Laura Jane Grace has made herself a standout in the world of punk-rock through her cutting lyrics and tackling topics most are too afraid to. On her own, Grace is still a great writer but just feels like she’s going through the motions this time around. Despite making a easily listenable record, it lacks the staying power to hold onto listeners.
Grace taps into many of her more angular punk roots across this record, shrieking harder than many Against Me! records from the past decade. With the sassy delivery and story of “China Beach” she makes a fun and bouncing track but one that you’ll definitely recognize from its influences. However Grace is able to spin a blues core into something distinctly her own on “Born In Black” where melancholy colours her guitar-playing towards something meaningful and timeless. As fun as something like “The Airplane Song” can be, it rarely matches the distinct writing its lyrics bring out. However the catchy choruses may do a lot to boost these words live and help the song grow on listeners.
There’s a similar groove to “Apocalypse Now (& Later)” and while it has that soul that really makes Grace’s music addictive, it is rarely gripping. “Reality Bites” itself cries out with fury but suffers from an all too done sound that drags the track into background radio-fare. Grace strays between two worlds on the grimy energy of “Amsterdam Hotel Room” as the rather laid-back delivery on all ends slows down what could be a really booming track. As the song goes on however, there’s a lot more kick to the writing to set it off into a fiery listen.
By the second half of the record, Grace’s pondering writing starts to feel like a first stroll through punk with some truly exceptional lyrics. Without the much more statement-heavy lyrics or particular roars of most of her Against Me! work, this album ends up repeatedly feeling a little too simple and safe. Any listen through “I Hate Chicago” or even “The Friendship Song” will certainly have you laughing or smirking at the wit of the stories but the record struggles to offer more after that. At least a song like “Screamy Dreamy” burns bright with its mix of strange filters and righteous cries in its second half. This soaring build turns into the one of the album’s few iconic moments and really break apart from the deluge of guitar loops that start to get boring as the album continues.
The album starts to play around more near the end with the sizzling crawl of “Manic Depression” or a much more gritty mix of reggae and punk on “The Acid Test Song” but it can still feel uneven at times in the overall way all these parts play together. It’s the songs like “The Hotel Song” that really have a hard time fitting into the albums usual drive, until it takes off into a triumphant and frustrated explosion. The issue it faces is similar to those like “The Apology Song” however, where its unforgettable moments just take way too long to get to. “Valeria Golina” is a rare standout of the record that throws in a little Latin flavour and some of the most immediate performances on the record in the middle of many less dynamic tracks.
Words by Owen Maxwell