Florida band Against Me! has been through a few changes since 2010’s “White Crosses” – including the addition of a new bass player and drummer – yet the fundamental raw-but-melodic rock sound remains the same.
Another seismic event: In 2012, the Against Me! lead vocalist came out as transgender, and her journey to self-identification informs the lyrical content of the act’s new “Transgender Dysphoria Blues,” which is a sometimes gut-wrenching shift to personal themes for the traditionally politically-charged band.
Although she is now Laura Jane Grace instead of Tom Gabel, the singer is the same commanding performer as always – if anything, more potent than ever, adding extra voltage to the usual electric charge in the act’s sound. The pain and fury in her voice is tangible to the point listeners might be uncomfortable and even frustrated that they are in a passive role for Grace’s internal bloodletting (the bracing squalls of guitar and infectious hooks help).
Those who can’t directly relate to Grace’s experience might feel some responsibility in hearing of the vein-slitting transgender who is, “All dressed up and nowhere to go, walking the streets all alone” on “True Trans Soul Rebel” and aggressively pushed away by Grace’s declaration that, “There will always be a difference between me and you!” on “Drinking With the Jocks.”
But even if Grace sings on “Paralytic States” about someone who was, “Never quite the woman that she wanted to be,” “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” has decidedly positive energy as the singer announces, “There’s a brave new world that’s raging inside of me” and emphatically rebukes her oppressors in the finale “Black Me Out.” And despite the fatalism of “Two Coffins,” there are few sweeter lines than, “How lucky I ever was to see the way that you smile at me.”
Grace’s lyrics are enlightening in context of her experience, however there are overriding messages that will strike a chord with almost every fan of hard rock.
Because what could be more quintessentially punk than themes of alienation, fear and anger?
Rating: 4 stars (out of five)
© 2014, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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