So Against Me! are one of the best punk bands going. We know this. You know this. The Gainesville quartet have rattled through seven full-lengths since their debut LP, 2002’s Against Me! Is Reinventing Axl Rose, and have unleashed myriad gems in the form of b-sides and demos. Right now, we’re focussing on the group’s 10 greatest album tracks.
10. Because Of The Shame (2010)
Fifth album White Crosses was produced by Nirvana/Smashing Pumpkins album captain Butch Vig and, as a result, it’s slicker than a lubed-up penguin bombing down a bowling alley. And that is why Because Of The Shame works so well. Essentially a Bruce Springsteen song the Boss couldn’t be arsed to record, this track’s piano intro, post-chorus “WOAH-OAH-OAH!” and twinkly key progression all point to stuff like Thunder Road, Save My Love, Hungry Heart and the like; the final riff basically sounds like Springsteen’s broken into the studio with a Telecaster and just gone, “You’re welcome,” before riding into the sunset on his motorbike, or something equally cool. Because Of The Shame isn’t typically Against Me! but it’s an anthem nonetheless.
9. Turn Those Clapping Hands Into Angry Balled Fists (2003)
Another oddity now, this time from the band’s second LP, Against Me! As The Eternal Cowboy. Save for the Moog-drenched 8 Full Hours Of Sleep from Reinventing Axl Rose, the band hadn’t really jumped outside their booze-drenched punk template. As The Eternal Cowboy changed this, most notably on Turn Those Clapping Hands Into Angry Balled Fists. The near-five minute duration is kept ticking by Warren Oakes’ superb timekeeping behind the kit, exercising restraint until the band reach a hearty crescendo during the song’s climax. Laura Jane Grace’s mundane lyrics escalate and descend into a cry of “I hate this stupid fuckin’ drumbeat but I’m not gonna tell anyone,” to which Oakes responds with a saucy fill. So yeah, maybe it’s not the most immediate track on As The Eternal Cowboy, but Turn Those Clapping Hands Into Angry Balled Fists remains heinously catchy while expanding Against Me!’s palette.
8. Holy Shit! (2005)
“The guitars exploding to a drumbeat that’s driving. It’s pretty fucking boring, oh don’t you think?” Poor Oakes, no wonder he bloody left. Anyway, Against Me’s third record, Searching For A Former Clarity, was a further-reaching affair than the previous two, but Holy Shit!’s mid-tempo, country-infused rock is a standout example of the band’s talent within the confines of a seemingly simple song. Grace’s “Good God!” line through the chorus is eerily reminiscent of Marilyn Manson when he really drawled on his earlier stuff, while Andrew Seward’s surprise bass in the first verse is a left-of-centre treat.
7. Stop! (2007)
The catchiest pop song that was never a pop song. Done.
6. Bamboo Bones (2010)
Capping off White Crosses, Bamboo Bones remains the record’s highlight and leaves a warm, fuzzy feeling once it’s over. Yeah, it’s clean, it’s well-produced, but can you not hear the conviction behind Grace’s words? Just because it’s expressed through that soaring chorus’ harmonised vocals as opposed to screaming until she coughs up blood, doesn’t mean it’s any less heartfelt. Aside from the song’s undeniably massive, squeaky clean delivery, a spasmodic bridge of feedback and fuzz hits before that elated, final refrain.
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5. Cliché Guevara (2003)
Rattling with a scuzzed-up Springsteen riff before descending into Against Me!’s now-trademark, chest-beating folked-up punk, Cliché Guevara is an As The Eternal Cowboy gem and an absolute arse-ripper live. It’s an exercise in brevity, politicised barbs shooting from Grace’s gob in a tirade of precise, pin-pointed rage. But mate, it is so catchy. “A new waaaaay on!” will probably be stuck in your ears until you die/go deaf and James Bowman’s isolating six-sting hammering before the second verse is moshpit-inducing magic.
4. Unprotected Sex With Multiple Partners (2005)
Bouncing like Franz Ferdinand but, well, good, Unprotected Sex With Multiple Partners takes Grace’s rantology approach spread across Searching For A Former Clarity and spits it all out atop this infectiously groove-laden number. Grace breaks down management deals and the filtration of the band’s capital, her pissed-off declaration, “Gotta make your money while you got the chance, do whatever it takes to sell it” holding even more weight given that the band signed to Sire just three months after this record’s release. One of Against Me!’s boldest dancefloor anthems and, y’know, they’ve got a few.
3. Pints Of Guinness Make You Strong (2002)
Reinventing Axl Rose is a primitive, bloody-nosed debut record that shines to this day. Its opening track, Pints Of Guinness Make You Strong, pretty much epitomises most of the record’s content; low-fi, wiry guitars; Grace’s impassioned, untrained screams and multi-layered melodies; the country-drenched Wild West strings and subsequent acoustic guitars riding the song’s relentless trot; the gang vocals, ARGH¸ the gang vocals. Against Me! moved away from this raucously raw brand of punk pretty quickly, but traces of it remained in various forms and Pints Of Guinness Make You Strong is arguably its strongest showing, still after all these years. “AND JUST LIKE JAMES, I’LL BE DRINKING IRISH TONIIIIIIGHT!”
2. Thrash Unreal (2007)
No, it’s not a thrash song. Although Against Me! didn’t bless us with their interpretation of Pleasure To Kill, they did pen an absolute beast that stands out as a highlight on fourth LP New Wave; that album’s pretty much perfect, so to have any song raise its hand and say, “No, I’m the best one” is testament to the band’s quality control. That backing vocal. That build into the chorus. Everything about Thrash Unreal just bleeds authenticity, from its bare bones composition to its lyrics’ confessional nature. Against Me! were labelled sell-outs following New Wave’s release on Warner subsidiary Sire Records. Imagine. Like, actually imagine listening to Thrash Unreal’s unmistakeable honesty and marking it the work of a money-grabber. Dicks.
1. True Trans Soul Rebel (2014)
Much like Pints Of Guinness Make You Strong summed up Reinventing Axl Rose, the lynchpin of 2014’s masterwork Transgender Dysphoria Blues is undoubtedly True Trans Soul Rebel. Intertwining Grace’s own gender transition with a concept revolving around a fictional transsexual prostitute, the album is second only to New Wave in terms of quality and True Trans Soul Rebel is its flag-waving representative. “You should’ve been a mother, you should’ve been a wife. You should’ve been gone from here years ago, you should be living a different life” is one of Grace’s most poignant batch of lyrics and, backed by that certified winner of a chorus, True Trans Soul Rebel is set up as an Against Me! classic and one of the finest, most empowering rock songs of recent times.
Against Me!’s new album Shape Shift With Me is out now. The band are currently on tour.