Album #12: Anti-Flag – 20/20 Vision

  • Released: 2020
  • Origin: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA
  • Label: Spinefarm
  • Best Track: Christian Nationalist

Political punk rock usually works best when the message is delivered with subtlety, irony and humour. Perhaps at times like now though, with so many developed countries insisting on electing such complete fecking eejits as their leaders, there’s a need for someone to just come along and state the bleeding obvious. To tell us “for God’s sake, come on guys!”

Enter Anti-Flag. As a teen I was a big fan of the whole American punk scene, spearheaded by labels like Fat Wreck and Epitaph. It was called pop-punk, before certain acts came along and made punk really poppy, causing the old less poppy pop-punk to be referred to as ‘melodic hardcore’. Despite this, I never really warmed to Anti-Flag. They had decent tunes and I generally sympathised with their cause, but they always nailed their colours so firmly to the mast, I almost felt they had nowhere to go with it. This was the band who in 2003, in the height of the Iraq War, released an album called The Terror State, the artwork depicting a young girl surrounded by rubble, performing a salute with one hand and holding a handgun with the other.

Against the usual convention, I’ve probably become more left-wing as I’ve got older, so maybe I’ll appreciate the band more now. Of course, 17 years on, the US has a president who makes Bush Jr. look like a socially progressive brain surgeon, so it’s not surprising who the punk veterans have in their sights on their 12th album. Quotes from the great orange one about how protesters got “very, very rough” treatment in the “good old days” pepper opening track ‘Hate Conquers All’, which sets the tone for a vicious ride ahead, while America’s vice-president and all-round shithouse Mike Pence is the inspiration for the catchy-as-hell ‘Christian Nationalist’.

It’s not an entirely bleak record though. The title track describes a utopian view of the year ahead. “Don’t Let the Bastards Get You Down’, while not the most original message, is an important call for solidarity, while closer ‘Resistance Frequencies’ is a rally that brims with hope.

Back when I was really into this stuff, I don’t think I realised how polished a lot of it sounds. American punk is so big as to barely be underground at all, and I suppose with that comes certain expectations of production values. The vocals on this one sound almost auto-tuned at times, and I can’t help thinking the whole thing might benefit from being a bit rougher around the edges. It is punk, after all.

But you know what you’re getting from Anti-Flag, and we need bands like them – more now than ever. 20/20 Vision doesn’t blow me away, but it’s a good point well made.

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