God bless your transsexual heart

By: Seth Mattei

 When Tom Gabel, frontman for the popular Florida political punk band Against Me!, told Rolling Stone that he was transgender and in the process of transforming into a woman named Laura Jane Grace, the reaction from fans was generally respectful, yet reserved.

After two major label albums of mid-tempo pop/rock songs that bore little resemblance to the raging populist anthems that allowed AM! to quickly climb the ranks of the punk scene into rock star territory, some long-time listeners felt betrayed.   Those albums weren’t bad, but they left something to be desired.  They felt considerably less cathartic and politicized than the bands first three independent albums.

Enter “Transgender Dysphoria Blues,” a back-to-the-basics rock ‘n’ roll record that showcases a revitalized band with a re-born leader.  In this confessional of songs, Laura Jane Grace takes the kind of glam rock performed by Lou Reed and David Bowie in the 1970s to an entirely new level.

In just short of half an hour, Against Me! propels listeners through dark reflections, moments of triumph and failure, all with the calculated abandon that only the best rock bands can provide.

Starting with the rolling drums and chunky guitar riff of the title track, “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” hits a peak with “True Trans Soul Rebel,” which has the catchiest guitar riff on the album.  The album then goes into its low ebb on the third and fourth songs, “Unconditional Love” (which still sounds like the Beatles, albeit a song Ringo may have written) and “Drinking with the Jocks” (it rocks, it’s just not that good), but comes out of it masterfully with “Osama Bin Laden as the Crucified Christ,” a song that out-does the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” in both the provocative title and unusual riff categories.

Another potentially offensively-titled song, the sixth track, “F***mylife666,” seems to be the album’s center-piece.  The song sounds tough, yet melodic. Simple, but beautiful.  Containing bouncy bass lines from Fat Mike of the legendary punk band NOFX, it may be one of the most perfect pop songs the punk subgenre has produced since 1990s-era Green Day.

The lyrics seem to map out specifics of Grace’s transition from the man she was to the woman she is now, exploring the passage of time, body issues and female dressing habits. “Chipped nail polish and a barbed-wire dress,” Grace sings, “Is your mother proud of your eyelashes? Silicon chest and colagen lips/How could you even recognize me?” The song climaxes with the line, “No more troubled sleep/Theres a brave new world raging inside of me.” It is a triumphant song, and was given its due justice when the band performed it on “Late Night with David Letterman” on Jan. 29.

“Dead Friend” is infinitely catchy, especially the break-down toward the end where Grace belts out, “Your cold dead hands, your cold dead lips/Your cold dead heart, your cold dead kiss.” The acoustic “Two Coffins” is a jangly, deadpan folk song that allows the listener a breath of fresh air and a break from the intensity of the previous seven songs.

“Paralytic States” and “Black Me Out” close out the album, the former a solid rock song with the chorus, “Paralytic states of dependency/All waking life’s just a living dream/Agitated states of amazement/Never quite the woman that she wanted to be.” The latter isn’t bad, but it’s a bit plodding, and leaves one reflecting on the previous 25 minutes.

“Transgender Dysphoria Blues” is not a perfect album, but it is an absolute landmark from a band that has been through a lot in the past decade. A different kind of populism has taken form in this phase of Against Me!’s existence. They are now somewhere between their radical early days and the highly personal middle years that followed. These songs probably contain the most personal lyrics that Laura Jane Grace has ever released, and that makes them universally empowering.

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