Against Me! – Shape Shift With Me’ Review

Punk singer Laura Jane Grace emerges from a period of enormous personal change as an essential cultural figure

‘Shape Shift With Me’, the seventh album from Florida hardcore punks Against Me!, is a collection of love songs, mostly dealing with heartbreak. Through the churning power chords of ‘Crash’ (which features a single tinkle of triangle that indicates the record’s poppier sensibilities), Laura Jane Grace barks, “What happened to us?”, concluding that “the DNA has changed”.

It comes after a period of enormous personal change for Grace, who came out as a transgender woman via an interview with Rolling Stone in 2012. Her wife, the artist Heather Hannoura, gave a moving interview to Cosmopolitan in which she insisted that their relationship would last. Yet the couple divorced in 2014, by which time drummer Jay Weinberg and bassist Andrew Seward had left the band. The resulting record, 2014’s acclaimed ‘Transgender Dysphoria Blues’, was a brave and empowering album of triumphant punk anthems like the stirring ‘True Trans Soul Rebel’.

If that album sounded like Grace riding the momentum of the upheaval in her life, ‘Shape Shift With Me’ deals with the fallout (she overcame a breakdown between the two releases). It’s not a record about being trans, but it does benefit from her near-unique position in the male-centric world of hardcore punk. As she told Rolling Stone earlier this year: “Being able to write about love through a trans lens is something that’s not really represented when it comes to love songs.”

‘Boyfriend’ is a propulsive ‘f**k you’ to a person the narrator once loved, while the brooding, prowling ‘Norse Truth’ sees Grace deliver a stinging spoken-word tirade about “revenge”. Crucially, the latter coins the album’s name: “C’mon! Shape shift with me! What have you got to lose?” This hook-laden, catchy punk album courses with pain, but there’s hope, pride and a steely sense of self-preservation here, too.

Context isn’t always important when it comes to songs, but it’s impossible to listen to the music of Against Me! without picturing the solace it could offer a teenager dealing with his or her gender identity, or perhaps sexuality. ‘Shape Shift With Me’ is an excellent album, Grace an essential cultural figure.