GENRES: Punk, Pop-Punk, Alternative
TOP TRACKS: True Trans Soul Rebel, FuckMyLife666, Black Me Out
The current position that Laura Jane Grace and Against Me! are in currently may be one of the most unorthodox situations in the entire music industry. After dealing with transgender dysphoria for the majority of her life, Grace (formerly known as Tom Gabel) officially came out as transgendered in 2012 and changed her name. The band's lead singer's decision did not exactly go over smoothly as drummer Jay Weinberg and bassist Andrew Seward both quit the band this past year. Although they were replaced by drummer Atom Willard from Angels and Airwaves, Social Distortion and The Offspring and touring bassist Inge Johansson, many people started to forget about the music in Against Me's case and instead focus on Laura Jane Grace's situation.
I thought that this was quite a shame, and so I was excited to hear about the release of this new album Transgender Dysphoria Blues so that people could focus on Against Me's music once again. Originally hailing from Gainesville, Florida as a hardcore/90's punk style band, Against Me! released some very raw and emotional albums, my favorite being Reinventing Axl Rose. Naturally, the band's talents and songwriting skills landed them a sizable underground following as well as a good deal of credibility across the national punk scene.
However it seemed that with the release of 2007's A New Wave, there was a communal sense of agreement within the punk community that Against Me! had sold out. They had signed with a big label to make a more accessible album that began to veer from their original punk roots and of course the production value was far superior to any of their previous releases. Personally I really loved the wider range of styles that Against Me! displayed on A New Wave. It was a bit more ambitious and so what if they started to experiment with new sounds rather than just punk music? That's the best way to escape the label of "just a punk band". But if A New Wave turned a lot of old fans off, then White Crosses was the finishing blow. Even I felt that this album was bit more uninteresting than anything this band had ever put out, but with this new record I was hopeful that the change in the band's personnel and overall mindset would lead to new creative brilliance. But unfortunately I didn't find what I was looking for.
Let me first disclose that I did in fact see Against Me! live in concert about a week or two before I had even heard the album. They played a few new songs from the record like "True Trans Soul Rebel" and "Black Me Out" which I really liked, but for the most part they filled their set with older songs to appease the loyal crowd at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, NJ.
So before I even heard the album, I was expecting it to be raw and punk again based on the songs from the album that I heard before. What I really found out was that Against Me! are in a sort kind of departing even further from their punk rock roots on Transgender Dysphoria Blues which might be very disappointing again too many fans.
I immediately got this sense on the title track which opens the record off. The feel of the song, the mild tempo, and the admittedly dull guitar sounds didn't strike me as punk. Laura Jane Grace's voice may be the only remaining element of true grit and punk left on this album. Her voice sounds exactly the same as on previous records which is a relief because I always enjoyed her passionate vocals on each Against Me! record.
The production value on just about each and every track on this album is very tame. The guitars seem a bit less driving and brutal than on previous records which really detracts a certain intensity and swagger from this band's sound. Also, I really hated what they did with the drum sound. Atom Willard is an excellent drummer with a very unique style and the snare drum was muffled terribly and really ruined the overall sound of the album for me.
But like I said before, there were some songs on this record that I really enjoyed. My favorite is definitely "True Trans Soul Rebel". While this song does have a bit of a pop-punk flavor to me, the writing seems honest, the transitions are smooth and creative and of course the content of the song is so much more interesting and thought-provoking for anyone who has never been exposed to the discrimination that trans people are subjected to.
Apparently, this album is supposed to be a concept album of some sort but it kind of seems abandoned to me around midway through. Some of the tracks in the middle of the album are kind of pointless and really nothing special at all musically or contextually. Examples include "Drinking with the Jocks", the very boring "Unconditional Love" and even "Two Coffins."
I had in fact previously heard an acoustic version of "FuckMyLife666" on the acoustic EP that the band released in 2013 and I was a fan of it. The complete version of the song was really well written as well. I thoroughly enjoyed the chord progressions and the energy of this track. It had something that I felt a lot of this album lacked, and that was depth. Musical depth, emotional depth, you name it.
Another saving grace of this album and certain strong point was the closing track "Black Me Out". The change in dynamics and the raw quality of the opening with just Laura Jane Grace and the guitar was haunting and comforting to me at the same time. I especially loved this track when they played it live. I remember it distinctly and it definitely makes it a better experience actually listening to it on the record.
While I was glad that the album closed strong, I was left very disappointed by this Against ME! release. Once again as usually is the case with albums that I am disappointed with on this blog, it's not that this was a bad album, it's that I know Against Me! is capable of better things. I saw it before on previous albums, hell I just saw it two weeks ago live. I do appreciate what they stand for, I admire Laura Jane Grace's integrity to herself and to the craft of music but I can't side with this album and honestly say that I will continue listening to it, with the exception of two or three strong tracks.