Every Anti-Flag Album Ranked From Worst To Best By Chris#2
What’s impressive but perhaps a little disheartening is that in 2019, Anti-Flag are more important than ever. Though the band’s debut album Die For The Government came out over two decades ago, plenty of the songs thereon — Police State In The USA, Fuck Police Brutality, I’m Being Watched By The CIA — echo sentiments that young punks are dealing with every day in 2019. Now, leading up to the release of their twelfth full-length record 2020 Vision, the band has a renewed sense of purpose — driven by one asshole in particular.
“Never before have we been so focused on one central figure,” says bassist/vocalist Chris#2. “Unlike some of our favorite bands, like the Dead Kennedys or the Regan Youths of the world, we’ve never attacked a politician like we have with this record. We’ve always tried to stay away from that, because what we learned from Die For The Government was that we can make songs that are kind of timeless. But we wanted to really focus on Donald Trump, what gave him his rise to power, what’s given the right wing and neofascism a rise to power across the globe.”
Photo: Alexandra Snow
Maybe that’s the biggest difference between Anti-Flag and most other punk bands: every album must have a message. To rank the band’s discography, Chris says he’s judged output not just by personal experience and fan response, but by the statement each release made. This, however, isn’t exactly a new process for one of the most politically-outspoken punk bands of all time.
“That’s the cool thing about doing this — when you step away from it, you can see what the pattern was, or the error of your ways was,” says Chris. “I also enjoy it because it’s become a challenge. There’s an internal conversation that the four of us have that exists outside of Google Analytics, and outside of what people like and care about. We’ll literally say to each other, a) we’ve done that before, b) we’ve said that before, or c) if it’s none of those things, is it valuable? Not in the sense of will it create money, but does it leave things better than we found them?”
With that, Chris takes a deep breath and dives into the fray…
12. The Bright Lights Of America (2008)
“This was our last record on RCA — we had a two-record deal with them. But it was also peak record industry crisis and economic crisis in America, so there was a complete upheaval with the people we were working with at RCA, and they were all gone, and we were left to our own devices.
“One thing about the major label world we learned through the first record is that they don’t think anything is of value unless you spend a lot of money on it. So when we had the budget that we had on Bright Lights, we thought, ‘Fuck it, let’s just do what we want to do and go as big as we can, because these people are going to spend the money and think that it’s a better product.’ So we went with [producer] Tony Visconti, who did David Bowie’s The Man Who Sold The World and Morrissey’s Ringleader Of The Tormentors, a lot of these big orchestral records. And the plan was to incorporate that into punk rock, and I think we did a pretty good job of it.
“The problem was that Tony was used to seven-minute long songs, so when we brought him four-minute-long songs, he thought, ‘Oh, these are short and compact.’ And they needed fat trimmed from them. So the biggest misstep of Bright Lights was that the songs are just too damn long. I enjoy a lot of that record, and I think it made a lot of cool statements — it was the first record where I learned I could write specifically about myself. But Anti-Flag kind of write like journalists: we don’t write about ourselves, but about what’s happening in the world. That’s the first record that’s got personal shit in it, and how it relates to what’s happening in the world. But it was kind of a failure. It was awesome to work with a legend, but God, I wish someone would’ve said, ‘These songs are too long.’”
11. The People Of The Gun (2009)
“The knee-jerk reaction to [The Bright Lights Of America] was The People Of The Gun, where all the songs are two minutes long and it’s basically like the demos are what’s on the record. We were like, ‘Okay, we’re away from the major, we can do this punk record!’ It almost feels a little forced in its execution, because we were so haphazard with it as well. After making a record that took us four months, with this producer who had perfect pitch, we built the studio for ourselves, made a record ourselves, nobody touched it, and then we were like, ‘Oh, shit, we’re probably best somewhere in the middle.’”
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10. A New Kind of Army (1999)
“This is a really cool record, but it’s got way too many songs on it. If you cut seven of them out, it’s probably a much better record and would rank much higher. It was the first record I played on, and that was very exciting to me. But they had those songs written, and I wasn’t really connected to these songs. A lot of it I don’t have a tremendous direct connection to.
