The Bright Lights of America reviewed by Iain Dalton, Socialist Party
To me Anti-Flag have always been the quintessential anti-war band. In September 2001 they were half-way through recording an album when the 9/11 events occurred. Like most people the events stunned them.
However, when reactionary rumouring about retaliatory attacks began, they immediately wrote a song against any proposed invasion entitled 911 for Peace, and released the song for free on their website.
I remember them much more for the tour they did in Britain against the Iraq war in the beginning of 2003, where they linked up with the anti-war movement and advertised their actions at the gigs on the tour.
Their most recent album, The Bright Lights of America, continues this theme drawing on analogies of the US ’empire’ currently bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan and the decaying Roman Empire in the song The Modern Rome Burning.
The Ink and the Quill is a damning criticism of US imperialism from Chile to Fallujah and counterpoises the money spent in Iraq in the interests of big business, to what would have been needed to repair the levees around New Orleans and reduce the devastation from Hurricane Katrina in that city. Shadow of the Dead points out the legacy of past movements against invasions and occupations.
Alienation and the lack of a future for young people is another theme running through the album. After one of the band’s relations was murdered they released a benefit album for victim support charities.
However, rather than sink into the usual reactionary ‘law and order’ response, If You Wanna Steal shows how capitalism is a system that perpetuates crime and impoverishes many people.
The Bright Lights of America focuses on the limited futures available to people, while Spit in the Face condemns the greed and individualism the system breeds.
Musically, the album is somewhat different to previous albums, using orchestral compositions, child choirs (to great effect in Good and Ready), harmonicas and more, blended in among the band’s usual punk/punk-rock style. It mostly works and there is a good variation of pace in the songs, from the incredibly fast Smartest Bomb to the fairly slow (for them) Go West.
If you’ve listened to their previous albums it comes as a bit of a shock, but it grows on you.
Above: Tom Morello, Billy Bragg and Anti Flag cover the Midnight Oil song ‘Beds are Burning at the Melbourne Big Day Out in January 2008.