For Fans Of
Since their inception as a rambunctious folk-punk band screaming about anarchistic rebellion on 2002’s ‘Reinventing Axl Rose’, Against Me! have always combined intelligent and personal lyrical themes with defiant, in your face ferocity. On sixth studio album ‘Transgender Dysphoria Blues’, frontwoman Laura Jane Grace and co. continue this tradition with refreshing honesty as Grace explores (among other things) issues of personal identity in a 29-minute, fists raised high, anthemic punk masterpiece.
Within 30 seconds of kicking into the album’s opening title track, the band feels infinitely more immediate and alive than on previous album ‘White Crosses’. Pummeling guitars and Grace’s signature (though somewhat more refined) vocals are backed up by a lively and emphatic rhythm section – following the departure of former drummer Jay Weinberg, the band has recruited the almighty Atom Willard of Rocket from the Crypt behind the kit, a role he performs like the seasoned champ you’d expect. Where their 2010 effort attempts at combining Against Me!’s trademark vivacity with stadium rock aesthetics fell flat, ‘Transgender Dysphoria Blues’ nails it with compelling vigour while remaining accessible. Singles ‘True Trans Soul Rebel’ and ‘FUCKMYLIFE666’ are hearty, powerful bursts of punk spirit, but they also boast some of the most undeniably catchy hooks and choruses of the band’s catalogue.
That said, to suggest Against Me! play it safe musically on the album would be folly. Indeed, ‘Transgender Dysphoria Blues’ probably shows as much sonic diversity on the one album as any Against Me! record thus far. While ‘Unconditional Love’ may feature one of the album’s most crushing passages, (“Even if your love was unconditional / It still wouldn’t be enough to save me”) the track is drenched in rollicking Clash-meets-The Replacements swagger, whereas ‘Osama bin Laden as the Crucified Christ’ channels the big, overstated guitar rock gesture in a way that would be almost ridiculous if not paired with lyrics as provocative as they are. A little further down the track, ‘Two Coffins’ is a venture into morbidly sweet, barebones balladry. The album’s sole acoustic number, fans who enjoyed the ‘True Trans’ 7” back in July will love it; a testament to Grace’s aptitude for stripped-down heartbreakers.
Naturally, the lyrical content was always going to be one of the more interesting parts of the album. While Grace had obviously alluded to her gender dysphoria back when still publicly identifying as Tom Gabel with tracks like ‘Searching for a Former Clarity’ and ‘The Ocean’, this is the first time she’s ever been able to do away with the metaphors and be so powerfully heart-on-sleeve. To that end, Grace runs the gamut of emotions, exploring not only the melancholia that comes with identity struggle and the journey to self-acceptance but the anger and exhaustion that’s collected after decades of dysphoria and living in a society that’s still overwhelmingly transphobic. Grace is perhaps at her most frustrated on ‘Drinking with the Jocks’ – a frenzied two-minute blitz of furious punk-metal that expertly subverts the macho bullshit of bigoted bro-dudes she’s likely had to deal with in silence most her life. Sarcastically recounting drinking “just like one of the boys” and “looking at the bitches”, Grace reminds “the jocks” that there will “always be a difference between me and you”. It’s aggressive, it’s frank, and it’s one of the most satisfying moments on the album.
Finally, closer ‘Black Me Out’ feels like the ultimate release, as all the tension that’s been building up from the start – of both the album and Grace’s career – comes crashing down with middle fingers up and an unmistakable “fuck you” to her detractors. Initially reflective and relatively mild (“I don’t ever want to talk that way again / I don’t want to know people like that anymore”), when Grace lets it rip in the track’s chorus it’s impossible not to sing along. It’s a proud testament to Grace’s songwriting that she’s able to present such intimately personal lyrical content in a way that feels at least partially universal.
From the start, ‘Transgender Dysphoria Blues’ was always going to be an incredibly important record. However, its significance lies not solely in its subject matter or Grace’s gender identity – it’s also just an incredibly moving, cathartic and impassioned collection of songs that demonstrates a sincerity and openness often lacking in a genre that’s terrified of being this genuine. An early contender for album of the year.
1. Transgender Dysphoria Blues
2. True Trans Soul Rebel
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