Review Summary: Barring it's own minor flaws, Transgender Dysphoria Blues is the most cohesive and memorable album Againt Me! has put together since The Eternal Cowboy. Throw away the past few years - this band is born again.
I'm happy for Laura Grace (formerly Tom Gabel). After years of confusion, the same confusion that once created some truely awesome albums in Reinventing Axl Rose and The Eternal Cowboy, has finally seemed to have ended. Finally, she has found her true self and it seems the rock world is fully embracing her. Initially when I heard this album's title and saw the cover, I wasn't very interested. Another boring radio rock album, this time with lyrics about the same social justice we've been hammered over the head with the past few years. Yawn.
Thankfully, I was wrong. It seems that Laura Grace and Against Me!
have created their best album since The Eternal Cowboy.
The album opens with the title track "Transgender Dysphoria Blues", a rolling anthem about Laura's initial transformation, one filled with ridicule and skepticism. Also, it poses an important question that seems to power the entire album: can we truly change who we were born as" The guitars are heavy, memorable. And though Laura uses her more radio-friendly voice (as opposed to the endless screaming from her early days), she still manages to deliver it in a way that feels heartfelt. The second song, "True Trans Soul Rebel" brings a sense of angst and rebellion that we haven't heard from Laura since Reinventing Axl Rose. It's no "Baby I'm An Anarchist", however the idea of rebelling against what society tells you sex and gender is, is a refreshing theme that feels like a more mature callback to their younger days. The song "Drinking with the Jocks" is the loudest Laura has been in years. The screamed lyrics seem ripped straight out of Axl has Laura remincising of a time where she tried to convince herself who she was. The song is short, the lyrics aren't anything to write about, but it sure is great hearing Laura still use her voice like this.
Lyrically, it seems Against Me! has found a new passion in Laura's journey. For the first time in a long time, the band sounds engerized, full of life. Laura herself sounds invested, honest, and heartfelt. Every song seems to characterize a part of her journey. From her worrying about acceptance from her parents, her lover, society, and herself. The "Paralytic States" song shows the struggles Laura went through in her own head after the transformation, as she sings "She spent the last years of her life/Running from the boy she used to be/Cut her face wide open/Shaved the bone down thin/Plumped her lips up exaggerated/A ***ed up kind of feminine". She struggles with herself even after she became a woman. Even as somebody who is luckily comfortable in the body I was born, Laura's emotions and feelings are clearly expressed. The way it speaks to someone who doesn't even completely understand it shows just how powerful the lyricism is in parts of this album, something lacking from recent Against Me! releases.
Throughout, the instrumentation seems to be a perfected version of the radio friendly tunes they've been pumping out the past few years. Previously devoid of life or passion, it seems Against Me! has finally returned louder, catchier, and memorable. Gone are the hollow filler tracks of years past, Transgender Dysphoria Blues clocks in at just under 30 minutes, and contains only 10 songs. There's no filler here, and the album benefits greatly as a cohesive peice not only lyrically, but also musically.
It's not all roses, though. Of course, this album doesn't realy change much of their songwriting formula from the past few albums. Other than "Drinking with the Jocks", this album is almost completely radio-friendly. Not that being radio-friendly is bad, but it sounds like parts on this album were stripped back in order to fit that more mainstream sound. Also, the fact that the previous song I mentioned is the only hard/screamed/loud song on the album makes it stick out a little bit. Maybe that was an asthetic choice, maybe Laura wanted to highlight this particular song, but even still the lyrics contained in it aren't particularly memorable. I was hoping, during my initial listening, that maybe the intensity would pick up towards the end, but unfortunately it seems to stay level-headed and relatively calm most of the way through. The instrumentation rarely reflects the chaotic state of Laura's mind during some of these songs. How about some wild instrumentation" Let us hear Laura's struggles rather than just telling us" Depressing lyricism about the struggles of changing gender over...radio rock musicianship" It's not bad, but it could have been more powerful.
However, Transgender Dysphoria Blues has proved me wrong. After White Crosses, I thought Against Me! was done. And after Laura's transformation, I thought they were even more done. However, what I didn't expect was Laura to come back with a new passion, something to sing about, something that she holds so close to her heart - her own identity. The struggles of her transformation completely come to life here, and with the exception of one or two songs, this album is almost completely memorable.
Give this album a chance, even if you're like me and absolutely despised White Crosses and New Wave, this album represents a new found standing for the band. The tracks on this album are some of the most cohesive songs put together by Against Me! since Reinventing Axl Rose. Throw out your previous grudges against Laura and Against Me!, turn up your speakers, and let Laura Jane Grace tell you the blues.