I really tried to like this album. I really did. You see, I'm not even a huge AFI fan. I love The Art of Drowning, but I can't claim knowledge of every song the band has released. I do know that I like a lot of what I've heard, and I know that over 100 songs were written for this record. I was hoping for something epic, that AFI would release their American Idiot. Or at least something substantial and worth the wait. Instead, I end up asking myself, "This is it?"
If a band writes so many songs and these are the best of them all, I'd hate to hear the rest. When I put the album in, I half-expected to hear Nas drop a rhyme with the beat in the beginning of "Prelude 12/21." I expected the liner notes say that the vocalist of Atreyu guest stars for "Kill Caustic," because that sure isn't the Davey Havoc growl I know. It saddens me to say it, but the Green Day-esque "Miss Murder" ended up being one of my favorite songs on the album, although at a mere 3:20, it still overextended its stay a bit.
After the first few songs is where the album gets interesting. The real inspirations for the record come shining through in production and a bit more than just a tip of the hat to more beat-oriented bands of the past. While I respect AFI's desire to change and evolve, I wouldn't call this an evolution in the right direction. It's sort of like growing wings when you're living underwater; it just doesn't work. It's not that it's horrible or hard to listen to -- the melodies and beats in "Summer Shudder" are great for a band like the Killers or the Bravery or any other of the numerous bands that have climbed to success with dance-oriented tunes, but this isn't A Fire Inside. At one point during "The Missing Frame," Davey sings, "Put out the fire inside me." I believe this album has done just that; it's put out A Fire Inside. There are hints of a few embers and ashes remaining, but this band is all but extinguished from the force this band used to represent.
I do have my guilty pleasures on this disc. "The Interview" is absolute gold. The production is subtle and the self-restraint the song shows echoes of gems of yesteryear like "Morningstar." The first beginning to "Love Like Winter" is decent enough, but then quickly falls apart into a mess of the type of music that most of us started listening to punk to avoid hearing on the radio. "Endlessly She Said" is probably the closest the album is to older AFI, and one of the strongest tracks. However, other than those few points, the rest of the album is just a mess.
Another big distraction is a lot of these songs are long. I love my fair share of long songs, the kind that keep you captivated from beginning to end. Unfortunately, the five-and-a-half minute "Affliction" and the nearly five-minute "Missing Frame" are, well, just sort of boring. "Kiss and Control" has the potential to be a pretty amazing song if it was just sped up a little bit, or at least ditched the horrid little spoken word breakdown at the end. But slow tempos and more measures alone do not make a song epic. There also seems to be a disconnect of cohesiveness between the music and the lyrical content; when you're singing, "It's killing time again," and the music sounds in a closer vein to "Baby One More Time" than "Sacrifice Theory," it doesn't make sense.
One thing this album will do is sell an amazing amount of copies. But this is another example of a divisive record that will alienate a majority of the audience that helped get AFI to where they are now. And, like I said, I'm no diehard AFI fan. I like what I've heard in the past, but to me, this isn't an AFI album. For a disposable pop record with a few hooks in the right spots and a couple songs that might make it to a summer driving mix tape, it's got what it needs. But for an AFI record, one where the band spent months recording an incredible amount of songs, I expected so much more.
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