After 25 years of mixing the business of politics with the pleasure of punk in a cocktail of left-wing anti-war, class struggle, and human rights activism, you’d hope you’ve changed at least something. For Pittsburgh’s premier punk-rock purveyors Anti-Flag, their beloved home of America is in a woeful state of political and social chaos. 2015’s American Spring and 2017’s American Fall were bombastic punky alt-rock statements on the hope and the anger the American population felt, signalling the start of a triptych.
As the finale of the triptych – American Reckoning – arrives, you’d be forgiven for expecting a balls-to-the-walls hardcore-punk aesthetic. Pitching one hell of a curveball, Anti-Flag unplug their electrics and strip it back to campfire chants and emphatic singalongs. Surprisingly, it’s one of their most refreshingly relevant albums because of it.
American Reckoning is comprised of acoustic reworkings of tracks taken from American Spring and American Fall, and topped off with a handful of carefully chosen cover songs from the likes of John Lennon, Buffalo Springfield, and Cheap Trick. Switching up punk-fuelled alt-rock protests into campfire sing-alongs without losing the power of the messages at the heart of the songs isn’t an easy task, but it’s one Anti-Flag pull off piece-by-piece, as if each one is a jigsaw ready-and-waiting to be put together.
Admittedly, it’s the material from last years American Spring that feels far more powerful and far more free for acoustic interpretation; if you don’t find yourself singing along, moving your body side-to-side, and invigorated by its political activism, you’re not listening right. Racists is just as bombastic as its original whilst When The Wall Falls evokes the feeling you’re singing songs with a group of fellow activists, as if you’re part of something far bigger.
As Anti-Flag have gotten further into the 21st Century, so has their production, and have been known for slipping more into punk-infused alt-rock rather than straight-up punk, and the struggle of that is felt in the acoustic tracks taken from American Spring; they were so polished, they just don’t sound right stripped back. Brandenburg’s Gate is full of stomp in its original, but its acoustic lacks the pomp and falls short of the mark, especially when placed among such fine acoustic company.
The three-song covers section of American Reckoning sees the band plug back in for some fun, which for the most part seem redundant. If the acoustic reworkings hadn’t been nearly as enjoyable as they are, the covers would feel far more important, however you’re left wanting more of the acoustic good stuff rather than a two-bit take at Cheap Trick’s Surrender. Saying that, John Lennon’s Gimmie Some Truth feels as if its an Anti-Flag original that’d slot nicely into their back catalogue.
Just why one of America’s premier punk bands stripped it back rather than speeding ahead on American Reckoning is unknown, however it’s a welcome relief from the uninspiring efforts puked out by the likes of Ministry. In American Reckoning, Anti-Flag have bid farewell to their American triptych in utter style.