I purposely saved the Transgender Dysphoria Blues review for Valentines Day - how better to greet an ironic celebration of woman and man that long ago sold out its ideological rigor to corporate America than with, well, exactly the same thing? That, and spawning against the massive splooge of heteronormative that is Feb 14 felt appropriately punk.
But two things: one, it’s not worth the price of pitch and tinder to rage against the sellouts anymore. In an economy finely engineered to keep all 2.5 of its classes pointed horizontal, the punkest thing left is to take some of Their fucking money. And two, shy of a half-hour, this glorified EP ain’t exactly the revolution you’re calling it. It’s hardly even a statement.
That’s no insult. In fact, with grievance direct as “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,” frontmyn Laura Jane Grace, née Thomas James Gabel, might well want a critic who hears another Against Me! record before whatever else this is. And in spite of a real effort on my part to grope around in the dark for that monolith of New Progressive Politics, I heard an Against Me! record - which is to say I heard the best tightly-wound, angst-pimples power pop currently making a killing on the informed teen circuit.
It’s a problem of conventional genre roles - anthem punk’s always angry about something or another. NOFX did great things to Bush, Bad Religion with the grand schemes of illuminati geopolitics, the Buzzcocks with suburban dread and later, interesting, its Pete Shelley with sexual orientation. But when isn’t it also fun? When can’t you mosh to it, fuck to it, and (thank you Jason Gubbels) skate to it? Whether Laura Jane is plaiting contralto in the first three tracks, or the Thomas James still left in her is tearing new assholes to shreds in “Drinking with the Jocks,” or “Osama Bin Laden as the Crucified Christ,” I’m on the other end air guitaring, reminiscing punk shows past, wishing I was still professionally unfettered enough for that mohawk that never happened.
While it’s no doubt good for the not-as-progressive-as-it-claims-and-never-will-be punk community to confront its gender biases and (yes) violence, the best thing Laura Jane Grace could’ve done with her bricolage of overnight drummers and background talent was cut another great Against Me! record. It’s never easy to believe on its face that the arc of history is long and bends toward justice - that just as same-sex couples are beginning to pop up on Big Bang’s commercial breaks, so too will the transgendered have their place in mainstream America. Laura Jane Grace doesn’t seem to believe it; which is just fine by me. Power pop, weak as it is, needs her way more than inevitable gender equality does. And so long as she’s angry, she’ll be exactly who she was born to be.