I have to admit that I came to Transgender Dysphoria Blues by Against Me! with fairly high expectations, mostly thanks to the good words I’d heard about it in pre-release from many of the band’s well-known fans on Twitter and because of the story this album captures a part of.
I’m pleased to say that my expectations were not only met, but exceeded, as across the 11 tracks I was treated to something that defines a modern sound for punk rock.
This sound is typified by the combination of influences that can be heard ranging previous versions of the genre from the 1970s to present day, so across the album there are hints at the darker sound of bands like AFI or Alkaline Trio, something of the early 90s pop-punk of The Offspring or early Green Day, hints at 80s hardcore and indie and even moments reminiscent of what started it all in the late 1970s.
While this might sound like this would create something derivative, what it instead does is make a sound that is unique to Against Me! and provides something that, while it has a pop-sheen, has such an honest soul to it that it could never be anything but punk rock.
The album’s title track kicks things off and demonstrates the band at their best with a real call to arms intro that sucks the listener in (and stays in place for the next half hour) before Laura Jane Grace’s impassioned and to the point lyrics kick in.
As the title suggests the lyrics across the whole record deal with issues of identity and, predominantly (though not entirely), Grace’s personal ongoing identity battles. What makes this really work is how upfront the words are when it comes to talking about a subject rarely discussed so, while in some hands a line like “You’ve got no cunt in your strut, no hips to shake” could be crude and obvious, here they feel pure and honest in possibly startling fashion.
Production-wise the album combines the best elements of pop-rock and punk creating a tone that wouldn’t sound out-of-place alongside the likes of Foo Fighters, but with enough of a raw edge to still be emphatically what it is and not lose any of its honesty or focus.
While the title track is a knock-out highlight on the record, there are no moments which feel like they’ve been included as filler, which is often the case on albums as tight and lean as this, but other standout tracks include True Trans Soul Rebel, FUCKMYLIFE666 and Dead Friend.
Across the album its clear that Grace’s vocal performance has grown throughout the band’s career and now seems to have hit a point where it combines the best of raw energy and power with a tempered side that allows more depth and emotion to come through which, backed by the band’s particular sound, makes for one of the most listenable, yet powerful, albums I’ve heard in quite some time.