Review: Against Me!, ‘Transgender Dysphoria Blues’
Against Me! delivers one the year’s most honest and captivating albums.
On their latest album, Against Me! tackles difficult subject that isn’t exactly your everyday family conversation piece. Front woman Laura Jane Grace takes rock music where it has never went before – into the mind of a transgendered person. Laura Jane Grace was formerly Tom Gabel before making the transformation. The title is bold enough to both arouse curiosity and alienate the more conservative. Regardless where one stands, as an album, Transgender Dysphoria Blues is magnificent. Bold and unapologetic, Transgender Dysphoria Blues sets the bar high for rock albums in 2014.
“Transgender Dysphoria Blues” opens the album energetically. Laura Jane Grace’s lyrics are blunt, delivering a personal account in regards to being transgendered. The brutal honesty pays off; the opener makes the unfamiliar try to imagine themselves in Grace’s shoes. “Your tells are so obvious / shoulders too broad for a girl,” Grace sings on the first verse. “It keeps you reminded / helps you remember where you came from.” On the superb follow-up “True Trans Soul Rebel”, Grace continues in frank talk, best evidenced by the refrain: “Who’s gonna take you home tonight? / Who’s gonna take you home? / Does God bless your transsexual heart, true trans soul rebel?” If the refrain wasn’t confessional enough, the bridge brings home Grace’s feelings of being ‘built wrong’ essentially: “You should’ve been a mother / you should’ve been a wife / you should’ve been gone from here years ago / you should be living a different life.” Heavy, yet rocking, “True Trans Soul Rebel” is nothing short of awesome.
On “Unconditional Love”, more balls-to-the-walls guitars prevail, accompanied by incredibly clever songwriting. “Unraveling, unrolled, a siren in the night / I love the jaundice of your skin / it’s perverse plasticity…” Controversial lyrics they might be, but how often does songwriting these days enjoy such a poetic depth? “Drinking With The Jocks” doesn’t possess the depth of “Unconditional Love”, but it atones in its bite and overall concept. The guitars are noisy and overwrought, a perfect fit for Grace’s ‘f**k you’, unapologetic attitude. Essentially, Grace is cynical towards jocks, and perhaps guys in general, inferably younger ones: “I’m drinking with the jocks / I’m laughing at the f*ggots / just like one of the boys / swinging my d**k in my hand…” Perhaps Grace generalizes, but she certainly makes an accurate observation, particularly in today’s society. The other message Grace seems to make is one that is feminist, where many guys objectify women, as shown within the second verse. Against Me! Are clearly on a roll.
After slamming the male species, the band goes equally bold on “Osama Bin Laden as the Crucified Christ”, which might be one of the most epic titles ever. True to the title, Against Me! Thinks like an evil figure: “What’s the best that you can hope for? / Pity f**ks and table scraps / Subterfuge and detachment?” The refrain is genius: “You’re gonna hang like Benito from the Esso rafters / Hang like Clara with her skull caved in / Hang like a cross around my neck / you’re gonna hang / you’re gonna hang.” While this cut may seem like it’s about evil people, you just wonder if the double meaning relates to Grace’s lot in life… “F**kmylife666” definitely fits the narrative, best summed up by a lyric from the second verse: “Don’t wanna live without teeth / don’t wanna die without bite / I never wanna say that I regret it…” The point of Grace’s lyricism – she would rather be who she is than to die pretending to be somebody she wasn’t. That’s some deep stuff for sure!
“Dead Friend” continues the ‘blues’ aspect of Transgender Blues Dysphoria with its theatrical, dark nature. Even though Grace seems likes she’s referencing the literal death of a friend (“…I miss my dead friend…Your cold dead hands, your cold dead lips / your cold dead heart, your cold dead kiss…), it seems there a deeper meaning, in regards to her transformation from Tom Gabel to Laura Jane Grace. If one infers deeper than the surface, perhaps Grace misses her former self, or at least she’s paying respects. Regardless if that’s interpretive overkill from a journalistic perspective, “Dead Friend” is another fine slice of the Transgender Dysphoria Blues pie.
Continuing on in morbid fashion, “Two Coffins” continues the consistency and lyrical prowess that characterizes the album as a whole. It doesn’t shine like the elite of the elite, but it continues to rock on. “Paralytic States” has more bang to it, truly rivaling earlier cuts with its overt lyricism: “Spread out face down on those stained, cheap hotel sheets / she spent the last years of her life running from the boy she used to be / cut her face wide open, shave the bone down / then pump her lips up exaggerated / a f**ked up kind of feminine.” “Paralytic States” once more benefits from a confessional, frank tone. Closing cut “Black Me Out” concludes the album as boldly as it began, intact with ‘no filter’. But Laura Jane Grace definitely as a point – isn’t it better to be yourself? “I don’t want to see the world that way anymore / I don’t want to feel that weak and insecure / as if you were my f**king pimp / as if I was your f**king whore.” Not a literal pimp mind you – the world and people judging those considered ‘different’.
Ultimately, Transgender Dysphoria Blues is an exceptional affair. It both educates and compels, giving voice to a group of people who many don’t understand or know very little about. While Transgender Dysphoria Blues may not answer all the questions those who are green in regards to transgender/transsexuals, it does give the listener a snapshot. Overall, nothing short of high quality from Against Me!
“Transgender Dysphoria Blues”; “True Trans Soul Rebel”; “Drinking With The Jocks”; “Osama Bin Laden as the Crucified Christ”; “Paralytic States”
Against Me! • Transgender Dysphoria Blues • Total Treble • US Release Date: January 21, 2014