Against Me! has set little precedent for “Transgender Dysphoria Blues,” the band’s sixth proper full-length album. A band most distinguished for songs in respect to political aggression, even to hyperbolic extent (re: “Baby I’m an Anarchist”), has put together a record here that is far more autobiographical than we’ve heard before. Of course, there is one ever-present fact about the band in 2014 that makes this click: A 2012 interview with “Rolling Stone” revealed that Against Me!’s lead singer, known formerly as Tom Gabel, is making the transition to become a woman, Laura Jane Grace.
Thus, much of the commentary coming from the band in “Blues” takes on the subject of gender dysphoria, a disorder in which an individual faces conflict with their physical gender and the gender they identify as. The title track serves as the album’s opener, putting into motion a motif of self-identity for the rest of the record: “Your tells are so obvious / Shoulders too broad for a girl.”
Now, musically and in ethos, Against Me! is a similar band to the one it was at its inception. Its physicality might have become unhinged here and there because of some lineup shifts, but nonetheless, this is still a group focused on propelling punk-inflected guitar rock. Hormone replacement therapy doesn’t alter the voices of men who make the transition to become women, so Grace is still barking during her most impassioned moments on “Blues.”
“Blues” strides in the right direction, and better yet, it stands as a literal breakout for Against Me!. Grace and her band envelope the tribulation of facing public perception as a transgendered woman successfully over the record’s 10 songs, while dabbling with tunes of familial matters (“Two Coffins”) and loss (the blunt “Dead Friend”).
In true Against Me! fashion, lyrics are not entrenched in deep personality or high-art symbolism, but rather reach debate in their potential controversy. In the case of “Blues,” this is held within Grace’s lyrics of coming out and the issues that surround it, as noted on the album’s lead single, “F—MYLIFE666:” “Chipped nail polish and a barbed wire dress / Is your mother proud of your eyelashes / Silicone chest, and collagen lips?” This is expanded upon further in depicting “a f—ed up kind of feminine” in “Paralytic States:” “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, shaved the bone down, then pumped up her lips exaggerated”
This record illustrates messages from Grace that, even considering what she is undergoing, are far from convoluted. She’s confident, and needless to say, “Blues” is assertive (the lead singer lays out her songs in terms too colorful for a family reunion). Though it relents on the anthemic titles of pre-2005 Against Me!, namely the “Axl Rose” and “Eternal Cowboy” era, the record is an eloquently punk recount of a drastic time.
It is in the rugged closer “Black Me Out,” an all-out anthem dedicated to “screw you,” that “Blues” is encapsulated. The Against Me! frontwoman, as we have come to know her in the last two years, is still becoming in her role, regardless of her new identity. After feeling “weak and insecure,” Grace has had it with her previous commitment to being a man and has a wave of self-confidence and acceptance: “I want to piss on the walls of your house / I want to chop those brass rings off your fat f—ing fingers / As if you were a kingmaker / Black me out.”