Review Summary: A renewed energy and passion for a band that truly needed it.
Ever since Laura Jane Grace announced that she would be taking measures to live as a woman, I've been patiently waiting to see what effect her gender transition would have on her as a musician. July's True Trans
EP was a small dose of acoustic ditties that were marred mainly by a lack of energy and some questionable lyrics that occasionally sounded like Grace was boasting her change in gender. After New Wave
and White Crosses
, I seriously doubted that Against Me! could ever return to form again, and after the album title and cover were revealed, I feared that maybe this album would be too preachy and in-your-face. Luckily, I needed not worried, as Transgender Dysphoria Blues
shows a revitalized energy for the band, an energy that they haven't been able to capture on their last few outings. Musically, it isn't all too different from White Crosses
, rather, it improves on all the things that made it such a lackluster record.
Transgender Dysphoria Blues
isn't hopeful or celebratory, and it isn't supposed to be. It's moody, dark and scathing, highlighting all the downbeat consequences that come with the gender switch. Part of what makes this album more passionate and energetic than its predecessors is the sheer amount of honesty that Grace puts into these lyrics. The line "Shoulders too broad for a girl / Keeps you reminded, helps you remember where you came from" from the title track is a pretty powerful one that shows the frustration of adjusting to a new body, and you can truly feel the pain and agony that spawned these lyrics. It's all self-loathing and no glimmer of hope, as titles like "***MYLIFE666" suggest. The entire focal point of Transgender Dysphoria Blues
is Grace's struggle to deal with gender transition, after all, so shouldn't its lyrics reflect the depressing mindset of the album's theme? All of the pent-up emotions that have occurred since her coming out are finally being released, and most of those emotions probably aren't joyful.
As I said earlier, one of the main reasons why I eagerly anticipated this album was because I was interested the hear the effect that becoming a woman would have on Grace as a singer. If anything, Transgender Dysphoria Blues
improves over Against Me!'s last few albums because
of her gender transition. There were so many moments on White Crosses
where Gabel's vocals sounded flat and tired, but on this record, Grace is truly singing from her heart, resulting in a more passionate and emotional experience. The sudden burst of energy and enthusiasm could be because of how personal the album's subject matter is for her, and because of that, all the doubts I had about how Grace would sound as a woman were compromised.
Musically, this album isn't all that different from the average White Crosses
- both albums are arguably just as mainstream as each other. However, Transgender Dysphoria Blues
improves on so many of the things that wore White Crosses
down – the most notable being a sharp decrease in the number of filler tracks. With the album’s total runtime clocking in at just under twenty-nine minutes, there’s little room for Against Me! to repeat themselves. The album’s only lackluster song would be “Unconditional Love”, which suffers from repetitiveness and a pretty weak vocal performance. Meanwhile, “Drinking With the Jocks” lets all of Grace’s fury out in a nearly two-minute blitz of fervor. It’s got all the elements of a perfect little punk tune: Grace lets out some nice heavy screams (ones that have been dormant for far too long), guitarist James Bowman lays down some pretty nice riffs and Atom Willard proves just how much he adds to the band’s sound. The first half of Transgender Dysphoria Blues
seems more like the relentless attack of Grace’s repressed emotions and the catharsis of all her frustrations. However, starting from “Dead Friend”, the album’s sound generally becomes more melodic and slower. Tearjerker “Two Coffins” shows the best of Against Me!’s soft side, as Grace sings a sweet acoustic ballad in honor of her wife, Heather Hannoura, and her support during these troubled times. It’s truly a touching tribute, and lines like “How lucky I ever was to see the way you smiled at me / All the things I have yet to lose will someday be gone too” evoke the emotions of love and trust that the two have in their relationship.
With Transgender Dysphoria Blues
, Against Me! have not only proved that they can bounce back from a few shaky releases and return with their best album in eight years, but that they can tackle a topic as strong and controversial as transgender people with the same amount of passion and emotion that went into preaching anarchism. The personal subject matter could have been what made Grace finally sound like she was singing from her heart, and the lyrical content is so goddamn brutally honest that you can hear the self-hatred in her voice. With all that mind, what if Transgender Dysphoria Blues
could expose the struggle of the trans community and educate the ignorant on how society shouldn’t look down on them. As for the band, their revitalized energy and passion was the one main reason why this album was able to improve over all of White Crosses
’ flaws. Let's just hope Against Me! will be able to keep their momentum going...