Review Summary: Full-body high, I'm never coming down
Laura Jane Grace is one of the most important figures in alternative music today. It’s not every day the singer for one of the biggest bands in punk music comes out as transgender in Rolling Stone magazine, but Against Me! were always exceptional, occupying the bridge between mainstream success and the indie borderlines. The 8th of May 2012 was an important day for punk rock as, for a genre that’s had its merits muddied in the past with homophobia in the 80s hardcore scene (H.R. of Bad Brains
) and transphobia (Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill
), it confirmed how far we’ve come as a scene. Grace, formerly known as Tom Gabel, revealed she had been living with gender dysphoria for most of her life, and had plans to undergo transitioning. And the punk community heartedly embraced Laura for her frankness and bravery.
20 months later, we have Transgender Dysphoria Blues
. The band’s fifth album comes after a series of reissues of their previous work that was perhaps hinting at a radical change in sound. In truth, Transgender Dysphoria Blues
sits comfortably after New Wave
and White Crosses
in its brand of defiant, accessible, loud punk rock sound, but this time it’s leaner, brighter and meaner. The majority of the tracks, as suggested via the album title, deal with Grace’s experiences as a trans-woman, and thus ignite the fire that was burning under the band since they broke through into the mainstream. The songs clearly mean a lot to Grace, and that shines through with conviction.
The band’s first two albums, Reinventing Axl Rose
and As The Eternal Cowboy
, were special for their youthful energy and the charming messiness of their sound an aesthetic. It’s true that the Against Me! seems to have fallen in favour of fans of those albums since polishing up their sound, but Transgender Dysphoria Blues
makes up for it with the songs. ‘Dead Friend’ and the brilliantly titled ‘F**KMYLIFE666’ offer up strangely haunting melodies while still being uplifting. “Is your mother proud of your eyelashes / Silicone chest and collagen lips / how can you even recognise me?” Grace questions atop backing harmonies that brings to mind the best of The Gaslight Anthem
and even The Offspring
Transgender Dysphoria Blues
offers empathy in its tales of self-doubt and hatred. The opening title track sees Grace yelling “You’ve got no c**** in your strut, you’ve got no hips to shake / and you know it’s obvious, but we can’t choose how we’re made.” Against Me! were always known for combining the persona with the political, and it’s excellent to see they still haven’t lost what made them special, only making it more potent given the context of this album.
However, all of the alienation and self-hatred is spat back at the listener in the closing of ‘Black Me Out’. “I don’t want to feel that weak and insecure, as if you were my f***ing pimp, as if I was your f***ing whore” Grace screams atop thundering drums and guitars. ‘Black Me Out’ is the total catharsis the rest of the album’s tracks leads to, and is the most emotional song the band has written in years. Maybe even their best.
Transgender Dysphoria Blues
is an album that is going to mean a lot to many of the people who choose to embrace it. Its songs are empathetic to the struggles many LGBTQ people face daily; these songs can become their best friend. Transgender Dysphoria Blues
is an important album as a bold statement of inner rage and confusion, rallying against dysphoria and judgement. It’s also the band’s best.