In many respects, the ’90s were a confusing time for punks. The breakthrough bands — the groups that took their music into the upper reaches of the charts — were Green Day and The Offspring, and those guys were more likely to be singing about jerking off and/or road rage than anything overtly political. They would have their enlightened moments later but, for many, punk seemed pretty puerile in the ’90s — a shadow, albeit a successful one, of what had come before it.
But you only had to scratch a little deeper to get something, well, deeper. It was Bad Religion’sBrett Gurewitz who had founded the Epitaph label (which in turn signed The Offspring). Bad Religion always turned to political and social issues when looking for lyrical inspiration. Meanwhile, though Fat Mike has always enjoyed a good goof-off, it was his Fat Wreck Chords that put out the Rock Against Bush compilation albums in the 2000s. Bands such as Rise Against and Propagandhi have always popped up with great albums, and of course Green Day put out American Idiot in 2004.
Through it all — at least since they formed in 1988 — we’ve had Anti-Flag. Kinda. In fact, the Pittsburgh band formed in ’88 but split after just one show and then got their shit together again in ’92. Their debut album, Die for the Government, eventually surfaced in ’96 and was an immediate shot in the arm to the punk scene and music fans in general who were maybe in a state of apathy midway through Bill Clinton’s two terms.
The album featured tracks such as “You’ve Gotta Die for the Government”, “Red, White and Brainwashed”, “Police State in the USA”, “Fuck Police Brutality”, and “I’m Being Watched by the CIA”.
“They use the flag to control us
Brainwash us to be their patriotic slaves
Programs our minds by controlling what we learn
The only difference from the nazis is that
Someone tried to stop them.”
“Red, White and Brainwashed” – Anti-Flag
It’s worth noting that the album also includes a song called “Your Daddy Was a Rich Man, Your Daddy’s Fucking Dead” which the band now claims is about Donald Trump when performing it live. While that does seem convenient, and we’d like to believe it, Trump’s dad Fred wasn’t dead when they wrote the song in ’96 — he died three years later in ’99.
“He was a brainwashed, scum fucker
Wasted mother fucking piece of shit
Your daddy made a lot of fucking money
I guess that means he was a real fucking honey?
Yeah more like your dad was just a motherfucking scumbag.”
“Your Daddy Was a Rich Man, Your Daddy’s Fucking Dead” – Anti-Flag
When 1999 did come along, Anti-Flag released their sophomore record A New Kind of Army and it was immediately apparent that we were going to get more of the same: Supremely catchy songs with hooks that stick and as much political lean as before. The title track is a glorious anti-war anthem:
“Look back… on history, nothing much has changed
Thousands… of soldiers of all countries, all marching the same
Every nation’s leader says that our side is right
Every nation’s leader says the time has come to fight
But they use the common people to settle their scores
It’s time that we refuse to fight in any of their wars!”
“A New Kind of Army” – Anti-Flag
Between 2000 and 2008, the George W. Bush years, people turned to Anti-Flag for some solace. Any sense of comfort felt under Clinton had quickly melted away. The band released five albums in those eight Bush years.
They seemed particularly fired up on the 2002 Mobilize album, which included songs titles such as “Anatomy of Your Enemy”, “NBC (No Blood-Thirsty Corporations)”, and “Right to Choose”.
“Judged by parents and the public
The fingers pointed at them
Well I’ll point mine right back
They must realize
You can’t change whom you love
And gender is not the issue.”
“Right to Choose” Anti-Flag
Perhaps predictably, the output dropped to just three albums during Obama’s eight years (though those records are still phenomenal). It’s notable that American Spring was released during Obama’s final year in office and it was followed by the cleverly named American Fall a year after the 2016 election.
“Look outside your window, there’s a woman being grabbed
They’re loaded with their weapons in a bible in their hand
Maybe we should go inside and try to stop the pain
The anthem started playing and I’d hate to miss the game.”
“When the Wall Falls” – Anti-Flag
That reference to a woman being grabbed isn’t particularly disguised and neither are those references to walls. But then, Anti-Flag has never been about being cryptic, it’s about hitting you in the face with the truth. Like this:
“Black lives matter and you don’t know why
And reverse racism isn’t a real thing
No, you weren’t alive in the time of slavery
But that’s no excuse to ignore its legacy
Not afraid of refugees
But don’t want a mosque built on your street
Offended by the claim of bigotry
More than the racism in your face.”
“Racists” – Anti-Flag
That’s the glory of Anti-Flag, as administrations have come and gone, they’ve provided a very real commentary that we can turn to through it all — like a history book. If newspapers are the blu-ray, Anti-Flag are the extra features that offer additional clarity. A new album, 20/20 Vision, is being prepared for next year. After another couple of years of Trump, one can only begin to imagine what they’ll have to say.