AFI's 'Bodies' Is Mostly Lifeless
Published Jun 10, 2021Thirty years into their career, AFI seem due for a resurgence. While most of their peers from their mid-2000s heyday have fallen victim to time, the veteran band have pressed forward and arrived at a point in time when there's a reasonably sizable cross-section of young punks, elder emos and new-age goths that would gladly welcome an AFI comeback. The band's self-titled record — a.k.a. The Blood Album — could've done it in 2017, but it wasn't quite the return to form that it could have been. Still, it's theirs for the taking.
With Bodies, AFI have totally blown it. Rather than try again to reclaim their former glory, they've made a mostly lifeless album that puts them at perhaps their lowest moment. The best of AFI is delivered with full force, combining punk-rock ferocity with a flair for the melodramatic. Here, they barely commit. Bodies offers a dark, modern take on '80s post-punk that's too uninspired even for drive-time rock radio. Sometimes, they themselves don't even sound all that interested.
Davey Havok's iffy pursuit of nü-new wave with Dreamcar — his supergroup with the non-Gwen Stefani members of No Doubt — continues here with AFI. In the band's output since Decemberunderground, the influences of the Cure, Depeche Mode and Joy Division were noticeable enough; here, it's full-on pastiche, and it's already worn thin. Not only is there another California-based group of former hardcore punks that have already taken this same path of new-wave revivalism (see the works of Ceremony since 2015), but AFI's own pivot finds them falling flat by just about every measure.
It's promising at first. The revved-up snare rolls and machine-gun guitars of "Twisted Tongues" are legitimately exhilarating. While not as explosive as one would hope, it's a frantic opener that tends toward AFI's known strengths. But that's as exciting as it gets. The band's playing is perfunctory and Havok's melodies even more so. Even on higher-energy tunes like "Far Too Near," "On Your Back" and "Begging for Trouble," the choruses are overly simple and utterly soulless. Havok's voice is normally a sharp-edged blade to be wielded with dynamic, striking force, yet the hooks he's written for this album are duller than a butter knife. He occasionally lets his voice soar — like in the synth-washed chorus of "Dulceria" — but those moments are rare. To his credit, Hunter Burgan has turned in some top-notch bass lines, but the intensity and inventiveness of guitarist Jade Puget and drummer Adam Carson have been hammered out of them. For the most part, these songs basically sound like they were composed of the first, most rudimentary ideas that occurred to the band.
As with any '80s-inspired record, Bodies leans heavily on synths. AFI use them well when it comes to spacey atmospheres and dark ambience, but they get into trouble when they put the keyboards at the forefront. On industrial-pop songs like "Escape from Los Angeles" and "Death of the Party," they're very present, but they don't do much to actually make the songs better. With slow-burners "Back from the Flesh" and "Tied to a Tree," the band goes for big echoes and palpable tension, but they're so tedious that the only strain is on one's patience.
With Crash Love, AFI leaned into their pop instincts. With Burials, they went for arena rock. With The Blood Album, they channelled the sounds of their heyday. That last record was far from exceptional, but it was nice to hear them doing some of the things that made their major-label breakthrough Sing the Sorrow a cult classic. If nothing else, it sounded like AFI. But with Bodies, they sound lost without an identity. There's barely anything that's exciting or memorable, and when it surprises, it's only in the wrong ways. The band sounds about 30 years less experienced than they are. In the corny Duran Duran worship of "Looking Tragic," Havok sings this line repeatedly: "What a total mess." Let's leave it at that. (Rise)