Pittsburgh punks prove that, for some, the times they aren’t a-changin’.
Ian Winwood 2012
In the days before the internet, fans of underground US punk would gather in record shops such as Rough Trade and Slam City Skates off the Portobello Road, or Shades in Soho, wondering which of that month’s unheard import releases might be worth buying. For the more hardcore (or callow) customer, one gauge of an album’s likely appeal would be the average duration of the songs contained on each album. Shorter songs meant faster material, usually played with a hard edge, and by a band that most proudly exhibited the genre’s base elements of shock and awe. As punk rock went overground these habits faded away, but fans of a certain age will still read of a song that clocks in at less than a minute and yearn to hear the band that plays it.
At just 22 seconds, Controlled Opposition, the opening track on The General Strike, the ninth studio album from Anti-Flag, fulfills this criteria with some aplomb: it is both as fast as a shark and as angry as an infected molar. As if this were not old school enough, the man doing the singing – in this case, the shouting – goes by the name of Justin Sane; it’s not as if Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious never happened, but that they never stopped happening. Like the old T-shirts used to say: punk’s not dead – b******s is it.
Wiser heads may ask why a band now approaching middle age feel the need to rant and rage in quite the manner of Anti-Flag when certain peers – Bad Religion, Against Me! – have found more nuanced ways of framing rebellion, and even outrage. Such questions, though, only rise to the surface during The General Strike’s lesser moments, of which there are a few too many. That said, when this 12-song set does hit its groove it is a punishing and relentless pleasure. Songs such as the Clash-tastic The Ranks of the Masses Rising and the sneeringly dismissive I Don’t Wanna go some way to confirming the truth that while punk rock may be a pursuit increasingly unsuitable for adult thinkers, as a sound it is often an irresistible force. And at its best, The General Strike is more irresistible than most.