Following the massively disappointing Decemberunderground, AFI has upped the ante with Crash Love. Their eighth full length and third major label release shows real progression from a band many had dismissed years ago. I have to admit to being one of those who had lost an enormous amount of respect for the band when the aforementioned album came out. The first single, "Miss Murder" was a strange blend of pop and nü-screamo that just did not suit what AFI had produced up to that point. The rest of the album continued to let me down with only a few tracks that could pass as decent. With very low expectations for this album fueled by a terrible title and even worse cover art, I was weary going in. I wasn't sure how I felt about the first single, "Medicate." It had a great opening riff, but I was turned off by the production levels and overall poppy feeling of the track. The solo at the end won it some points, but I was still on the fence. As the rest of the tracks played through, however, I found myself being pleasantly surprised by AFI's latest effort.
To say that AFI has returned to form is misleading. The music they made on their Nitro years is dead and gone. The high production levels still remain. Davey Havok's vocals are crystal clear and the instruments come through at very professionally mixed levels. There is no doubt that this is a mainstream rock record to the core, but it is a good one. AFI has taken the style they developed with Decemberunderground and Sing the Sorrow and combined it into something that really works for where the band is now. The songs are alive and vibrant, while at the same time maintaining the dark overtones that AFI is so well known for. This is their take on what they feel a mainstream rock album should be and it works well.
The album opens with "The Torch Song" and contains epic guitar riffs and a numerous membered choir for the chorus. But the choir shows up again in the next track, "Beautiful Thieves," and I was a little worried by this at first. Had AFI taken their success with the major labels and attempted to make themselves even bigger than before? No. The weird effects and computer enhancements that plagued Decemberunderground are almost completely gone. The band has gone back to relying on the greatness of their musicality to make this album.
Jade Puget highlights his ability as a lead guitarist as he shreds the hell out of his axe on songs like "Medicate" and "Sacrilege." The bar chords and manipulated power chords that he is known for show up in spades on Crash Love and have never sounded better. I was a little bummed that Hunter Burgan's bass isn't brought as far forward as it has been in previous efforts. That just seems to be the way that most major label efforts come across: that the bass is just an underutilized instrument. Adam Carson's drums, meanwhile, are nothing short of the greatness you have to come to expect from the band. They do just what they should: highlight necessary sections without overpowering the leads. It was interesting to find that Davey's growl that had shown up on the previous two albums is gone. I thought it was a great advancement in his vocal range when I first heard "This Celluloid Dream" years ago. I don't know where they would fit in on this album, but it's still a shame to not hear it all.
The songs are progressive and new, but still contain that feeling AFI has ingrained in their listeners. Songs like, "Sacrilege," "Cold Hands," "Okay, I Feel Better Now" and "Medicate" bring back memories of Sing the Sorrow AFI. After the huge pull-away from anything punk with Decemberunderground, these tracks are refreshing to hear. There are some slower songs mixed in to balance out the mix, "End Transmission" and "Darling, I Want to Destroy You," and they work well together with heavier bits.
My biggest gripe about this album is the song, "I Am Trying Very Hard to Be Here," which the band opened their doors to a group of fans to come and sing gang vocals on. While this seems like a generous offering from the band, the result is less than spectacular. Having seen the video of the kids recording, all I could see was bored looks from people who had no experience doing recording. That sense of boredom comes through on the recording. Their collaborative effort clashes so hard against the well-tuned and professional pipes of Davey Havok. In addition, the mixing is poorly done and is a huge contrast. This is more of an observation than a complaint, but this is the first album since Very Proud of Ya not to contain an introductory song. I was surprised by this. They have been a staple of so many albums and usually serve as a great way to set the mood of the album. It was just a shame that they didn't do one this time around.
Overall, Crash Love is a great success in my eyes. AFI has written material that is completely unique to this album. That is not an easy thing for a band to do at this stage in their career. The best part of it all is that these songs are good. They don't resonate with me as much as their material from their Nitro years, but they have earned their place. AFI has taken every album as an opportunity to discover something new. Some fans liked Decemberunderground; I did not. I'm glad that AFI has come back and done something so much better this time around. I doubt that Crash Love will win back many who turned away from AFI when Sing the Sorrow came out. Those that are fortunate enough to give this album a chance will be glad that they did.