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Against Me! - Shape Shift With Me (Album Review)

Monday, 26 September 2016 Written by Laura Johnson

Four years on from coming out as transgender in an interview with Rolling Stone, Laura Jane Grace has decided it’s time to change the conversation again. Having put out the excoriating, captivating ‘Transgender Dysphoria Blues’ 18 months after sitting down with the magazine, Grace’s focus has shifted to a trans perspective on love and sex with Against Me!’s ‘Shape Shift With Me’.

This time around, she has ditched any veiled metaphors and gone for the lyrical jugular. We get equal measures of candour and contemplation throughout the record, with Grace treating the throwaway enjoyment of a fling or the bleak fringes of busted relationships with the same gravity. “We don’t have to fall in love, we can just have fun,” she declares on the unashamedly pop-punk Rebecca. But on the bass-heavy Boyfriend, which she co-wrote with Blood Brothers and Cold Cave’s Cody Votolato, she’s spitting venom once more: “Of all the reasons to feel hateful, you’re the best of them.”

Although the record is awash with Grace’s frank, ‘fuck you’ honesty there are moments of vulnerability littered throughout to act as a counterbalance. Norse Truth, another co-write with Votolato that gives the record its name, cuts deep as Grace ricochets between dismissive and possessive. “Just forget I was here, cut me out of your heart,” she sings, before imploring: “Please, please, say that you love me.”

There are also welcome nods to earlier Against Me! records here. The enjoyably ramshackle Haunting, Haunted, Haunts’ sounds like it would be at home on 2002’s ‘Reinventing Axl Rose’, while All This (And More) and 333 are reminiscent of the band’s more polished ‘White Crosses’ era.

As well as looking to relationships past, present and future, romantic and platonic, ‘Shape Shift With Me’ also finds Grace drawing from a mixed bag of inspirations. On 12:03, for example, she revisits attempts to learn to roll cone joints while on tour, while 333 was inspired by Anselm Kiefer’s painting ‘The Renowned Orders Of The Night’. Suicide Bomber was written following the Bataclan attack in Paris and the furious opener, ProVision L-3, deals with invasive airport security checks. Casting her net so wide, alongside the record’s core focus, has helped create a work of such breadth that with one listen it smashes all preconceptions of this album being ‘Transgender Dysphoria Blues 2.0’.

From the opening bars of the record until the last note rings out you are willingly at the mercy of Laura Jane Grace, whether she wants to share with you a love lost, or sexual encounter that never was. She once again lays herself bare beautifully, and sometimes pointedly, and often articulates more in a three minute punk song than many writers are able to muster over the course of an entire album.

Against Me Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows

Tue December 06 2016 - BIRMINGHAM O2 Academy Birmingham
Wed December 07 2016 - MANCHESTER Academy 2
Thu December 08 2016 - LONDON Electric Ballroom
Fri December 09 2016 - GLASGOW Garage
Sat December 10 2016 - BRISTOL SWX
Sun December 11 2016 - NOTTINGHAM Rescue Rooms

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