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Album Review: Against Me! - Transgender Dysphoria Blues

Album Review:  Against Me! - Transgender Dysphoria Blues
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Against Me!
Transgender Dysphoria Blues

In 2012, Tom Gabel became Laura Jane Grace.

But you know that already. You’ve read the Rolling Stone article, you’ve gotten over the initial curiosity that comes whenever anyone of any note announces any major changes in their life in such a public forum. To the credit of the world (read: the internet) at large, there’s been no major blowback on Grace’s revelations outside of the usual shitty message board remarks, and we quickly moved onto pointless discussions about what backwater millionaires think about the gay community and other such sensational stories. The band, however, did not have such an easy path toward the recording of Transgender Dysphoria Blues. Firebrand drummer Jay Weinberg abruptly left the band in the midst of the recording, and longtime bassist Andrew Seward left to be with his family and pursue other musical interests. Grace and guitarist James Bowman could have called it quits and gone their separate ways, leaving us all to wonder what could have been. Instead, they recruited ex-Rocket from the Crypt / Angels & Airwaves drummer Atom Willard and finished the album.

The biggest issue many longtime fans had with the band’s two most recent major label efforts (2007’s New Wave and 2010’s White Crosses) was the seemingly excessive levels of overdubs and studio sheen that seemed incongruous with the bristly edges that had become synonymous with the band’s name. While Against Me! has always altered their sound slightly between albums, the shift to super-slick radio rock was jarring when compared to the down and dirty Searching for a Former Clarity. The band has done so again with the tracks on Transgender Dysphoria Blues, and it feels like the missing link between SFAFC & New Wave. There’s the straight-ahead rock and roll sound tinged with the familiar elements of the Old Days. The cowpunk shuffle of the title track has echoes of “Pints of Guinness Make You Strong”, and “Drinking with the Jocks” rages harder than anything since “Cliche Guevara”. New elements also work their way into the sound, like the Dropkick Murphys-inspired pub-rock of “Unconditional Love” as well as the hammering riffing in “Osama bin Laden as the Crucified Christ”. There’s also a glam-rock undercurrent that makes for some of the catchiest riffs the band has ever put out.

The elephant in the room (or album, as it were) is the lyrical content of Transgender Dysphoria Blues. Originally conceived as a concept album about a transgendered prostitute, the album deals quite explicitly with Grace’s mindset as someone coming to terms with her identity as a transgendered individual. No punches are pulled in describing the hatred, self-loathing, and despair in the process. “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” sets a mission statement for the album immediately, featuring the first of many gut-punch lyrics (“They just see a faggot / Hold their breath not to catch the sick”) that pepper the high moments of the album. Against Me! may have gained early traction with their politics, but even from the beginning their best songs were their most personal - See: “Pints of Guinness Will Make You Strong”, “Sink, Florida, Sink”, and “How Low” among many others. Every track here features that deep personal streak, but what sets Transgender Dysphoria Blues apart from the band’s previous work is the staggering universality of the songs. To be sure, the songs are quite specifically about Laura Jane Grace’s experiences with gender dysphoria, and that struggle is one that only Grace will ever completely know. The subtle genius of the lyrics is that they do a great deal to show that transgendered individuals aren’t really all that different after all. At the risk of sounding like an after school special, who hasn’t dealt with bouts of self-hatred, perceived ostracism from one’s peers, or the burning desire to overcome whatever obstacles life throws at you? Simple math will tell us that most of the people that listen to the album will not be transgendered, but the issues and emotions on this album are universal.

Transgender Dysphoria Blues represents yet another subtle change in the band’s identity, although not as much as expected. The loss of the rhythm section during recording is definitely noticed, but it’s not a dealbreaker. Atom Willard fits into the band so perfectly you’d be forgiven for assuming he’s been in the band for a decade or more. Grace took up the bass for a majority of the album, getting an invaluable assist from NOFX’s Fat Mike on “Unconditional Love” and “FUCKMYLIFE666”, and both meld with the style quite well. Really, the biggest change is the chemical peel that’s been given to the shellacked sound of the past few albums. What’s left is a sleeker surface sound that still keeps the pop chops that were established over the past 6 years, but the message of the album is the part that will endure. With Transgender Dysphoria Blues, Laura Jane Grace and Against Me! have created an album that could very well save a life or two while still remaining their own defiant selves.

Grade: A-

Track Listing:

1. Transgender Dysphoria Blues
2. True Trans Soul Rebel
3. Unconditional Love
4. Drinking with the Jocks
5. Osama bin Laden as the Crucified Christ
7. Dead Friend
8. Two Coffins
9. Paralytic States
10. Black Me Out
Submitted by Jeremy

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