Reinventing Axl Rose

Reinventing Axl Rose

Reinventing Axl Rose is proof that all you need to make an album are good songs and an iron-strong will. Certainly money wasn’t a luxury Against Me! had at their disposal, spending only $800 on their debut LP. Time, too, was a scarce commodity, with the Gainesville punkers recording the entire album in one day. Upon realizing they’d played the songs too fast, they spent a second day re-recording it—and just like that, one of the most influential punk-rock records of the 21st century was done. That they’d even made it to this point was something of a miracle. While touring 2001’s Crime EP, the band’s van was rear-ended by a truck, sending it spinning off the road before coming to a halt on its roof. Following the accident, co-founding drummer Kevin Mahon—whose drum kit didn’t have cymbals and was comprised partly of empty pickle buckets with drumheads attached—left the group. As one of the architects of Against Me!’s explosive mixture of acoustic and electric punk, his absence created such a void that for a brief period the band ceased to exist. As vocalist/guitarist Laura Jane Grace continued to write, however, eventually they reconvened, recruiting new drummer Warren Oakes. A vastly different player to the unconventional Mahon, the band had to reimagine their songs to suit his style. Of the 11 recorded for the album, only “We Laugh at Danger (And Break All the Rules),” “The Politics of Starving,” and “Scream It Until You’re Coughing up Blood” were written with the new lineup—also featuring guitarist James Bowman and bassist Dustin Fridkin—with the remainder adapted from existing material, some of which had been released on Crime and its 2001 follow-up The Acoustic EP. To listen to Reinventing Axl Rose—the title is in some ways a tribute to Guns N’ Roses singer Axl Rose, although in this context represents the punk ethos of killing your idols—is to hear a band attacking their songs as though every note could be their last. Their anarcho-punk foundations are represented in “Baby, I’m an Anarchist,” while their adherence to the punk ethos resonates through the title track (“We want a band that plays loud and hard every night/That doesn’t care how many people are counted at the door/That would travel one million miles and ask for nothing more/Than a plate of food and a place to rest”). It is, however, Grace’s personal reflections on her life and family that create some of the LP’s most incendiary moments. Rollicking opener (and perennial live favorite) “Pints of Guinness Make You Strong” is about Grace’s grandmother on her mother’s side; the Mary she sings of in “We Laugh at Danger (And Break All the Rules)” is her paternal grandmother; while the singer/guitarist wrote “Walking Is Still Honest” after leaving home as a 17-year-old, as the realities of life her mother had warned her about were starting to become real. While future albums would see the band fine-tune and polish their sound, there is an unbridled energy to Reinventing Axl Rose—not to mention a sterling collection of songs—that shines through the raw production. One of punk rock’s most exciting new groups had arrived.

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