Sound — 9
Let me just start by saying that I've followed AFI since the Art of Drowning was released. I own all of their albums and most of their rare tracks and b-sides, so I wanted to give their newest effort a fair review. I looked forward to the release of this album with a sort of nervous anticipation; if it got any worst than 2006's Decemberundergroud, I decided that I may not have it in me to continue to purchase the band's music, however much I love their older body of work. Fortunately, this album rekindled my belief in AFI. And while I still feel that 2003's Sing the Sorrow was, and probably always will be, the band's highest creative point, Crash Love comes close, and, with a little open-mindedness on the listener's part, should not disappoint. As usual, the band's sound has changed dramatically. We've seen them develop from an 18-year-old, angst-filled punk band, to an almost synth-pop sound (in some aspects at least). Every album has been completely different, with 1999's Black Sails in the Sunset and 2000's The Art of Drowning arguably being the most similar in style. Surprisingly, this album drops almost every electronic aspect that the band had delved into before, presumably because key songwriters Davey Havok and Jade Puget scratched their electronic itch with their Blaqk Audio side project. Crash Love has a much more apparent sound to it, going back to the basics of the bands' instruments and using electronic elements in only a few places (such as the intro to Cold Hands, or the synthesized vocal portion of Darling, I Want to Destroy You). All instruments are ever-present, and all instrumental parts can be clearly heard in the mix throughout the album (something I found to not hold on Sing the Sorrow; Hunter Burgan's bass parts were almost inaudible at times). The album has a more radio-friendly vibe to it, and could even be considered poppy, but is still very clearly AFI. Musically, this album sees the whole instrumental section of the band outdoing its prior work. The band's rhythm section is very strong this time around. Hunter's bass parts are interesting and very tight, and Adam Carson's drumming is the driving force of the mix, pushing the album along at a steady pace. Carson pulls heavily from his punk roots, especially on tracks like Sacrilege, but spices his beats with subtle fills and technical trickiness that shows the listener from the start that this is a more complex and technically savvy drummer than before. Despite the band's rhythm section doing a very impressive job with this release, I feel that Jade Puget is the real shining star of the musical mix. This album finds him delving just a little bit more into the world of guitar effects; we see him using a little more delay, his reverb has become a little more lush, and there's even a small taste of wah in the end of I Am Trying Very Hard to Be Here. Jade supplies us with original, intelligent riffs (like the sporadic guitar intro of Torch Song, the gorgeous, harmonic-aided intro to Beautiful Thieves, or the main riff of End Transmission, one of Puget's best to date), and his rhythm parts are solid, but never boring. He even samples us with a little more of his technical skill with this release, presenting not one, but TWO guitar solos, during the tracks Medicate and Sacrilege. We see the band's possible influences exposed a little bit more on this record, with some tracks showing a slight 80's sound, but only in the best way possible. Parts of the guitar work on Veronica Sawyer Smokes remind me personally of the Smiths' Johnny Marr, and the production of the track Ok, I Feel Better Now nods at U2. The one song that I have problems with musically is Too Shy to Scream. I find this track weak both lyrically and musically, and I get the impression that the band just kind of threw it together in the attempt to create something a little more upbeat. It has a little bit of a rockabilly sound to it, while sounding poppy and a little bit indie at the same time, and though I understand what the band may have been trying to do, I think the album would have benefited from the track's absence. I also find there to be a lack of epic sounding bridges in the songs on Crash Love. Medicate's bridge is probably as close as the album gets. Not necessarily too much of a setback, but something an AFI fan looks for. The music of Crash Love is technical, layered, and never dull, and despite some minor criticism, I honestly feel like this is the best instrumental work that the band has produced thus far. It is both beautiful and tactful, and is quite simply the best feature of this album. In terms of production value, I reserve judgment until I listen to the album on a CD format. I've only streamed it on the band's Myspace, which may or may not be a lower quality than the hard-copy release format will be. I will say that it sounds pretty good so far. And though I feel that Decemberunderground was the weakest release by the band, I also feel that it had the clearest, most well produced sound of their releases, or of most releases I'd ever heard from any band. I can expect the hard copy of Crash Love will be of a similar caliber.
