This album’s release comes with an unavoidable narrative: After five records of largely great, accessible punk rock material, Against Me!‘s lead singer Laura Jane Grace (formerly known as Tom Gabel) came out as transgender. It was a huge win for tolerance and LGBTQ pride within a punk community that is always a little more closet-bro and sexist than it wants to admit (despite factions within that are anything but). Still, Grace herself has worried about whether a genre so steeped in white male angst can handle her true self – to selfish listeners like myself, it’s less a question of bigotry and sexism, and more whether they’d sound the same without the signature gravelly Gabel scream. After all, what if Tom Waits were transgender?
Luckily, she sounds pretty much the same, as does her band. Atop that, you can’t help but think “good for her” with satisfaction as she tackles her own Transgender Dysmorphia Blues head on – no allegories, no beating around the bush, no third-party characters for her to project her demons on, unlike in past records. This is most apparent in the opening title track, in which obscenity serves to remind listeners just how much hatred and violence your average transgender person suffers – a fact non-LGBTQ people can easily forget:
To make up for lost time, as well as cover the plethora of different issues faced by trans people in every step of the process, Grace spends most of this album on that subject. She steps outside that mold on the soporific “Two Coffins“, which uses a slightly Smiths‘ “Asleep” vibe to sweetly say, in short, “screw ‘in death do us part,’ we’ll be together forever.”
On the downside, other tracks that leave the main theme sometimes flop – such as “Dead Friend,” which somehow makes the passing of a loved one seem trite with uncharacteristically sloppy lyricism (“Needn’t worry about tomorrow anymore/Because you’re dead”). Or, a handful of other songs have poignantly cutting lyrics, but lack in sonics – such as the suicidal pop-punk of “Paralytic States” or the limp blues of “Osama Bin Laden as the Crucified Christ.” The former’s dealings with a NYE suicide certainly could use some darker music:
That said, if you like Against Me!’s trademark singalong quality, you’ll probably disagree with my ‘hit-and-miss’ judgement. And if this record’s ever-present angst bums you out, don’t forget how much hope Grace also intertwined, thanks to the freedom she now feels – such as in the oxymoronic title-to-lyric relationship found here on “FuckMyLife666:”