“It’s a band clearly going through a line-up change and some growing pains. It’s a follow-up to a first record that was received fairly well at the time; in the punk scene around it, it had kind of made waves. So I think you can hear all of that — where do we go now? Which leads to some really interesting things, but which also has some risk with very little reward to them as well.”
9. Underground Network (2001)
“I think it’s a cool record, and for the people who found it when it came out, I think it has a lot of impact on them. The people that really love Underground Network who I meet, they’re people who found it when it came out — they’re not people listening to Anti-Flag for the first time!
“It kind of goes over that era. It was where we learned our words carried weight. We had just signed to Fat Wreck Chords, and that felt like a tremendous platform for us. So it’s the first complete extrapolation on the songs. The booklet is 30 pages long and goes super in-depth into the politics behind the songs. It felt like our lives were going to change when we made it — and then the record came out and nobody cared.
“The most valuable part we got from Underground Network was that it failed. We learned that the record label you’re on doesn’t mean anyone’s going to care about you more. We thought, ‘Anti-Flag has signed to Fat, ours is the trajectory of NOFX, Good Riddance, Lagwagon,’ but then it came out and didn’t change our lives. That lesson turned out to be very valuable years later when we were singing to a major, and they kept telling us, ‘Your lives are going to be so much different once you’ve signed to a label like us!’ And we were like, ‘Motherfuckers, we’ve been here before, we know that’s not true.’”
8. The General Strike (2012)
“This was another in-house record. It was kind of a low-point for the band, just emotionally and physically. We felt exhausted, and I certainly found myself questioning whether or not this was what I wanted to do.
“It’s an interesting thing, especially for a band who’s been together for 25 years — all of us in the band have a role. For example, Pat [Thetic, drums] has always handled the money. He’s always been the most fiscally responsible member and makes sure all of us can eat and pay our bills. Justin [Sane, vocals and guitar] and I have always driven the creative side. Chris Head [rhythm guitar] does the artwork. My role specifically is the vision for how we should share what we do. So when somebody has to check out because something in their personal lives goes on, the other members have to pick up the slack. It was a strange period in both Pat and my lives, because we were kind of checked out, coming in and out, so you can see other people stepping up on that record.
“But I think it has some really cool songs, and has some hits we still play, like Broken Bones and This Is The New Sound, but I see it as a transitionary record for the band. We were shouting in the wilderness — a lot of people in reactionary politics were checked out during the Obama years, so to be making this record calling for the end of drone strikes in Obama’s ramped-up drone program, the end of the surveillance state, calling for workers to take their lives back post-economic crisis — there weren’t many people that were listening. ”
7. Mobilize (2002)
“I like this record, but some of the things surrounding the band color it, and push it lower down the list. I thought at the time that we were doing some cool things — we were recording digitally for the first time, and there’s a lot of amp processing on the album. I was like, sonically, FUCK, this is terrible. I’m glad that trend didn’t stay!
“We were in the studio on September 11th, so the entire life of the band changed on that day. We had people sending our shirts back to us, sending death threats in the mail, telling us that if we didn’t change our band’s name things would continue to be bad for us. And then we went in and wrote the song 911 For Peace the following day in the studio. I felt this extreme low, and then when the song came out a couple weeks later, an extreme high from the amount of community who were looking for anti-war messages while they were ramping up the war machine and the call for blood and eye-for-an-eye post-September 11th.
“That was a particularly hard time, and I think some of the songs on the record have that. But it doesn’t lead to our finest work, because you can tell there was some upheaval and difficulty going on.”
6. American Spring (2015)
“I think this is a cool record. It was off re-energizing ourselves. It was our last during the Obama era, and it’s one where we re-collected and said, ‘I know that it feels like we’re screaming in the wilderness, but we have to do this — we have to leave a document behind that there were people who stood in opposition to these things while they were happening.’
