You ever feel like everybody’s talking but nobody’s really saying anything? That happened to me at an old office gig where my corporate cohorts relied on buzzwords (“Synergy!” “Creativity!” “Maximizing!”) to make everything their department was doing sound more important and exciting than it actually was. Over time the corporatespeak grew predictable and self-perpetuating, as if the cycle of posturing could never be broken.
Art encounters the same problem at times and last week’s release of “Transgender Dysphoria Blues”, the sixth studio album from divisive punks Against Me! reminded me that I hadn’t listened to a truly great, straightforward, guitars-drums-bass-and-words rock album in all of 2013. And even before then I can’t recall being truly floored by the depth of perspective of a rock singer for even longer than that. It was as if the veil of rock corporatespeak had lifted and a new way revealed itself.
Some context: Tom Gabel founded Against Me! in Florida in 1997 and, in 2012, came out as a transsexual woman, taking on the name Laura Jane Grace. The announcement surprised many across the music industry and Internet, though the transition wasn’t without precedent in her songwriting. These lyrics from the last track on the band’s 2007 breakthrough album “New Wave” set the set fans up for Grace’s reveal.
“If I could’ve chosen / I would’ve been born a woman / My mother once told me she would’ve named me Laura / I’d grow up to be strong and beautiful like her / One day I’d find an honest man to make my husband.”
That’s a pretty bold set of lyrics for a guy who once toured with Foo Fighters, no? In retrospect, I can’t even remember any music journalists asking Grace (then Gabel) about them after the release of “New Wave,” which was released on a major label, named Spin Magazine’s album of the year in 2007 and even did some time on the Billboard 200.
But after that whiff by the press, Grace has brought her transition into the public sphere herself with “Transgender Dysphoria Blues,” an identity crisis of an album that lends snarly, specific heft to what was often left vague and generalized in the band’s early Warped Tour canon. Grace’s vocals have reached slightly higher in pitch, a change that benefits her melodic growling to exhilarating effect. Without it “True Trans Soul Rebel” would’ve been beyond her range and it’s one of the album’s strongest, most dynamic songs in terms of vocal melody.