmosphere around Brexit in the UK threatens to tear each country apart, punk rock offers a kind of solace.

Anti-Flag have always been at the forefront of the fight back, championing left-wing politics, anti-war activism, and human rights. In the decades gone before their records have reflected the times we live in, with 2006’s ‘For Blood and Empire’ raging against the George W. Bush presidency, while 2009’s ‘The People or the Gun’ came in response to the financial crash of 2008.

As we live through some of the most turbulent times, Anti-Flag dished out the quick-fire release of 2015’s ‘American Spring’, followed by ‘American Fall’ two years later. While not the strongest output the band have produced in their career – lacking the veracity and rage, synonymous with their earlier work – they remained passable albums.

It feels rather strange, however, that the Pittsburgh punks felt the final installment of this trilogy needed to be an acoustic compilation. ‘American Reckoning’ takes a pick and mix of tracks from its two predecessors and strips them back to deliver an uninspiring and ultimately boring half hour of music.

From the offset, ‘American Reckoning’ feels like a band on auto-pilot. Acoustic punk records rarely translate an effective message and all the, albeit limited, snarl and energy from the originals has been completely neutralised. Where there may have once been defiance, it now feels like we’re sat arm-in-arm singing around a campfire and toasting marshmallows.

There is a lack of originality seeping throughout the record, with the acoustic adaptations rarely deviating from its electric counterpart. The visceral ‘When The Wall Falls’ sounds exactly the same, while the incendiary ‘Racists’ loses all form of poignancy as the intense drum beats and heavy guitars are completely lost.

Likewise, ‘The Debate Is Over (If You Want It)’ and ‘Trouble Follow Me’ sound far too much like a band playing it safe, rather than attempting a different arrangement akin to Alkaline Trio’s ‘Damnesia’. ‘American Reckoning’ then sluggishly lurches into a trio of covers to end including John Lennon’s ‘Gimmie Some Truth’ and a closer of Cheap Trick’s ‘Surrender’, a choice that highlights just how much Anti-Flag have decided to phone this one in.

While ‘American Reckoning’ is a fairly inoffensive record and it will appeal to the hardcore Anti-Flag base, therein lies the problem. It is inoffensive – something this band has strived for so many years not to be, lacking any real purpose or message. A bland, paint-by-numbers, instantly forgettable record, which questions why it was even made in the first place – not the record that fuels the counterculture in troubling times.

TOM WALSH

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