Against Me!’s seventh studio album, “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” came out thisweek. When I woke up it was waiting in my iTunes like a beautiful vision (I had pre-ordered it, get at me digitalized music distribution) and it’s already accrued an absurd number of plays in my library. So, disclaimer: this is not going to be an unbiased review.
Against Me!’s frontwoman, Laura Jane Grace, formerly Tom Gabel, came out as transsexual in 2013. “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” is their first full length album since her interview with Rolling Stone, and understandably has been highly anticipated. Both by long time Against Me! devotees (I am including myself here), and new fans, particularly in the transgender community. Regardless, the album did not fail to deliver. “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” is Against Me!’s best work in years. The record directly tackles the former frontman’s sex change, addressing Ms. Grace’s transition to a woman head on. Against Me!, with roots in confrontational anarcho-punk, has never minced words with their political opinions (see this album’s “Osama Bin Laden as the Crucified Christ”), and it turns out this tradition mixes spectacularly with Laura’s intensely personal, autobiographical tracks. The band had already released two promising singles off “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” before its full release this week (“True Trans Soul Rebel” and the take-it-or-leave-it “FUCKMYLIFE666”). Ms. Grace has always been an incredible songwriter, but this album marks new heights in her career, perhaps because of the deeply intimate nature of the tracks. The title track, “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” manages to be at once an angry punk jam and deliver the most bitingly personal lyrics. “You want them to see you/ Like they see any other girl / They just see a faggot / They hold their breath not to catch the sick.”
The band’s long, somewhat controversial career is probably not common knowledge, so here’s a summary in 200 words or less: Against Me!’s earlier albums (particularly fan favorite Reinventing Axl Rose) made a name for them in the anarcho-punk/political punk scene in the late 90s. Their early stuff is every sort of angry, authority-hating cynicism that it should be. Their earlier work sounds like the tracks were recorded in a garage full of sweaty grunge punks). Against Me! turned controversial when they signed with a major record label (see “Stop!” for their take on that issue). Later albums (White Crosses & New Wave) have an undeniably more polished, mainstream rock appeal. That being said, those albums have some undenabile jams. See the popular, “I Was a Teenage Anarchist” for proof. But that takes us to last year, when Laura Jane did an interview with Rolling Stone in which she came out as a transsexual. Gender politics don’t always figure heavily in Against Me!’s particular strain of punk, and Laura’s interview shook the punk community. But (happily) I think the general consensus can perhaps be reduced to the words of drunk man passing out next to my friend at Against Me!’s show in New York: “Man, Laura’s so punk she doesn’t even care if she’s a boy or a girl.”
“Transgender Dysphoria Blues” will definitely be seen as a turning point for a band. With two members of Against Me! retiring since their last album, I imagine Laura Jane will eventually go solo. I recently got to see them perform in the Music Hall of Williamsburg, and having seen the band once before, it was an incredible show. Despite her bronchitis, Laura still performed the entire show. She still has her pre-transition voice, but is well on her way to becoming a woman. And she looks awesome. And she is a badass. And we should all give Against Me!’s new album (and probably also their entire discography) a good listen.
The album can be accessed here: