For their second major-label release and eighth overall, Anti-Flag made the intriguing choice of working with producer Tony Visconti, the semi-legend who has worked with Bowie, T-Rex and Morrissey. In theory, then, The Bright Lights of America was primed to be a heady mix of the band’s anthemic pop-punk and some quirky glam hooks. Depending on your taste, that might be a good thing. What disappoints, though, is not what could have been, but what is.
Anti-Flag made the leap to a major with ease — their brand of punk was always on the melodic, arena-ready variety. Which is fine. There is nothing wrong with well-crafted, sing-along rock, though when the formula is applied to punk, it feels more watered down than organic. Green Day can get away with that, because even at their snottiest they had some pop ballads ready to go in the oven. But Anti-Flag is so overtly political, and it’s jarring to hear pissed-off lyrics driven by radio-friendly chord progressions. Really letting it rip might have taken songs like “Modern Rome Burning” or the title track to a new level. Most of the songs here — with the possible exception of “Spit in the Face” — don’t inspire you to do anything more than tap your feet.
The band’s outrage over social injustices seems genuine, but too often their targets are either easy or their rants are far less pointed than they ought to be. The songs feel generic: Nothing on Bright Lights is that memorable. Visconti’s presence seems to revolve around pointless additions of harmonica, brass, strings and some kind of children’s chorus. Even if Anti-Flag’s hearts are in the right place, Bright Lights of America is too vague to be impactful.