New Wave

New Wave

Even before it was released, New Wave was an album shrouded in controversy. Against Me! had long protested the idea of scrapping their DIY punk-rock origins in favor of working with a major label—they even made a documentary about it, 2004’s We’re Never Going Home, in which they openly mocked their corporate suitors—yet here they were releasing their fourth studio LP on Sire/Warner, an act that was, to many of their fans, tantamount to heresy. Add to that equation the presence of big-league producer Butch Vig (Nirvana, Garbage), and the knives were out for the Florida punkers before a note was even heard. Such notions of selling out are, of course, redundant, particularly in the case of New Wave, an album that might boast extra sheen and polish, but still maintains the band’s righteous mix of chant-along punk-rock songs and incendiary political and personal lyrics. “White People for Peace” bemoans the idea that protest songs can make a difference in the face of military aggression, while “Americans Abroad” criticizes the global reach of US capitalism (“Wherever we go, Coca-Cola’s already been”). “Up the Cuts” takes aim at the declining fortunes of the music industry (“And all the insiders rumor over the decline in sales”) and the absense of truly original artists, a theme repeated in “Piss and Vinegar” (“I heard the hype about your band, I’ve seen your video playing on the TV/Publicity photos in magazines, well, none of it makes me feel anything”). The opening title track, meanwhile, is a song of the times, a rousing call to arms recognizing the power the digital age has given people in deciding the fortunes of popular culture (“We can control the medium/We can control the context, the presentation”). The album’s most personal moment comes in the brooding, shimmering “The Ocean,” a song inspired by Laura Jane Grace’s interpretation of heaven and the interconnectedness of life in which she sings, “If I could have chosen, I would have been born a woman/My mother once told me she would have named me Laura.” Though it passed by relatively unnoticed at the time, it was the singer’s most public admission of gender dysphoria to that point. (Five years after the album was released Grace came out as transgender, revealing she had started transitioning to become a woman.) That any artist penning such breathtakingly honest lyrics could be accused of selling out is as ridiculous as the very notion of selling out itself.

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