With all their political posturing, street punk pandering, and mohawk positioning; I can understand the need, or perhaps desire to disregard Anti-Flag. It’s easy to write their image off as a corruption of authentic punk, and the most cynical of us could easily attribute their catchy songwriting to the sinister machinations of the music industry. But perhaps the problem with these statements lie with the word ‘easy.’ As punk rockers, we associate negativity with popularity, perhaps unconsciously, but never flawlessly. So while it might be easy to say Anti-Flag is just another cog in the machine, it might also be a little too easy. With that said, The General Strike probably won’t change any minds. As much as I wanted it to be a Great Record, maybe even Defining, I was left with something less dramatic, if not still admirable: a good listen.
The General Strike begins with a hardcore track, showing off some of Anti-Flag’s new influences. Although they are no stranger to the less accessible punk genres, in the past they have mostly pulled from the street punk aesthetic. The adoption of hardcore influences, no matter how late, is refreshing not only because of hardcore’s own driving ferocity but also because the doors it opens are new and exciting. Anti-Flag have stuck to their sound for so long, with so little deviation, that incorporating new styles save the band and the album from the buzzing flies of stagnation. “This Is The New Sound,” with its Refused-esque title, brings some of the album’s more interesting instrumentation to the forefront, giving Chris #2’s ridiculously catchy bass a shot at the spotlight.
“The Neoliberal Anthem” is a fairly standard Anti-Flag track, but the repetitive nature of the lyrics overcome the strength of the hooks, nevertheless it makes for a decent song, albeit with unclear sentiments. “1915” is a return to form, or more like a change of form. For a band that’s usually noted for its heavy handed politicism, Anti-Flag moves in a more subtle direction by grounding their politics in a more personal realm, the result is one of the album’s best songs. My favorite song on the album opens with a big hook, complete with gang vocals that might ring nostalgic for long time Anti-Flag fans, “Broken bones, and broken glass, broken hearts, and broken heads. Livin’ the life.” The song’s simplicity is perhaps it’s greatest strength, instead of going after lofty Big Ideas, “Broken Bones” makes a more universal statement likening the aforementioned bodily harm to “Life’s long and winding roads.”
While it makes movements towards being outstanding, The General Strike ultimately falls short by not pushing harder. The hardcore tracks on the album are for the most part stand-alone oddities, never actually being incorporated into Anti-Flag’s default aesthetic. By separating these tracks stylistically from the more conventional sounds that permeate the rest of the album, they are basically relegating the hardcore as a novelty never to be embraced in full. Lyrically, the album is more subtle than past records, doing away with more overt politicism. But the result is a vagueness that make the song meanings difficult to discern.
Despite Anti-Flag’s predilection for topical songwriting, to me The General Strike is pure nostalgia. It brings me back to a less cynical time, when “Die For Your Government” was one of the most raw songs to ever grace my ears. The General Strike doesn’t live up to the band’s previous releases, but it shows that the band isn’t content to become a parody of itself. Effort was put into pushing this record into new territories, and while perhaps the push wasn’t dramatic enough, the songs still stand as solid Anti-Flag material. It’s still too easy to dismiss Anti-Flag, and I’d have liked The General Strike to remedy that. But maybe that would’ve been too easy. It won’t push boundaries, but if you’re willing to give it the time it might just get you singing along.