There's a point in "Good And Ready"—the opening track of Anti-Flag's ambitious new The Bright Lights Of America—where a disembodied xylophone begins to ping in the background. Then bells start to peal. Within a matter of seconds, a choir of little kiddies chimes in. And just as quickly, they're gone—leaving a limp, rote punk song in their wake. Raise that to the power of tubular bells, cellos, brass, timpani, and glockenspiel, and you've got an idea of how severely Bright Lights' formula flounders. Too much of the disc, like the histrionic "The Modern Rome Burning," swipes singsong, folk-stoked stridency from Against Me! and American Steel; the rest of it throws random orchestration at the wall and misses it altogether. Surprisingly, Tony Visconti—the producer behind classic recordings by David Bowie, T. Rex, and Morrissey, among others—helmed this mess. It's a shame he couldn't sort the band's ideas out better. Bright Lights has odd bubbles of punk brilliance—and yes, even convincing political outrage—trapped within its overblown songs. But if Bright Lights is any kind of musical barometer measuring the strength and focus of political dissent in America, it's yet another small reason to be very afraid for the future.
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