There’s not much else to say: Against Me!’s masterpiece, “Transgender Dysphoria Blues,” might be one of punk’s defining records. Released in January, the album is already shaping up to be one of the year’s best, piling up critical acclaim and commercial success.
Two years ago, when lead singer Laura Jane Grace (formerly called Tom Gabel) publicly announced that she was transgender, things started falling out of order; the band’s drummer and bassist left, their tour with Bad Religion was cancelled, and the fate of Against Me! remained uncertain. However, Grace suddenly gained a focused vision for the music she wanted to create, and she quickly started working on “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” with a new group of band members.
“TDB” is more or less like Grace’s personal life, dealing with themes of coming out, finding acceptance, and rebelling against a world that is too stuck up to give any. The album was originally designed as a rock opera centered around a transgender prostitute, but the band stripped away some cinematic elements to make room for the heavy concepts that fill up the record’s short time frame.
The album kicks off with the angst-ridden title track, and smoothly transitions from song to song without stopping to check itself. During the opening song, Grace chants, “You want them to notice the ragged ends of your summer dress. You want them to see you like they see any other girl, but they just see a faggot.” The track has anthem-like power, and it will become a fan favorite.
Crafted with delicate precision, the rest of the album infuses an emotional blend of rock and roll, folk, punk, and of course, blues. The melodies are catchy, the instrumentals are excellent, and the lyrics are vivid. Each song feeds off the energy of the ones that came before it. And since the first song is already high-powered, the subsequent tracks feel like they want to explode.
However, Against Me! pulls back a little with the ballad, “Two Coffins.” Although it drains some of the momentum, it is a nice love song—not overdone, but not simplistic. Grace’s emotion really shines through, and she carries that into the final portion of the album. Clocking in at only a few seconds behind twenty-nine minutes, the record displays Grace’s deft and impactful songwriting ability.
Quite simply, “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” is an amazing album. Not only do the themes resonate with the audience, but the songs are just plain fun to listen to. I haven’t enjoyed a punk album like this since Green Day’s “Dookie.” Some songs might get sufficient airtime on the radio, but this album’s sales are being driven by word of mouth and its own ambition. Both underground and mainstream music listeners can find something to enjoy within the half hour of music. Over time, this album might become a staple of the punk genre, not only based on its merits, but because of the social topics that the songs encompass.
Overall rating: 9/10
“Transgender Dysphoria Blues”