Lyrics — 6
Unfortunately, this category is where my qualms with Crash Love lie. While I usually enjoy Davey Havok's lyrical musings, they seem a little recycled this time around. The lyrics are penned most similarly to those of the Blaqk Audio Cex Cells album, which means that they're a little less abstract than AFI albums have been in the past. This could be seen as either a strength or a weakness. Die hard fans of the band's older work (STS and before) all seem to love the completely metaphoric, abstract lyrical ideas that were so prominent in the music before (which are also a major criticism of AFI haters). They allowed you to interpret your own meaning, and also (in my opinion) saved the band from being pigeonholed into the genre of 'emo.' Their lyrics were always dark and rather serious, but with them being so abstract, they could be about anything, which I believed deterred people from damning the band into a set genre. Decemberunderground found Davey's writing to be a little more literal, and Cex Cells was even more so. The pattern holds true, as Crash Love is more literal than ever. This may make it a little bit more accessible to the casual listener who may not know what to make of words like 'amaranth', but I find them to be a little bit too straightforward at times, making the songs almost corny in some spots. I find Medicate, the album's first single to be slightly so, as well as parts of End Transmission (though End Transmission's lyrics are very good overall). For instance, in the bridge there's a part where Davey says, "And you said 'stay strong'" and it just kind of makes me cringe because it reminds me of Prince or something, and just comes off as kind of corny for AFI to do. Also, some of the rhyming is a little bit predictable, like in the bridge of Medicate: "Can you tell me how it feels? Can we pretend this is real?" It just sounds so cliche and typical of the genre. And the song Too Sh to Scream's lyrics and basically make it a throwaway track in my opinion. I guess the sad truth is that, as much as I hate it, most of AFI's fans now are probably the Hot Topic mall goth types who don't have any problems with 'dark' lyrics that are straight forward, even at the risk of them sounding so literal that it's corny. Well I do have a problem with it, and I would even go as far as saying that I would feel a little bit embarrassed to be listening to some of the lyrics around people. Another problem that I have with the lyrics is Davey's tenancy to recycle certain words or phrases. He says the word 'die', or more specifically 'I die' about twenty times on the album, for instance. He also sings "Wear your best, we'll surely make the cover" during one song, which just reminds me a little too much of the Blaqk Audio song Cities of Night ("We'll shine this time; we'll make headlines"). I realize that that is picky criticism, but for somebody who really pays attention to lyrics, recycling like that grates on me and really kills a songs potential likability. Aside from my criticism, the lyrics are certainly not all bad. They run consistently with the continuing theme of modern love, from the good times to the bad times. Crash Love could be seen in a way as a loosely based concept album. Many of them are dark, such as End Transmission or Torch Song, but there are also some that hold a sort of innocent charm to them, such as Veronica Sawyer Smokes, presumably about a crush Davey developed on Winona Ryder's character in the 80's film 'Heathers.' Fans of the band's more hardcore work will enjoy the track Sacrilege, which embodies the same kind of bratty-sung punk/hardcore pessimism that the band shared with us on albums like 1997's Shut Your Mouth and Open Your eyes. Another thing that slightly bothers me (and I hate to say this because it's so much of why I love the band) is Davey's voice throughout the record. He's just a little bit too whiny and nasally sounding for my liking, and I think that it detracts from feel of the album as a whole. Another noticeable change is the absence of any screaming on Davey's part. I would consider this a welcome change personally, as I don't care for screaming and kind of just tolerated it before, but now with it gone, I realize how much of a dynamic it offered the band before. As it stands now, the lead vocal parts on Crash Love are a little bit mundane and unspectacular, with the exception of some interesting harmonies, such as the one in the bridge of Beautiful Thieves. The vocals lack a dynamic point that was present in their earlier albums. On a positive note, there's plenty of big, cult-like, AFI choruses that I'm sure all the fans of their older work will appreciate. There's also some 'whoas' thrown in there and the STS spirit of Davey has arisen anew with some 'Oh!'s thrown in as well. This isn't necessarily a saving grace musically, but anyone who's followed the band and likes their older albums unconditionally will surely appreciate these factors. Though I have some major problems with the lyrics and lyrical structure on Crash Love, I would still consider the album's lyrics to be more good than bad, and the album certainly provides fans with some new gems in the AFI body of work, such as Torch Song, Beautiful Thieves, End Transmission, Ok, I Feel Better Now, Veronica Sawyer Smokes, and Darling, I Want to Destroy You.
Overall Impression — 8
One final criticism that I will bestow upon the album is that it lacks the intro and ending that we as fans are used to. Torch Song is great, but it's not necessarily a show opener in the way that Miseria Cantare, Strength Through Wounding, or Prelude 12/21 were/are. And It Was Mine is a very solid track as well, with a beautiful chorus to it, but it lacks that epic feel that closing tracks like Morningstar, This Time Imperfect, or even Endlessly, She Said all shared. This criticism is not necessarily that serious, but from the perspective of AFI fans, it's something that we've come to expect from album to album. Though the lyrics have taken a very different feel from before, this is still very clearly the AFI you fell in love with originally. The sense of theatrics, the grandiose, cult-like choruses, and the general feel of this album let you recognize immediately who it is you're listening to. Generally, it's a great album with beautifully constructed music, a romantic feel, and just a couple of lyrical setbacks. But most importantly, it's something that AFI fans of old will feel at home with... despite the cover looking like a custom hood ornament on a Cadillac.