A.F.I returned in September 2009 with their eighth studio full length ‘Crash Love’ and Jade Puget – Guitar, Hunter Burgan – Bass, Davey Havok – Vocals, and Adam Carson – drums, are just as strong as ever.
This is one of those records that take a few listens to understand. It’s something I find happens when it’s a sound you don’t expect, or aren’t attuned to, and definitely when your ears are tired.
My first impression of this album was shock. I was shocked at how ‘radio friendly’ each and every song sounds. Definitely unexpected, especially when you go back to their first full length ‘Answer That and Stay Fashionable’. With A.F.I. the fans have come to expect a change with each new release, and its something I expect and hope for from my favourite artists, I hate it when a particular sound goes stale. That being said, I did not expect the heavy pop sound of ‘Crash Love’. Upbeat rhythms, catchy hooks, almost cliché melody lines, and lyrics you can understand is not something I expected from one of my all time favourite bands.
On closer listen you begin to notice all of the little elements that make up a thick sound you can sink your teeth into. Lets work our way from the back to front of the mix, starting with the drums.
Adam Carson returns doing what he does best, delivering a rhythmic accompaniment that makes you want to dance. I’m an amateur drummer and all I want to do is sit in front of my speakers and flail my arms around mimicking Carson. What I noticed about his parts in this record is that he noticeably utilizes his whole kit. It’s not something I noticed in the past. Carson plays creative, even emotive at times, rhythms on every sound source in front of him. You hear tribal-like tom toms, heavy use of the ride, dramatic crashes, and syncopated bass drum and snare patterns. The drums are an important element in any musical genre, kudos to Carson for raising the bar for drummers across the globe.
Now lets check out bass maestro Hunter Burgan. Hunter is not one of those sit-back-and-hit-the-tonic-note-in-quavers kinds of bass players. Check out the rhythmic counter melody in ‘Medicate’, the walking bass in ‘It Was Mine’, the ascending and descending runs in the intro to ‘Torch Song’, then check out his back catalogue (‘Sacrifice Theory’ anyone?) and you’ll notice what I’m talking about. It’s as if he is trying to fulfill the role of a rhythm guitarist while Jade Puget plays leads. I say he surpasses this role. Two bad-asses in one! I guess it’s his ‘East Bay Hardcore’ roots that influence his style. He is an inspiration to rock bassists open-minded enough to consider using the ‘D’ and ‘G’ strings. A jab at pop music? You betcha!
Jade Puget returns with his fat guitars and fat hair. One thing that I always admired about Puget is his guitar tone and his ability to layer parts to create a thick texture. We’re not just talking about thumping power chords with a simple three-note arpeggio. Puget uses syncopated riffs up and down the neck, utilizing muting techniques, which, along with the ‘dance-y’ drums, I love. Puget also stands out on this release with the return of the guitar solo, you don’t see those in pop music. As far as solos are concerned, they aren’t virtuosic. Rather they play into the emotion of the rest of the piece, which to me says more about the musician than a Malmsteen ‘solo’.
Puget’s partner in crime returns with another new haircut, yes the almighty Davey Havok cut off that ridiculous, yet AMAZING fringe. Havok’s lyric style is the only thing about A.F.I that has gone unchanged in their eighteen-year career, and the one thing every fan hopes will NEVER change. The lyrics are the main appeal of A.F.I. It’s been stated time and time again by fans worldwide ‘Your songs saved my life’. Its not all about lyrics with a vocalist however, it’s the performance as well. Looking back through his career, it’s evident that Havok has never ceased to push his vocal performance as far as he can. ‘Crash Love’ sees Havok put an end to screaming and focus on what I would call ‘clean singing’. Even adding in a choir-like passage or two in ‘It Was Mine’. Havok’s inspiration from musical theatre becomes more apparent on ‘Crash Love’, just listen out for the seemingly unneeded ‘whoas’, ‘ohs’ and moaning. To me this ornamentation mimic the passages in musicals where the characters talk/sing/whatever at the same time, like a short phrase backing up the emotion he is trying to convey.
These four artists have combined their efforts to create another masterpiece in their body of work. They are tighter than ever and set the rock the world to its feet. I said they created a pop album at the beginning of this review, who cares what genre A.F.I fit into? All I know is that the world and myself love them.
‘Emotion’ is word I’ve used quite a lot in this review and I know some people are going to be thinking ‘EMO’ or something like that, but hear me out. Can you honestly say that music is not emotional? Think about what music you love and hate and then tell me music doesn’t affect you emotionally.