Anti-Flag - A New Kind of Army (retro review) (Cover Artwork)


A New Kind of Army (retro review) (1999)

Go-Kart Records

1999 was a long time ago, for few bands was it longer ago than for Anti-Flag. Before the Warped Tour, before the Bush Administration, before deluxe edition vinyl pre-orders. Before Fat Wreck, PETA tour sponsorships, and NHL team co-merchandise. Before touring with Aiden, gracing the Madden video game soundtrack, and collectible color variant 7-inchers. Before the major label, before 9/11 and Iraq, before any partnerships with Democracy Now! and Amnesty International. Before the last two albums of radiowave-thirsting pop-first/pop-second/punk-whenever track collections that would be American Spring and Fall. Back in 1999, when Anti-Flag were a fresh new band out of Pittsburgh, still finding their sound, and still explaining their name, came A New Kind of Army.

The second studio album saw Anti-Flag return with a new lineup (sayonara Andy Flag, welcome aboard both Chris’!) and a few small and small-ish changes to their sound. Between albums the guys had dropped much of the humor from their debut, wherein plenty of goof-around tracks like ”Drink, Drank, Punk”, “…Go-Go Dancer”, etc. intermix throughout the track list but here we’re only really taking a joke break with “Right On” near the albums mid-point. That’s a little disappointing because those songs were great and a lot of fun, but was a gradual shift that retroactively feels like an inevitability on the road to becoming todays Anti-Flag that takes their politics and their music very seriously, wherein every album presents a campaign platform. The biggest jump in musical evolution comes by then-new bassist Chris #2, who was actually bassist #3. The four-stringed work on this album was head and shoulders better than on Die for the Government, and that’s not because the bass playing was lacking on their debut, but because Chris #2 is a damn fine bass player and particularly stood out on his introduction here and in the landscape of 1999.

As the instrumental proficiency was on the upswing the song structures on A New Kind of Army took a considerably more simplistic tone. Maybe it’s the pressure of following up a good debut, maybe it’s getting acclimated to writing and recording with new band members, or maybe it’s just the kind of songs they wanted to be making, but the wild, veering, sometimes unpredictable nature of their first album was hemmed way in for their second release, none of the sloppy, swerving, jerking, spastic moments recur here and overall that made for a less fun listen. Their self-serious messaging could have survived a bit more of the ham routine had they left it in place, and the album would have benefited from a cut of wild gesticulation here and there to add some structural and sonic diversity. The highs here weren’t as high as they reach on Government and there’s a fair number fewer songs to write home about on this follow up. Lead singer/guitarist Justin Sane has gone on record calling it his “least favourite Anti-Flag record”, which can only be the opinion of a guy trying to sell some Obama-era A-F albums. Far from the worst Anti-Flag album, but also not really in contention for their tops either. A fine and serviceable follow-up to a smashing debut and a breakout record for a monster act of the punk world today.