Review: Against Me, Shape Shift With Me

Downcast but not destroyed
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Punk will never die. EDM will be our generation’s disco — count on that. Rock & Roll will come and go 5 more times in your lifetime, but punk will never be defeated. Why? Because there will always be something to rebel against, some establishment to hate, some teenagers to inspire. One of the better punk bands out there right now, Against Me, returns with their 11th record and follow up to the second high point in their career Transgender Dysphoria Blues. The record is doleful through pop, dejected through classic chord progression, and downcast but not destroyed.

From 5 seconds in, guitars rage, drums cruise, bass thumps; pop-punk fans will rejoice, more on that later, but first the songs. An early standout is “Crash” echoing the Ramones simple pop and a perfect chorus that explodes with, “Let me stay up in your orbit a while.” The song grooves and punches like the Clash. Laura Jane Grace paints a temporary picture of love, as though it’s a satellite moments from overheating on reentry. The bridge bleeds into the chorus from childish optimism to adult realism. Everything must come to an end. Elsewhere, “Boyfriend” crunches like a more punky, more poppy Strokes track, “Dead Rats” stomps and rolls, and “Suicide Bomber” riff rocks with a rigid howl. 

Another high point is the final track, the mid-tempo “All This (And More)” takes us through the finish time, which makes for a substantial, if depressing coda. “All this and more to forget you” is as relatable as it is fatalistic. The record’s title comes from the song “Norse Truth”, an apt culture declaration in 2016, and it pronounces the true draw of this record. That deep longing for human connection is impossible not to engage with. Amidst the glaring anger, the eagerness, the invites to lie and fight, at the core, is the manifest longing for love. The love that writes sappy songs and the love that pisses people off and created punk. 

What is the message of this record? For sure a byproduct is the relatability of the Transgender experience. Breakups, fights and moments from all romantic relationships are present. The goal, though, is to chronicle the rhythms of relationship. Each 3 minute track pops with another bond between people; broken, forged, created, drowned, forgotten.

For the pop-punk band fan, this is a dream come true. Catchy as anything choruses, short track times, tight and sparse rhythms make this a record I wish came out when I was in high school. If the record does have a fault, is that it colors inside the lines. This is pop-punk paint by numbers, and I don’t necessarily want to wear a fitted cap backwards enough for this to be one of my top records of the year. At the end of the day, it doesn’t step outside the genre range of fandom. Pop-punk fans will be satisfied, but there isn’t enough to attract new fans, and ultimately it doesn’t add enough to the punk canon to make me want to steer people here instead of to Green Day, the Ramones, Wire or Television. Whatever it is, though, its punk and it will never die. B PLUS