The People or the Gun meets any expectations a music fan has for an Anti-Flag record. It’s punchy, sometimes raw but mostly flavorsome punk rock. Anti-Flag sounds practiced, tight, and familiar, as most veteran punk bands should on their 7th studio album.
There is little need to write with any depth about most of the songs because not a lot lot changes from one to the next. The band doesn’t shy away from indulging their pop sensibilities–a number of these songs could show up in the next video game or network TV teen drama. Some tracks have more energy than others; most have a pop-friendly structure, while a few lean more towards thrash; and vocalists switch off between band members, no one sounding any better or worse than the others.
A number of songs are hellbent on becoming anthems–these are the ones in which the lyrics are 100% intelligible and the riffs have rounded edges. “This Is the First Night” is probably the most blatant example. This largely group-sung track celebrates camaraderie, sounding both sentimental and forward looking at the same time. The song tries to end but unfortunately the band can’t resist a short encore after pausing for two seconds. The result sounds hokey, especially for a band that has been at it for this long.
A lot of things about punk rock are either cliche or awesome depending on one’s point of view.
“On Independence Day” was my favorite song. Channeling the Clash, Anti-Flag welcomes influences from one or two other music genres into their normally persistent method, and the band sounds comfortable as they modify their formula. But then, one of the weaker tracks is “We Are the One”–a song so predictable, and with lyrics so worn out that you’ll swear you’re hearing a cover of an early Offspring song.
But despite their missteps, the band sounds fresh, even if the platitudes found in the lyrics are not. This is a political record from start to finish. The cause and result of the recent economic meltdown of the US economy seems to be their focus. The “gun” referenced in the album’s title is likely a metaphor for the “establishment”—a hazy composite of the corporate elite, the influence they wield in government, and the system that allows them to do so.
The album never challenges the conventions of a political punk rock record. Because so many political punk rock records have come and gone, Anti-Flag missed another opportunity to at least make The People or the Gun a little more compelling than its army of predecessors. After all, anger at the (blank) administration is almost always widespread.
But the purpose of this kind of punk album is to excite listeners and audiences, not to explore dynamics. This music sounds more assuring, and fans can assume a sense of unity when the world is seen in the false terms of a binary relationship of power–the relationship between the ruler and the ruled. And this album serves that end. Then, after the last song, life goes on as it did before, and nothing changes save the possibility that a neighbor wakes up to find the word “anarchy” spray painted on his garage door. And if that’s all that comes of it, fine. Because rebellion ultimately recreates the power structures it sought to destroy.
The band’s ultimate contribution is their fund raising efforts and clothing drives–something commendable and, hopefully, appreciated and inspiring to their fans.