In 2014, Against Me! released the most important record of their career, as well as arguably one of the most important punk rock records of all time: Transgender Dysphoria Blues. Lyrically, it dealt largely with vocalist and guitarist Laura Jane Grace’s male-to-female transitioning, and came at a time when transgender issues were beginning to enter the larger public consciousness.
The follow-up’s title, Shape Shift With Me, suggests similar lyrical content, but largely doesn’t touch upon it. There are a few possible references on songs like Boyfriend and Delicate, Petite & Other Things I’ll Never Be (it’s difficult to pick apart Grace’s lyrics without a transcription of them). No-one would accuse Grace of milking it had Shape Shift With Me continued her talkin’ dysphoria blues, but this album moves away from the almost definitely therapeutic lyrical approach of Transgender Dysphoria Blues.
Against Me! have never afraid of pop sensibilities creeping into their songwriting, and although their dabbling in pop punk and alternative rock leaning was at its most prominent on 2010’s White Crosses, it’s arguable that Crash from Shape Shift With Me is the band’s single most overtly pop-influenced song. It’s simple power chords and earworm chorus may turn off more punk-savvy fans, but are irresistible to us. Single 333 is less overtly poppy but employs a similar songwriting style and is just as hummable.
Yet Shape Shift With Me is not as consistently pop-influenced as White Crosses was: it opens with the call to arms ProVision L-3, complete with gang shouts. Haunting, Haunted, Haunts also harks back to Against Me!’s early folk-punk leanings, with its jangling quasi-acoustic guitars and call-and-response chants. Rebecca turns the speed up to 100, surviving on pure punk energy.
Norse Truth is an odd number, with Grace lacing its half spoken, almost rapped verses with unadulterated venom over a looped riff and a prominent distorted bassline. Though not having the sheer speed and energy of tracks like Rebecca, it’s easily the heaviest track on the album due to the harshness of the music and the force behind Grace’s vocals. As previously mentioned, its difficult to pick apart these lyrics without a transcription, but whatever she’s singing about, she’s angry about it.
Shape Shift With Me is not a perfect album, however: there are a few forgettable tracks like Dead Rats and Suicide Bomber. The final track, All This (And More) attempts to be climactic but fails. It’s a decent song, but listening to it at the end of the album it feels deflated and gives a sense that the album hasn’t really went anywhere, despite the fact that everything we’ve just written points to the contrary.
Still, despite this, and the fact that Shape Shift With Me never reaches the dizzy heights of its predecessor, it’s a worthy follow-up to a masterpiece, and a great addition to the band’s catalogue for its solid songwriting and eclectic mix of styles.
Standout Tracks: 333, Rebecca, Norse Truth
For Fans Of: Alkaline Trio, The Lawrence Arms, The Menzingers
Written by: Alan Cunningham