Transgender Dysphoria Blues
Released: 21 January 2014 (Total Treble Music)
By: Joe DeBonis
Against Me! has come a long way since Laura Jane Grace, formally known as Thomas James Gabel, first started out as a solo act in 1997. She eventually created a quartet and has now released six studio albums with the band and the group has seen increased critical acclaim with each release. The sound the band has established as their own is a nice blend of punk and rock, lyrically stimulating and musically simple, but when combined, extremely potent. Known for political lyrics delivered with the classic punk style of abrasive screaming and slamming guitar sounds, Against Me! has tackled controversial topics their whole career. This album though, may take the cake lyrically.
In 2012, Laura Jane Grace came out as a transgender individual and announced she would be changing her sex from male to female. She was one of the highest profile transgender people to come out to the musical world, and the reaction from her fans, band mates and wife was nothing but positive and supportive. So in response to her lifestyle change, “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” was the almost obvious next step for the band, attempting to steer any misconceptions and prejudice that occur in the world about transgender people away from the murky fallacies that exist.
Musically, there is nothing very ground breaking or different with this album. The classic punk and pop rock elements that Against Me! had become so known for are here, loud and clear. Guitars bleed through the sound of the drums quite readily, and Grace’s voice remains stoic in her power to scream her emotions so easily. The album is quick, coming in at 10 tracks but under 30 minutes, delivering its message quickly yet succinctly. Song wise, the tracks are ready to be blasted at full volume from the get go and have very distinct elements that resemble “Thrash Unreal,” maybe the bands most famous song.
What does shine through though, is the raw emotion Grace has always had. This time, it seems more intoxicating and persuasive. Songs like “Drinking With The Jocks” and “Two Coffins” hit hard with their subject matter. In one song, the subject has to deal with insecurities about hiding who she truly is in front of her friends and the other involves death and how no one can escape its grasp. Its not easy to sing things like “You’ve got no cunt in your strut, you’ve got no hips to shake and you know it’s obvious but we can’t choose how we’re made,” but Grace does so and she does it so passionately that anyone listening starts to realize how unfair the world is sometimes.
Writing a review about this album and not mentioning transgender people or what Grace is doing for the community would be an insult to her and the band. Try as people might, the connotations with music that exist cannot be ignored when an album of such social importance is written. As much as reviewers and fans alike try and not to let outside factors affect their opinions of an album, sometimes those outside factors are just as important as the music when it comes to forming an opinion about the album. This album is a perfect example of that phenomenon. The entirety of the album is about a transgender prostitute and clearly is in direct correlation with Grace, whether the story is not the same, the idea behind looking at a lifestyle that has not been given much attention in the world is where the similarities are. Whether this album was terribly written musically or on level with the next Beethoven, it deserves recognition simply for the attention it brings to a lifestyle that normally gets next to no acknowledgement.
Stereotypes abound in music and the world in general, and any time one can be confronted is a success story. Punk rock is not normally seen as the most inviting genre of music, but when the hard shell of the screaming and loud music is peeled back, the soft, loving side of punk can finally be realized. Punk rock is the genre of music where one moment you could be beating the crap out of someone in a mosh pit and the next helping them up when they fall to the ground. I have found in my own personal experience that punk bands are more likely to be welcoming to new opinions and ready to accept radical ways of thinking a lot quicker than any other genre of music. So maybe on some level, the community of punk rock is what allowed Grace to do what she did and that in itself is something that needs to be celebrated, because punk is sometimes just misunderstood as well. Together with punk, Grace has created a message that can be seen as one of the first of its kind and one day, this album will be looked back on as a landmark album for both punk and transgender awareness.
Rating: Liked It