As the Eternal Cowboy

As the Eternal Cowboy

When Against Me! signed with Fat Wreck Chords to make the follow-up to 2002’s Reinventing Axl Rose, the response from the DIY punk rock community was nothing short of hostile. Punk-rock bible Maximum Rocknroll even went so far as to actively encourage people to sabotage the Gainesville quartet’s shows, which they did with glee—in her autobiography Tranny, vocalist/guitarist Laura Jane Grace recalls audience members trying to take the band’s instruments out of their hands while they were playing, pouring bleach on their merchandise, spray-painting graffiti on their van, and slashing its tires. The fact that Fat Wreck Chords was an independent label owned by NOFX bassist/vocalist Fat Mike, one of the punk scene’s most revered figureheads, did nothing to temper the outrage. The benefits of leaving their previous home, No Idea, for Fat Wreck were many, not least the generous $25,000 recording budget they were afforded for album number two; a stark contrast to the $800 with which they’d recorded Reinventing Axl Rose. When Grace agreed to terms with Fat Wreck, however, she inadvertently created a problem—having promised their new bosses their album was ready to record, in reality she had precisely zero songs, sparking a frenzied period of writing. This goes some way to explaining why As the Eternal Cowboy is such a short record—that, and the fact that the band’s nerves got the better of them when recording, causing them to play faster than intended—with five of its songs clocking in under two minutes, and only one breaking the three-minute mark. It also accounts for the mid-album instrumental “A Brief Yet Triumphant Intermission,” a song devoid of lyrics simply because they didn’t have any. Despite its hurried creation, As the Eternal Cowboy remains a benchmark album in Against Me!’s career, its rapid-fire collection of loud, electrified punk rock establishing the band’s long-term identity and sound (only a handful of songs, such as “Cavalier Eternal” and “Unsubstantiated Rumors are Good Enough for Me (To Base My Life Upon),” recall their acoustic roots). It also finds Grace maturing as a songwriter, embracing simplicity on the weary “Sink, Florida, Sink,” a song built on only one chord progression. For the first time in their career, Against Me! recorded outside of Gainesville, decamping to Ardent Studios in Memphis, primarily because that’s where one of Grace’s favorite bands, The Replacements, recorded their Pleased To Meet Me LP. Determined to capture the sweat-filled sound of the band in full flight, Grace also wanted to make an analog record devoid of punch-ins and edits, an honest representation of the group’s abilities. The end result is a more full-bodied, polished album than Reinventing Axl Rose—“polished,” of course, being a relative term—but one still teeming with aggression, attitude, urgency, and energy (witness “You Look Like I Need a Drink” and “Cliché Guevara”). If that’s the sound of selling-out, it’s yet more proof of how tired and redundant the concept is.

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