Transgender Dysphoria Blues, Againt Me!’s eleventh full-length, has been four long years in the making. During that gap, the band and its members have seen a lot of change. Most notably, lead singer Tom Gabel now goes by Laura Jane Grace. Bassist of ten years, Andrew Seward, amicably departed to pursue other projects, and drummer Jay Weinberg, Max Weinberg’s son, also left the band. And, with this release, the band have gone from a major label to their own imprint, Total Treble. Between Grace’s transition and the band’s new all-star punk lineup—including Offspring drummer Atom Willard and touring bassist Inge Johansson of The (International) Noise Conspiracy— Against Me! have given their fans and the music industry a lot to talk about.
And talking seems to be encouraged. There’s no hiding in this album. The driving emotions that necessitate the exclamation point in the band’s name are on the table for the world to see. This isn’t anything new; Against Me! have always been direct, aggressive, brash and commandingly political since Grace started it all in 1997. What’s different now is that the emotional root is on display, and it’s highly personal. The jarring album cover (featuring a severed hunk of meat topped by an exposed breast), is an immediate indicator of this raw lack of a sugared veneer with which Grace tells her story. Rage, disgust, vulnerability, longing and even exuberance all make appearances in Transgender Dysphoria Blues.
Grace gets right to the point with the album’s opener, its title track. Militant drums march us in and Grace’s voice is the unapologetic battle cry: “You want them to see you like they see any other girl/They just see a faggot.” It’s anthemic and powerful, hard-hittingly honest without being too touchy-feely. True Trans Soul Rebel follows as Grace cynically belts out, “Does God bless your transexual heart?” It’s personal, but not whiningly so, and catchy at the same time. Musically, this is like any other Against Me! album. Melody and hook lend structure to the punk energy. But this album has some quieter moments, and the crassly-titled Fuckmylife666 is one of them. Grace remarks on impermanence, “All things made to be destroyed,” but seems empowered at the same time: “No more troubled sleep/There’s a brave new world/raging inside of me.” Grace’s blues take an acoustic turn in Two Coffins. This lullaby-like track is sweetly sad, a nook to curl up in. The 29-minute lineup closes with Black Me Out, a sardonic, chant-along romp. “I wanna chop those brass rings off your fat fucking fingers,” bleats Grace. This scathing number is more confirmation that Against Me! is still keeping it teenage anarchist-approved.
Although Transgender Dysphoria Blues seems to have been an epic journey for all involved, as is often the case in life, the journey, not the destination, is what makes it important. And it’s not over. Laura Jane Grace is still transitioning, and we imagine Against Me! is still adjusting to the new lineup and label. Through it all, the energy and attitude is unchanged. And although the band’s themes seem even more specifically focused, this album is really for anyone who’s ever felt held back.