A glimpse at the old review of this album combined with boredom led me to think that, especially with the controversy many people have started over the new album, led me to take a few minutes to outline my own take on Against Me!'s release of a year and a half ago. I left out some songs, because, as The Dude would say, I'm a fan of brevity - but that is not to downplay their importance.
The fact that this album will not sound like anything else in your collection (and yet retain a quality of astounding familiarity) is apparent from the opening of the very first track. "Pints Of Guinness..." Described by many as "circus music," the song has a very distinct twang to it, with a relaxed bass line, memorable drum beat, and quick guitar guitar lines. The earnest voice of Tom Gabel kicks in soon thereafter, beginning to craft the tale of a widowed woman (who, the liner notes explain, is Mr. Gabel's grandmother). The listener, if drawn into the tale, soon learns that despite the song title and chorus ("And just like James, I'll be drinking Irish tonight..."), the song is extremely sad, exploring alcohol as an addiction to a cheap drug that can be used to drown out the memories of "the last work week." The dual nature of the song as both a personal and social piece of work calls to mind the poetry in lyrics of artists like Johnny Cash and Woody Guthrie, as well as countless other great punk groups.
"We Laugh at Danger (and break all the rules)" again gives the listener the feel that they are hearing something completely fresh, yet completely familiar. The upbeat drums and indescribably... honest vocals introduce a simple song about growing up rife with personal imagery. The chorus line, "If Florida takes us, we're takin' everyone down with us... where we're coming from, yeah, will be the death of us" (obviously wildly popular at the band's hometown shows) is not delivered as a bitter political statement, but an explosive expression of a feeling anyone can relate to - one of entrapment and the desire to do something great, and the idea that you can't do that at home. And, the best part... just when you think the song is almost over, the music drops out, and there is a massive sing-along. You don't get the impression of a hardcore album - wonderful in its own way, with kids piling on top of each other, their fists in the air - but of a room full of friends, clapping to the beat and singing along with huge grins on their faces.
"I Still Love You Julie," re-worked from the "Crime" EP, sounds stellar. As powerful as any song about, well, songs, the band tells the story of just about anyone who goes to shows looking for a release. ("Given the chance, I'd stay in this chorus forever, where everything ugly in this world is sadly beautiful, in our desperate memories") The song showcases the ability of the band to write a song that doesn't sound at all as though any filler has been added. The song doesn't sound too short, or too long - there are no instrumentals that sound extraneous, or lyrics that seem needlessly repeated. The song just hits you like a punch in the gut.
"Those Anarcho Punks are Mysterious" carries a more serious tone, but has the same effect. Starting off with a signature simple strumming of a barre chord, and continuing with an unforgettable pattern the rest of the way through, the band once again makes it almost irrestible to sing along after 2 or 3 listens. The clapping trick is repeated, but it is far from a gimmick - it flows naturally through the course of hte song, and is just as powerful as any breakdown or guitar solo. Even more universally anthemic, the song outlines practical resistance. "We rock, because its us against them, and we found our own reasons to sing."
The title track follows immediately after, and has a much more upbeat, traditionally punk feel to it, complete with "whoa-ohs." A glimpse at the lyrics reveals the theme of the album to be much more than a passing joke reference to a fallen hair metal god. The song could very well be the anthem for underground music across America - not just punk or hardcore or metal, but any band that has ever loaded up into a van and played solely for the sake of playing.
"Baby, I'm an Anarchist," according to the liner notes, was not the band's song originally, but they make a very interesting go at it. The most humorous song on the album, it tells the tale of two lovers ultimately seperated by their political beliefs. The song is performed on a lone guitar, with Tom Gabel's trademark voice demanding attention.
"Walking is Still Honest," a re-recording of a track off of the band's old "Crime" EP (which will eventually be reviewed on this site, I swear) sounds perfect with the whole band contributing. The song could be about anything, on a personal level - maybe even an ode to Tom's own mother. To anyone else, however, it is yet another amazingly crafted ode to the working class through personal lyrics.
"8 Full Hours of Sleep" is the other solo number on the album. The song is another commentary on the band's politics, and is an excellent way to end the album. Because the entire point of the album is not that you are listening to some amazing piece of musicianship. The point of "Re-inventing Axl Rose" is that the listener feels just as much a part of the band as they do a passive listener. Whether you be a suburban white kid who is struggling to understand politics or a poor minority struggling just to make ends meet, there is something on this album that will speak to you. Imagine the Ramones without the outrageousness, the Clash without the pretension or attempts at artistic statement. Imagine your favorite punk band stripped down, with maybe less power chords, and mated with the guy with an acoustic guitar strapped on his back travelling the country and "telling it like it is." This album is about trying to figure out a world that is confusing to the lot of us, and attempting to sketch out some things they may have noticed. This is an album that doesn't just talk about unity - doesn't even really mention it overtly, in fact - yet inspires a feeling of complete brother and sisterhood to anyone who takes the time to really listen. It is, in the end, artistic expression at its finest.
Maybe that was all a bit idealistic, sorry.