Against Me! – Shape Shift With Me
I know Shape Shift With Me is a singer-songwriter record because the vocals are mixed so that we notice how smart the words are. But lots of singer-songwriter records sound good – too good in many cases. Back when Butch Vig interfered with Against Me! he treated them like a noise-rock act with Sugar in their veins; now Laura Jane Grace and Marc Hudson treat the band like Bob Mould did the nobodies in his post-1994 solo records (the ones on which he didn’t play everything, that is); they treat them, to rewrite one of her new tunes, like some fucking band.
Nevertheless, about half of Against Me!’s seventh album crunches and roars and in places offends like I’m used to. The more original the songs, the more gleeful their purloining of images, lines, and slick tricks from generations of mopes, losers, and misanthropes. “Shallow graves of all dead rarts/I like dark clouds the best,” Laura Jane sings in “Dead Rats,” nodding to ancient Smiths over a mothballed sub-Slayer riff. In “Crash” the hook goes “Another crash. Landing,” like that, with the music stopping in its tracks; meanwhile, the character in the song promises to stay in “your” orbit a while like Harry Nilsson’s spaceman going round and around and around. But Laura Jane is most compelling when she’s burning not yearning. Often the situation’s unpleasant, as when he wants to grab the title character in “Rebecca” by the skull and kiss her (how romantic!). “Norse Truth,” the album’s manifesto, settles into a declamatory mode that a David Johansen or Corin Tucker would recognize except Laura Jane can’t be said to have a light touch: “Tits out for the boys/Hard cocks/hard cunts/line’em up.” As Laura Jane yells, “I wanted you to be more real than all the others,” the arrangement gathers her up, spins around, consuming itself. A meager diet, though. The guitars aren’t loud enough, the rhythm section not interesting enough. This explains why I’m quoting lyrics oftener than is my wont.
Testing the limits of her new identity, Laura Jane is searching for chords and arrangement commensurate with the tumult of the last few years. A song called “Boyfriend” relies on non-diegetic recognition for an otherwise familiar story that Billie Joe Armstrong could have sung during his basket case days/daze. But after 2005’s Searching for a Former Clarity kicked off a helluva streak the muffled, tentative Shape Shift With Me can’t help but disappoint me. Obviously I wish she finds the peace she deserves; finding peace comes before recording albums. She can wipe her ass with what we think of them anyway: “C’mon shape shift with me/What have you got to lose?” she asks in “Norse Truth” but adds, “Ah, fuck it.”