Lies They Tell Our Children LP
After thirty-five years in circulation documented by twelve full-length albums, eleven EPs, a multitude of singles, videos, split releases and other releases in addition to innumerable miles logged on the road, it goes without saying that Anti-Flag has paid its dues – but Lies They Tell Our Children proves that, at least in their own eyes, the band still has something to prove to their fans. After needle catches groove on the A-side of the album, Anti-Flag restrains themselves through the subdued “Sold Everything” just long enough to let listeners’ fingertips tingle a little and let the little hairs on the backs of their necks begin to rise. There, the band lets listeners begin to feel like they might have gotten to the party late – as Chris Head and Justin Sane gently play their guitars, Sane also colours the canvas with paints which already feel dry; it feels as though the conflict is already over as the guitar tones employed sound clean and the past tense presentation of lines like, “Well, they sold all our bodies, collected our names/ Sold all our fears, stole our birth dates/ Every thought we have exchanged for windfall/ If they gave you nothing, you’d have nothing at all” further push the idea that listeners got to the party late. The cursing that follows that beginning (“Fuck all their borders and fuck all their wars/ The violence of Wall Street and profiteer cures/ Neoliberal white saviours, Murdoch and Fox News/ Fuck the Pittsburgh police and the president too”) smacks of the sour grapes and poor sportsmanship which manifests at the end of a game lost too – but the power and venom exhibited by the band at the beginning of “Modern Meta Medicine” complete with a guest performance by Jesse Leach of Killswitch Engage) illustrates that there is plenty of venom left in Anti-Flag’s fangs as well as plenty of power to strike left in the band, and the unrelenting assault supplied by Justin Sane, Chris Head, Chris No. 2 and Pat Thetic removes any notion that Anti-Flag might be lightening up or slowing down after thirty-five years.
After “Modern Meta Medicine” sets the precedent, Anti-Flag recognizes their advantage and presses it as the A-side of Lies They Tell Our Children progresses. For “Laugh. Cry. Smile. Die,” Anti-Flag brings Shane Told from Silverstein along for the ride through an excellent melodic hardcore ear-bleeder before recognizing and showing concern for the faceless masses who are being left behind on “The Fight Of Our Lives” – in which both Bad Religion’s Brian Baker and Tim McIlrath of Rise Against also appear. There, Sane’s frustration is realized brilliantly as the sinewy guitars which open the song set a stage that Sane just blows up with a wall of what feels like an incredible (and incredibly addictive) amalgam of melodic hardcore early pop-punk forms which is honestly something which needs to be heard to be understood. As good as “The Fight Of Our Lives” is though, “Imperialism” seeks to ensure that it does not stand alone as a monumental performance, as the song shifts gears into a brand of high-speed, high-octane punk that is impossible to deny – before the side finally slows to a close with “Victory Or Death (We Gave ‘Em Hell)”.
While it might seem unlikely, “Victory Or Death” is simultaneously a great way to close the A-side of Lies They Tell Our Children as well as being the most confusing cut on the album. Even the first listen tells the whole story; the song goes out of its way to accentuate the most obnoxiously pop-punky sonic cliches that both pop and punk have to offer and ends up feeling like a clear entry into contest for who might have the most often-played single on the radio this year (answered most memorably by “Shut Up And Dance” by Walk The Moon,” a couple of years ago), but also features some classic punk elements (check out likes like, “I don’t know your story and I don’t know your name/ But I can tell you that you won’t die in vain”) – and those elements mix together incredibly well. Better still, because “Victory Or Death” is the closing cut on the album’s A-side, it ensures that listeners will be energized and ready to flip the disc as soon as the needle lifts in hopes of making the transition as seamless as possible.
…And, rather than falling down a poppy rabbit hole as soon as the B-side starts, listeners will be gratified to find that Anti-Flag reverses onto steady punk soil with “The Hazardous”. There, the band balances a furious delivery (incendiary guitars, brutal drumming) with lyrics which are equally furious (see “Same war, same change, same house always wins,” for example), which will have listeners locked in with an immediacy which reflects the song itself. Perhaps to offer a contrast to that power, Tré Bert offers more brightness than anyone might expect from a song called “Shallow Graves” before locking into a tone and timbre which could only be called “Classic Anti-Flag,” with the frustration exhibited by “Work & Struggle” (the political posturing and association with the proletariat are precisely what longtime fans hope for from the band, as are the incendiary guitars – and that the song doesn’t leave any outliers before it closes at two minutes and nineteen seconds in duration is the cherry for old punks to savour), before closing really, really strongly with the one-two punch embodied by “NVREVR” and “Only In My Head”. There, “NVREVR” sets up a blazing assembly of guitars and drums on top of which Sane (joined by Stacy Dee of Bad Cop Bad Cop) presents an absolutely searing indictment of those who would pretend to be morally superior when it serves their purpose as well as using that behaviour as justification for underhanded acts (check out “Catastrophe is guaranteed again/ Cause your pay-off is with a moral sin/ Well somehow, that idea always got under my skin/ But you never got into my head”), for which “Only In My Head” offers resolution and closure for the album. That feels incredibly satisfying for those who run front-to-back with Lies They Tell Our Children and, after it has played through and the needle lifts, listeners will discover that the end is a triumph; there is a great sense of power and achievement to be found in it.
Taking the Lies They Tell Our Children LP in the context of Anti-Flag’s catalogue into account, it’s impossible to overstate the quality and calibre of the album. So many years into the band’s career, it would be easy enough to shrug through the album while also citing all of the aspects of the songs which could be seen as questionable (like, “Is this really an Anti-Flag album? All of the guests who appear on it leave that question up for debate” or, conversely, “With the political slant of the album far less pronounced, is Anti-Flag stepping back from the things which set them apart?”) – but the fact is that with so much terrible dust having begun to settle recently, Lies They Tell Our Children illustrates that Anti-Flag is capable of producing great music without necessarily requiring some terrible events to contrast it against. That makes the album satisfying in a manner which is completely different from the rest of their output – and that makes a new and great potential form for the band to examine on future releases as well. [Bill Adams]
The Lies They Tell Our Children LP is out now. Buy it here, directly from the band’s official store.