What is punk rock? Answer That and Stay Fashionable. AFI’s debut was released on July 4, 1995. It remains an exciting album that you don’t have to be a teenager to enjoy.
The title originates from an episode of The Comic Strip (a British, Spinal Tap-type series) called “Bad News Tour.” The cover was an ode to the Quentin Tarantino movie, Reservoir Dogs. These guys weren’t just four-chord wonders; they were also film nerds.
This wasn’t my introduction to AFI. That honor goes to Black Sails in the Sunset. I owe a debt of gratitude to a punk friend (mohawk and all) who played that album relentlessly at parties. For him to like music, it had to be fast. AFI certainly had the speed, but I was shocked at how strong the lyrics and melodies were. Soon after, I discovered the similar-sounding, The Art of Drowning, and I was hooked. Other friends, who typically preferred alternative rock, also dug those records. Once I started exploring AFI’s punk roots, I was pleasantly surprised. The songs were simpler, but not bad by any stretch.
As much as I love punk rock, it can become repetitive. Many records sound terribly dated. Some of that has to do with cheesy, adolescent lyrics. Davey Havok indeed wrote his share for this album. Though truth be told, these lines from “Cereal Wars” still make me chuckle: “Give me sugar not nuts and twigs! Do I look like a f**kin’ squirrel to you?”
A song like “I Wanna Get a Mohawk (But Mom Won’t Let Me Get One)” means nothing to my old ass now, but I’m sure it does to plenty of kids. Hearing it today makes me yearn for more comfortable times when my biggest problem was not being allowed to stay out late. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the aggressiveness of “Open Your Eyes” still makes me want to thrash around in a pit (my back be damned!), and the anarchy-fueled lyrics of “Half-Empty Bottle” fit well in our current frustrated climate:
“I’ve got the cure when passive protest just won’t do
Just flick my Bic as I hold it to the fuse
Smash it up! Break it down!
Bring it down, down to the ground!
Tear it up! Burn it down!
Burn it down, down to the ground!”
Production can make or break any album. Luckily, this was produced by Tim Armstrong (singer for some band called Rancid). That little group also released a record in 1995 called …And Out Come the Wolves. I’m not saying AFI’s first album is equal to that juggernaut, but it sounds rad when you blast it in your backyard after numerous cans of cheap beer. Or so I’ve heard.
Another Rancid trademark is Matt Freeman’s catchy, skillful basslines. You can hear him loud and clear over two guitarists hammering out crunchy riffs and solos. What’s impressive about AFI’s debut is that Geoff Kresge’s bass parts stand out similarly, alongside Markus Stopholese’s in-your-face axe attack. Kresge plays killer stuff on songs like “Yürf Rendenmein” and “Your Name Here.” Most punk songs make me want to pick up a guitar. These make me want to slap da bass. He’s in sync with the drummer, Adam Carson, every step of the way. Tempo wise, they could give Metallica a run for their money. In fact, I’ve always thought “The Checkered Demon” owed a lot to “Motorbreath” from Kill ‘Em All.
AFI has taken a stab at many styles throughout their 25-year musical journey: punk, hardcore, industrial, emo, horror, goth, etc. Like all great bands, they’ve evolved while staying true to themselves. In the early days, the influence of bands like The Misfits and 7 Seconds was undeniable. Most songs on Answer That and Stay Fashionable are under two minutes long or close to it. They couldn’t replicate it today if they wanted to (and I doubt they do). Their debut will always be an amusing snapshot of a time when punk music could still sound original.
This isn’t Dark Side of the Moon or even London Calling. But it’s fun, urgent, honest music that will lift your spirits and enhance any party (even an adult one) within seconds. As far as loud music with guitars goes, what more could you ask for? Answer that and . . . well, you get it.