Against Me! dials down politics, turns up emotion

The newest album by Against Me! starts out raw and powerful. “Your tells are so obvious / shoulders too broad for a girl … / you want them to notice / the ragged ends of your summer dress / you want them to see you like they see every other girl / they just see a faggot / they’ll hold their breath not to catch the sick …” With these lyrics, we get a true first glimpse into the world of Laura Jane Grace, singing in her first album since coming out as transgender in 2012.

The band’s most recent release, “Transgender Dysphoria Blues,” presents its audience with an unabashed glimpse into the personal life of a punk singer who lived most of her life hiding behind the face of masculinity and only now feels free to sing about her personal struggles. The album deals with not just gender dysphoria, but also more conventional topics such as love, relationships and – in traditional Against Me! form – politics. However, considering the group’s ongoing evolution since their original EP, “Against Me!” (2001), and their first album, “Against Me! Is Reinventing Axl Rose (2002),” it appears that the band’s days of playing rough and rowdy acoustic folk-punk and lively anarchist-rooted foot-stompers are over.

There will always be a divide between the purist fans of Against Me!’s first acoustic and folk-influenced punk works, and those who appreciate the band’s later albums. The purists hoping to see Against Me! return to their roots on “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” will once again be disappointed. However, the band also avoids mirroring the pop-punk style that was characteristic of previous albums like “New Wave” (2007) and “White Crosses” (2010). Rather, what makes “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” great is the fact that just as Grace’s own identity changes, the band’s style is also transforming.

  The Against Me! that is found in “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” is one which takes various elements from its own musical history and combines these with bits and pieces of other musical genres. For instance, the eponymous opening track starts off with a riff that is stylistically similar to the sounds that punk bands were utilizing in the late 90s and early 2000s – the period in which Against Me! started recording. However, as the album lurches ahead, its sound becomes much more akin to mainstream rock. Songs like “True Trans Soul Rebel” and “Unconditional Love” sound like something The Foo Fighters or Weezer would record. However, Grace takes these more conventional styles and adds her own spice to them, giving them a distinct flare.

By the time the album gets around to “Drinking With The Jocks” and “Osama Bin Laden As The Crucified Christ” listeners will also feel the anger that Grace has effectively utilized to give Against Me! its lifeblood since the band’s conception. Both songs use a much more aggressive rhythmic style, and – specifically in the former song – the frontwoman seems to jam a barbed heel down the throat of the misogyny that is often present in punk culture. The latter track is one of the few songs on the album that deals with politics. 

Against Me! sprung up from anarchist roots, but soon turned against the movement. Since then, the band has remained critical of the status quo, but have simultaneously relaxed their extremism. The personal dimension and added emotion of “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” make it an evolutionary and marked step for the band’s future.