I will admit to being one of those people who never paid attention to Florida punk band Against Me! until their lead singer changed from Tom Gabel to Laura Jane Grace. Laura's gender transition is the big story that follows the band around. Like Chaz Bono and Lara Wachowski, Laura's become a poster girl for transgender rights. It's a good story, and one that has catapulted a fairly successful punk band into a much larger spotlight. Their new album, Transgender Dysphoria Blues, would be a strong album if all the members had boring and unremarkable backstories.
My impression of Against Me! was that they belonged to that strain somewhat cheesy, anthemic, Warped Tour-ready alt-punk that the kids loved and that left me cold. Songs like "I Was a Teenage Anarchist" sound to me closer to Kings of Leon than Bad Brains. "Stop" sounds like a Franz Ferdinand cover. Their new album is still anthemic rock, but they seem to be less concerned with chasing commercial success. That and Laura has a whole new mess of stuff to sing about.
The title track is a powerful song about her experiences being transgender.
"Your tells are so obvious
Shoulders too broad for a girl
Keeps you reminded
Helps you remember where you come from
You want them to notice
The ragged ends of your summer dress
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."
Later she sings "You know it's obvious but we can't choose how we're made."
The rest of the album isn't always as strong as that opening track. The cheesy alt-rock of their earlier work seeps in during the latter half. I still like it, and I like how Laura is incorporating her experience into punk. One of music's greatest gifts is it's ability to allow us to understand and empathize with people different from us. Most of us will never know what it is like being trans, but Against Me! give is a window into that world.