It was May 2012 when the world was first introduced to Laura Jane Grace. I was working for SPIN, and as soon as the news broke that Against Me!’s singer/guitarist formerly known as Tom Gabel had come out as a transsexual, we turned on the band’s breakthrough album New Wave in the office. Immediately, the music took on a whole new meaning that was perhaps deeper than we originally thought. You couldn’t listen to the music without reading between the lines. The lyrics in “The Ocean” now seemed less like a poetic gesture and more like a cry for help. The news about Laura Jane Grace was one of the biggest events to happen in the history of music. This was a BIG deal. Suddenly, transgender issues entered the mainstream and whether Laura Jane Grace knew it or not, she in turn became a spokesperson, a role model, and a hero.
Against Me! almost didn’t survive. Since that spring of 2012, bassist Andrew Seward and drummer Jay Weinberg quit the band in midst of recording their new album, which was made over the course of a year. “The record almost fucking killed the band,” Grace told Grantland reporter Steven Hyden, who also wrote that while originally finishing up the album, a storm sent a tree through the roof of Grace’s recording studio, further complicating it’s completion. “It was just, like, the end. It was fucking weird.”
Fortunately, like Laura Jane Grace herself, Transgender Dysphoria Blues survived, and it is one of the most extraordinary, most brutally honest rock records I have ever heard. On her first album since coming out, Grace emerges from the darkness with her head held high and a middle finger in the air, holding nothing back. But most importantly, Blues is a victory lap, and you certainly don’t have to be transsexual to relate to the feeling.
I don’t know whether it’s Grace’s rebel yell delivery or the lyrics themselves, but these words – these emotions being unleashed – hit you with such force. While her voice sounds a little smoother this time around, Laura Jane Grace can still fucking roar, like in “Drinking With the Jocks” where she spits a venom towards the people she once tried to be. Then on “Dead Friend,” her words and delivery perfectly illustrate the gut punch you feel after losing a loved one. I’ll be damned if I’m not ready to take on the world after listening to the anthems like “True Trans Soul Rebel” or “Black Me Out.” The music, too, is just so on-point. Call it pop-punk, call it rock and roll, call it whatever the hell you want. Whatever it is, not a moment here is wasted and every heartbeat is felt. These songs demand a road trip, a blasting stereo, and some open windows.
The great thing about Blues is that you hear Grace’s newfound freedom in both her voice and her music’s strut. It’s punk rock from a person who has been to the depths of hell but has emerged triumphantly on the other side. Transgender Dysphoria Blues is one hell of a rock album, and its hero, Laura Jane Grace, has been rejuvenated. God bless her transsexual heart.
Listen to “Black Me Out” here: