Before AFI's last album had reached a fraction of its eventual million-plus in sales, longtime fans denounced the Goth-punk group as sellouts. They'll howl louder now. Not only do these songs fall short of 2003's inventive breakthrough, "Sing the Sorrow," they're more mainstream. AFI stands for A Fire Inside, but this disc glows like embers, then fades into ash -- which, conveniently, can be used for black eyeliner. That's about all it's good for, other than a handful of mediocre singles ("Miss Murder" is the first) and probably another million in sales.
The AFI formula -- gloomy lyrics, inviting choruses -- still lurks. But the sky-splitting bombast, killer guitar melodies and fist-pumping zombie anthems of AFI's last outing are mostly MIA, further suggesting MTV and "TRL." Vampiric heartthrob Davey Havok still glides from a honey-sweet tenor to a bloodcurdling hard-core scream (though that's getting rarer). But not enough songs rock. Mosh-pit fuel? Buried in a long-forgotten tomb. The backing vocals in "The Missing Frame" could have come from an '80s Journey tune.
AFI labored over details like industrial-pop beats ("37mm"), synth drama ("Love Like Winter"), even pseudo-spooky vocal effects that sound like a poltergeist in your TV ("Affliction"). But this is a band on its seventh album: short on truly memorable ideas, long on fat new bank accounts -- about as scary as Casper the Friendly Ghost. .
-- Michael Deeds
When Argentine trio Soda Stereo -- one of Latin America's most popular Rock en Español bands -- broke up in 1997, fans embraced the next closest thing: frontman Gustavo Cerati's solo electronica efforts. Cerati traded in his guitar for a synth and explored the versatility of his baritone. He stopped sounding like the Police and more like an Argentine Richard Ashcroft (the Verve). Now Cerati returns to his pop-rock roots on his new album, "Ahi Vamos" ("Here/There We Go").
Despite crushing any hopes for a Soda Stereo reunion by recently saying that he simply can't return to the past, Cerati admits that a few new songs draw from that past. On "The Exception" and "Time Bomb," the ardent guitar riffs backed by Curesque, hooky bass lines and smoothed over by Cerati's cool, melancholic voice will likely be hits with Soda fans.
To help evolve (but "not return") to the Soda sound, as Cerati explained recently, onetime collaborator Tweety González co-produces and plays piano intro on the album's softer, first single, "Crime." If Argentines tend to love their idols unconditionally -- consider soccer legend Diego Armando Maradona, who recovered from cocaine addiction and returned to his hometown team -- maybe that's because they know their idols seldom forget where they come from.
-- Mario I. Oña