Dick’s Picks: 15 years of AFI’s landmark album, Sing The Sorrow

2003 was a very important time for alternative music. The second wave of ‘emo’ was on the horizon, and the world would become awash of eyeliner-clad bands with jet black hair and radio friendly rock songs. While there were some bands that made genuinely great music in this time, it saw a lot of sound-alikes and copycats. It also forced bands to switch up styles in a bid to keep up with the changing times, which is what former goth-punks AFI did with their landmark record, Sing The Sorrow.

As the album celebrates its 15th anniversary this week, now is the perfect time to take a look back at this special record.

Three years after the achieved MTV rotation with their breakthrough single, The Days of the Phoenix, the Bay Area icons of the macabre knew they needed to do something different for the sixth album. They signed a major label deal with Dreamworks, much to the chagrin of the punk elite who had refuse to let bands change, and teamed up with Butch Vig and Jerry Finn to usher in a new era of AFI.

Every aspect of the band matured on Sing The Sorrow. While still focusing on the darker side of life, vocalist Davey Havok’s song writing came into its own. Beautifully articulated sentences weave their way through the albums poetic narrative. Havok had a penchant for using a lot of metaphor within his lyrics, but the more direct approach of The Leaving Song Pt. II and Silver and Cold didn’t need to be shrouded by anything when the obvious was conveyed with the sincerity that only AFI deliver.

From musical standpoint – the part that seemingly rubbed a lot of people the wrong the most – was a world away from the three-chord punk of their earliest output. It expanded on the dramatic, dissonant progressions of Black Sails In The Sunset and The Art of Drowning, adding a more rhythmic approach and driving guitar hooks. The influence of Bauhaus and The Cure crept in with the gothic rock undertone of the album, and the powerful techno beats added another layer to AFI’s already stacked lexicon.

Guitarist, Jade Puget, experimented with guitar effects and was responsible for some of the synth sequences on Sing The Sorrow. From the gritty distortion of Dancing Through Sunday, and Death of Seasons, to the acoustic melancholy of The Leaving Song, it gave Puget a more free, artistic license to think outside of the proverbial shackles that come with being a punk band for so many years. It opened up some creativity for the rhythm section of Hunter Burgan and Adam Carson, too. Carson already had a renowned, hard hitting style of drumming, which meshed well with some of the more interesting time signatures. Along with the intricate bass playing of Burgan, it made the huge chorus Girls Not Grey truly soar.

There will always be people who say “I just like the first album,” or that they sold out from this point on. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but it will never change the fact that Sing The Sorrow is now the standard bearing, definitive AFI album.

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