Against Me! is:
Laura Jane Grace – Vocals and guitar
James Bowman – Guitar and vocals
Inge Johansson – Bass
Atom Willard – Drums
Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues
1. Transgender Dysphoria Blue
2. True Trans Soul Rebellious
3. Unconditional Love
4. Drinking with the Jocks
5. Osama bin Laden as the Crucified Christ
7. Dead Friend
8. Two Coffins
9. Paralytic States
10. Black Me Out
Running time: 28:43
A lot has happened in the world of Against Me! Between the time 2010's White Crosses was released and the time new album Transgender Dysphoria Blues has surfaced. The band departed from Sire Records before going on to form their own label, Jay Weinberg and Andrew Seward left the band to be replaced by Inge Johansson and Atom Willard, and frontman Tom Gabel became frontwoman Laura Jane Grace. The latter drastic change is our elephant in the room but it's also manifests itself as the concept behind this, their sixth studio album. Coming out as anything other than heterosexual can be a difficult thing, but one would have to imagine that coming out as transgender whilst being the lead singer of well-established and much-respected punk rock in particular must have its difficulties. Thankfully Grace's revelation was met with much support from the punk community. It's been two years since Grace played her first show in her new body, so fans have certainly gotten used to the change. For Grace herself, it's clearly been a tumultuous few years and all of those feelings are poured out unapologetically in this new record, the aptly titled Transgender Dysphoria Blues.
Interestingly the transgender issue is one that the band has skirted around in the lyrics of previous efforts, so Gabel's transformation into Laura Jane Grace should come as no surprise. But that doesn't any less rewarding to hear Grace vent about the issue in the violent title track that opens the album. Grace's voice is unchanged and if anything more powerful, exuding a raw emotional unmatched by the band's previous efforts. The lyrics are angry and biting... “you've got no cunt to strut / You've got no ass to shake... You want them to see you like they see every other girl / They just see a faggot.,” sings Grace on the opening title track. I don't think anybody will argue that they're the most poetic of lyrics but that's the point: they're truthful and they get to the point. It's a brutal honesty that resonates throughout the entire album and even when the songs falter, there's something worth listening to. On occasion there is a line that's crossed and the act becomes just a bit too brutal – just look at some of the song titles “Obama Bin Laden as the Crucified Christ” and “FuckMyLife666,” they're just awful titles and lyrically the album is just as vulgar in places. It's a turn off.
Against Me! continues to find some killer choruses but occasionally the band struggle to not overplay. “Unconditional Love” is lyrically strong and catchy but even at under three-minutes the track outstays its welcome and becomes cacophony, even featuring a cringeworthy “one more time!” before the final chorus. There are brighter moments, the rapid “Drinking With the Jocks” clocks in at just under two minutes and completely rocks the socks of the joint; you can almost visualise Grace climbing up the walls and tearing shit down in frustration. The aforementioned “FuckMyLife666” has a fantastic opening riff and is actually a killer tune. It's a fist-pumping anthem that actually outgrows it's title to become something all the more uplifting, a definite anthem if Against Me! ever wrote one. “Dead Friend” is one of the weaker efforts on the album but it opens with some nice drum work from Willard and the chorus is pretty cool, it simply suffers from proceeding the final three tracks, all of which are fantastic.
Surprisingly the album has a beautifully sombre moment on the acoustic ball “Two Coffins.” At a little over two minutes, the song is a solitary drum beat and an acoustic guitar and a vocal singing about two friends and their inevitable death; “Two coffins to sleep / One for you, one for me / We'll get there eventually.” It's simple, it's poignant, it's truthful and thus it resonates. It's a rare moment where Against Me! slow things down and it really, really works. “Paralytic States” is another slower number and thankfully it also has some of the record's best lyrical work. Grace is vocal is also at its strongest here, and the chorus is the best of the whole album. “Black Me Out” closes out the album on a sorrowful ton and with some slightly more subtle lyrical work. “I don't ever wanna talk that way again / I don't wanna know people like that anymore / As if there was an obligation / As if I owed you something.” It's a closing statement that begs the question why this album even had to be made. Why should anybody, from any background or cultural, be forced to explain their sexual preferences in the year 2014? It's the end of a cathartic process for Laura Jane Grace that has culminated in this album.
“Black Me Out” [Live] – Against Me!
The 411: I think a lot of people look at an album like this with expectations of it being some kind of groundbreaking musical achievement purely because it deals with a difficult subject. Transgender Dysphoria Blues is not the best material Against Me! Has to offer. It is absolutely a return to form following a couple of disappointing albums, and there are moments of utter brilliance. As mentioned, the final three tracks are superb and make for the best album climax I've heard for a long time. Proceeding that is some typically hook-laden punk rock choruses that will be shaking many a festival tent come the summer and causing all sorts of riotous behaviour. Lyrically the record is uncompromising and effective more often than not. It's obviously the band's most honest record and you feel it's one that they absolutely had to make. Transgender Dysphoria Blues isn't the masterpiece that people seemed to be expecting, but in order for the band to progress and realise their potential in the future, this record needed to be made. And it is a strong effort. More importantly, it offers a crucial social commentary about attitudes towards sexuality, choice, gender and generally speaking, tolerance. In that sense, it's one of the year's most important records.