By Brian Harris
Album Review: The Lawrence Arms: “Metropole”
After an eight-year hiatus, Chicago punk-rock stalwarts The Lawrence Arms released their sixth full-length album, called “Metropole”, out now on Epitaph Records.
The new album sees the band, which consist of drummer Neil Hennessey, Brendan Kelly on the bass and guitar player Chris McCaughan, being reflective on the their lives not only the past eight years but back to their childhood. This is most evident on the song “Seventeener (17th and 37th)”, where Kelly sings about how the times have flown by (And yesterday I woke up to find/The black in my beard had turn to white/And the pretty girls that used to smile at me/Just stared off straight ahead or looked down at their feet). This point of trying to deal with the inevitable fate of growing up is only further amplified on songs like “Hickey Avenue” (So let’s keep rolling out of this shitty yellow light/’Cuz we’ve been trolling through this endless parade of identical days/Nothing changes/it only rots away) and the title track (The wilderness of these streets/The neon trees shine their lights down on me/Years on repeat.)
For long-time fans of The Lawrence Arms, the time-off has done no harm in the sound of the band as the influence of the band’s various side-projects (The Wandering Birds, The Falcon and Sundowner, among others). If anything, the time off helped refined the sound into a sharpened, focus and impactful groove which both old and new fans will appreciate. ***3/4
Recommended Songs: “Drunk Tweets”, “Seventeener (17th and 37th)”, “Never Fade Away”
Album Review: Against Me! “Transgender Dysphoria Blues”
The past few years for AM! have been tumultuous to say the least. From troubles with record labels and multiple band members leaving to lead singer Laura Jane Grace’s coming out as a transgender woman in a May 2012 Rolling Stone article, it’s been a white-knuckle ride for the fans of Against Me! and especially for Grace. The result of this tumultuous time is “Transgender Dysphoria Blues,” which according to Grace is a concept album about a transgender prostitute. While this may be true, you simply can’t help that Grace used this album as a form of coming to realization about who she truly was and accepting it.
The first thing that you notice on the first few times through the album is that the Foo Fighters-like major-label sheen that cloaked the band’s two previous releases, “White Crosses” and “New Wave” is not present and the result is a freshness to the folky-punk rock AM! sound. The more noticeable reason for this freshness is the freedom that Grace feels now that she is open to be the person that she always felt she was and “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” comes across as a pouring out of all the various swirling around of emotions and feelings that have built out and are finally being released in a therapeutic, yet rage-filled way. Grace gets across to the audience the constant feeling of trying to fit in, not only with others but also most importantly, herself. “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,” Grace vents on the album’s title track.
The middle three songs on “Transgender Dysphoria Blues” are by far the three angriest on the record and you can feel the internal turmoil that Grace felt dealing with the constant struggle of who she really was. On “Drinking With The Jocks”, Grace sings about hanging out with dudes and talking about how they would have sex with this chick or that chick while secretly wanting to be one of those chicks that they would be talking about. The following song, “Osama Bin Laden As The Crucified Christ,” sees Grace at her most despondent, wondering what will be the outcome of her coming out as transgender, (“What’s the best that you can hope for?/Pity fucks and table scraps?/Subterfuge and detachment?”)
The album ends on a somewhat positive note, with the songs “Two Coffins”, which Grace wrote about her daughter, “Paralytic States” and “Black Me Out”, which can be interpreted as a fuck-you to the band’s former major-label home, Sire but also as the song where the unnamed protagonist, and not-so-subtlety, Grace herself, finally stands up to the ones that judge/look down at her. “I don’t want to see the world that way anymore/I don’t want to feel that weak and insecure/As if you were my fucking pimp/As I was your fucking whore,” Grace wails.
“Transgender Dysphoria Blues” can be best described as a breath of fresh air. Not just for Laura Jane Grace, but also for the band Against Me!, who have been accused by some long-time fans of losing the crust-punk ethos that made them so famous, which Grace admitted to growing out of on “White Crosses”’ only good song, “I Was A Teenage Anarchist”. While the similarities to Crass may not be there as much anymore, what is there is a rejuvenated band with a newfound purpose and most importantly, a damm good punk rock record and a super-early contender for Album of the Year. ****1/2
Recommended Songs: “FuckMyLife666”, “Unconditional Love”, “True Trans Soul Rebel”