Forgive me for reverting back to my childhood just a bit after hearing the new record from Florida’s Against Me!, White Crosses, but… wow. The surge of punk energy that shoots through this album is rejuvenating and brought me back fifteen years ago when girls were new and perplexing (now they’re just perplexing), everyone wore their flannel shirts unbuttoned over an anti-establishment t-shirt, and groups like Bad Religion, NOFX and Green Day ruled the anarchist, alternative airwaves with cocksure, carefree and somewhat ironic attitudes. It wasn’t exactly the “good old days”, but there was less cynicism; and the same way the awkward, formulative years of high school could be simultaneously frustrating and amazing, so was the music scene.
It’s a different musical climate now, where most post punk has devolved into power pop and emo, leading to the quintessential cookie cutter bands who sound as alike as possible to make the most money, and consequentially, a subgenre I would just as well stay away from. Save for, of course, the glorious exceptions to the rule, such as Against Me!. There’s almost a wink and a nod behind some of their songs, as if to say, “I get it, dude, I get it.” Songs like “I Was a Teenage Anarchist”, an otherwise eyerollingly-silly title, gets the tongue-in-cheek treatment to its fullest, and lyrics like “With freedom as their doctrine/Guess who was the new authority/I was a teenage anarchist/But the politics were too convenient”, it provides an appropriate voice to those of us who rebelled and partied and then grew up a little bit. The whole album seems to speak to youth complacency (“Suffocation”), depression and unfulfillment (“Ache With Me”) and frustration (“White Crosses”), all staples of the punk rock song, only with a bent towards maturation, finding a way to deal with the universal youth culture problems from the perspective of someone growing up.
The music on the album is an accomplishment as well, as catchy and exciting as anything Against Me! has ever done. It opens with anthemic drums, churning guitars and Tom Gabel’s trademark, robust wail. You’d be hard-pressed to find a track that doesn’t move you; the anthems are towering and strong, the ballads are bright and lighter-to-the-sky worthy. It’s a confidence that the band has had to work very hard to obtain, from the beginning when people didn’t understand their music to now when long-time fans have called them sell-outs over their mainstream label and more accessible sound. But it makes all the difference on cuts like “Suffocation” to hear that killer hook, Gabel’s shout of “Suffocation!” and grunt, and a band playing together at the height of their abilities.
It’s a masterful album to say the least, something I would have been absolutely stoked to hear back in high school, and probably wouldn’t have understood at all. But I’ll trade the youth for discernment, a choice I’m sure the band would concur with.