“I think it’s one of the more sonically-diverse Anti-Flag records because of that, and it has one of our most popular songs ever, Brandenburg Gate, on it, which has changed our band and has introduced us to a lot of new people — and for a band who’ve been around as long as we have, young people coming out to our shows is the lifeblood of rock and activist music. So that was a really big record for us because of that. ”
5. American Fall (2017)
“If I’m truly being honest about it, American Fall has really, really great moments on it. It’s Anti-Flag at our best, where we have found a way to execute a song that stays with people on the purely earworm side. Its catchiness, its compactness — it’s Beatles 101 songwriting, but also delivers a message, so hopefully when you’re sitting around your house humming the guitar riff or whatever, you then go, ‘What’s that song about?’ And you find that it’s about PTSD that’s specific to drone pilots, or it’s about the distraction politics that led us to Donald Trump and the rise of fascism we see around the globe in 2019.
“So I think that in that sense, it deserves to be really high — but there are four, maybe five songs on this eleven-song record that we’re not going to play. So that, for me, drops it down.”
4. The Terror State (2003)
“Terror State beats American Fall slightly, purely because it was the big ‘A-ha!’ moment of the band’s life. That’s where you really find Justin and I writing songs that we want to write. We figured it out, we cracked the code. We’re no longer searching for what happens. It’s also the first record we made after touring Europe, so the politics are no longer specific to America. They are more global and aesthetically realized now that the band had reach.
“That same extrapolation that we had with Underground Network, where the booklet became a real book — we took that to N’th degree on Terror State. We were creating websites that were specific for songs, specific for things, direct calls to action within the album — I think that’s where we harnessed the politics behind the band and executed them for the first time to the best of our ability. That was the moment where it all convalesced and became what the band is today.”
3. Die For The Government (1996)
“I didn’t play on Die For The Government, but I bought it the day it came out, so I feel like I know more than most folks! The cool thing for me about Die For The Government is that I can really hear a band who had no idea that anything was going to come. And I LOVE that. When I meet young people and they ask anything about playing music or how to ‘make it’ or get exposure — I love that word, it makes me want to blow my fucking brains out — this idea that you’re creating art to have people listen? We’re not owed fuck-all. We should be creating art because we have to, and if we don’t get it out our lives will be more difficult than they already are.
“I really feel that in the songs on Die For The Government. They’re so Pittsburgh-specific. That, for me, screams of a band who have no plan to get out of their hometown. And while it’s so exciting for me that these songs have such a reach, and that they’re so applicable to things today, it saddens me that we have to play songs like Fuck Police Brutality because the technology has caught up, because police murder is in front of our faces on a daily basis. I think there are some negative parallels that can be said about making a record that’s got 20 years’s worth of legs, but I also think it’s a testament to what the band’s doing and how important that record is.”
2. 20/20 Vision (2020)
“Purely because no one has heard it but me, I’ll put our newest record here. I think it’d be unfair to put it any higher until we get it out and flesh it out in front of people. But I ultimately know that the people who made this record are the best versions of themselves, and that to me is really, really exciting. You don’t a) play an instrument for 20 years and not start to figure it out, b) you don’t write songs for 20 years and not start to figure it out.
“All of that said, I think that it’s so focused on the immediacy of what’s happening in the global politics of 2019 leading into 2020 that it flowed out of us seamlessly. And having the frame of reference we’ve gotten over time, those are the best records. The ones where we work to get the song out or the idea out, those are way down on this list. But the higher ones, those are the ones where the songs come, they need to be said, they need to be done.”
1. For Blood And Empire (2006)
“The band just learned the weight of the major label consequence, everyone was shitting on us for signing to a major label — we took that pain and we internalized it and we made what I believe is the most political record to ever come out on a major label. And I’m friends with Tom Morello!
“If you look at the booklet and the work that went into For Blood And Empire — which, coincidentally, came out at the same time as American Idiot, and you cannot tell me that American Idiot is a more political record than For Blood And Empire — the coolest thing for me about it was, the entire album was written before we had a label, and we had no intention of signing to a major. I think it was a really cool moment, where none of the pressure of the major label thing, none of the outside noise of us signing to a major — none of that impacted songwriting, because it was done. So that part was really helpful, and aided in us having to navigate such a tricky time in this band’s life.
