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Transgender Dysphoria Blues is the first album from Against Me! since frontwoman Laura Jane Grace, formerly Tom Gabel, publicly came out as transgender. In that sense, it could be one of the most potent illustrations of punk that one has seen in a long time, fully embodying what punk is supposed to do best: helping the marginalised tell their stories.
Grace’s experiences make up the bulk of the lyrical content of the record, dipping into explorations of violence, suicide, grief, disconnection, and anger. It’s exciting to hear a band so adept at communicating life on the periphery tackle such meaty subject matter. And while an ambitious theme has not always equaled a well-made final product, rest assured, TDB is an exhilarating listen.
The album is a visceral explanation of what it’s like to live in a body you don’t belong in. Grace pulls no punches in the lyrics nor the delivery. Her voice rips in two as she cries, “You want them to see you / Like they see any other girl / They just see a faggot / They hold their breath not to catch the sick“. She spits out the ugly words and lingers on the ones she really wants you to hear.
Her vocals are still the same mix of sing-shouted earnestness and disenchantment that we’ve gotten to know from her as Gabel. She is painfully emotive, the knife-edge of her voice all the more immediate when one considers the bluntness of the lyrics. This is the sound of someone who has been in agony and is finally letting you know exactly what’s been going on.
Musically, the band sticks to a framework of classic raw punk, but it’s never boring or repetitive. Almost every song plays around with a different style. We’ve heard the eponymous opener before, but it’s now been beefed up with slicker production and crunchier guitar. It’s assumed a rollicking feel, like a gaggle of mohawked anarchists bouncing around in the back of a pick-up truck.
There’s a camp flair to the romance of True Trans Soul Rebel, which puts a chunky, nostalgic riff against Grace’s soulful vocals. Unconditional Love could pass for a lost Buzzcocks or Damned 7?. Drinking With The Jocks is thrillingly fast-paced, while Osama Bin Laden As The Crucified Christ is a fierce dystopian meditation with an industrial grind.
Two Coffins, on the other hand, is a morbidly beautiful acoustic love song with a folk-like dreaminess, a sound made all the more bizarre by lines like, “Two coffins for sleep / One for you, one for me / We’ll get there eventually“.
Black Me Out is the satiating closer to a satisfying album, whose chief theme is soul-wrenching dissatisfaction. Transgender Dysphoria Blues is special in that it opens a window into a world many of us will never have to experience ourselves, but it’s a success in that it just so happens to be a really great punk album too.