Off the Beat and Path: Reinventing Axl Rose

By Rob O’Donnell


My favorite quote I’ve ever heard about Against Me! is, “This band makes cigarettes look healthy.” The singer describes himself in the song, “Baby, I’m an Anarchist” as “a Molotov cocktail.” And it is completely true. So, yes, this week’s artist is very different from the acoustic and folk bands that I’ve been reviewing. Against Me!’s album, “Reinventing Axl Rose,” is classified in the hardcore punk genre.

Some of you may have heard of Against Me! from their more recent, popular songs “Thrash Unreal” or “I Was a Teenage Anarchist.” Those songs have nothing to do with the sound of this album. This was their first album with a full band, released in 2002, back when they were still true punk. Unfortunately, they have recently moved away from that genre.

The music on this album is complex and entertaining. The sound of it is very gritty and there are even a few mistakes here and there, but it all adds to the overall feel of the album. It wasn’t made to be perfect, because that would strip it of its emotion and rawness. It shows their desire to be more than just another pop-rock band. The music has the raw energy of old Irish drinking songs, but every song drives home a point, either personal or political.

Against Me! is a very political band, but not every song on the album deals with their beliefs. While a few songs that are purely political, most are about heartbreak and other topics most people can relate to. The best lyrics are in the song “Pints of Guinness Make You Strong.” Apparently written about Tom Gabel’s grandparents, it tells the story about a man who died an alcoholic at 37, leaving behind a widow who loved him for the rest of her life. It is one of the most touching stories I’ve heard in a song, despite the fact that most people dismiss this band as too political or too radical to be personal.

Gabel’s voice is, well, an acquired taste. I honestly don’t know how he still has vocal chords after recording this album. He mixes screaming with softer vocals depending on the song and the emotion needed. Staying in tune and sounding nice isn’t a huge priority for him, so it can take awhile for listeners to appreciate the beauty of it. But trust me, once you listen to it enough, you can’t help but judge all other singers for their lack of true emotion.

So that’s why, if you like folk music, you shouldn’t dismiss this album just because it sounds different. Because when it comes down to it, they’re pretty similar genres. Both place an emphasis on lyrics and emotion rather than the aesthetic or prettiness of a song. The only difference is that punk is louder–much, much louder.

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