“Moreover, the weight of being told that our music would reach more people on a major — with Underground Network, we found that wasn’t true. So we just made sure to make the best record we could make. Subsequently, once we found out the major entailed having labels and territories outside the US, the record became our biggest record because of that. It just made its way into more hands. So that ultimately was true, but wasn’t necessarily a driving force.
“The things that we got out of this — the healthy fear that they had of us — led us to start a nonprofit, helping us combat military recruiters in high schools. We got that provision in the No Child Left Behind Act changed. We were able to meet with politicians. It had value — most of it had Rock And roll Swindle value, where we were robbing the rich to give to the poor. But we were never on MTV, we were never charting the record, we didn’t have any of the shit that people expect from a major. But in the rock’n’roll world and media world, people took the band seriously. And we took full advantage of that situation. ”
Anti-Flag’s 20/20 Vision comes out January 17 via Spinefarm Records, and is available for preorder.
Scream bloody murder at one of Anti-Flag’s upcoming live shows in the U.S., the UK, and Europe listed below:
19 Erie, PA @ Basement Transmissions
20 Chicago, IL @ Reggies
21 Detroit, MI @ Black Christmas
08 Lisboa, PT @ RCA Club
09 Madrid, ES @ Caracol
10 Vitoria, ES @ Kubik
11 Zaragoza, ES @ Sala López
12 Barcelona, ES @ Estraperlo
14 Milano, IT @ HT Factory
16 Zurich, CH @ Dynamo
17 Graz, AT @ PPC
18 Vienna, AT @ Flex
19 Prague, CZ @ Roxy
21 Berlin, DE @ SO36
22 Munich, DE @ Backstage Werk
23 Nuremberg, DE @ Löwensaal
24 Chemnitz, DE @ Talschock
26 Warsaw, PL @ Proxima
28 Hamburg, DE @ Fabrik
29 Köln, DE @ Essigfabrik
30 Haarlem, NL @ Patronaat
02 Brighton, UK @ Chalk
04 London, UK @ O2 Academy Islington
05 Manchester, UK @ Club Academy
06 Birmingham, UK @ The Mill
07 Glasgow, UK @ The Garage
08 Leeds, UK @ The Key Club
09 Cardiff, UK @ The Globe
11 - Ottawa, ON @ The 27 Club
12 - Montreal, QC @ L’Astral%
13 - Burlington, VT @ Higher Ground*
15 - Boston, MA @ Brighton Music Hall%
17 - Asbury Park, NJ @ House of Independents%
18 - Hamden, CT @ Space Ballroom*
19 - Philadelphia, PA @ The Foundry%
20 - College Park, MD @ MilkBoy ArtHouse*
22 - Atlanta, GA @ The Masquerade @ Purgatory%
24 - Nashville, TN @ Exit/In*
26 - Cleveland, OH @ Grog Shop%
27 - Buffalo, NY @ Rec Room*
28 - Pittsburgh, PA @ Roxian Theatre*
02 - Charlotte, NC @ Epicenter 2020
03 - Columbus, OH @ A&R Bar^
05 - Toronto, ON @ Velvet Underground^
06 - Grand Rapids, MI @ Pyramid Scheme^
08 - St. Paul, MN @ Amsterdam Bar and Hall^
10 - Denver, CO @ Bluebird Theatre^
12 - Dallas, TX @ Dada^
13 - Austin, TX @ Barracuda^
14 - El Paso, TX @ Lowbrow Palace^
20 - Oakland, CA @ New Parish^
21 - Santa Cruz, CA @ The Atrium at The Catalyst^
27 - Sacramento, CA @ Holy Diver^
28 - Portland, OR @ Hawthorne Theatre^
29 - Vancouver, BC @ Wise Hall^
30 - Seattle, WA - The Crocodile^
* w/ Grade 2 and Doll Skin
% w/ Grade 2
^ w/ Bad Cop/Bad Cop and Grumpster
Anti-Flag continue to fight against uncertain times on 12th album, 20/20 Vision…
Watch twenty one pilots’ incredibly old-school lyric video for Level Of Concern.