Laura Jane Grace & The Devouring Mothers – Bought to Rot Words Nick Levine
Laura Jane Grace is a bottomless well of inspiration. She’s fronted right-on punk band Against Me! since 1997, but became a trailblazer in 2012 when she came out as trans and began singing about her gender identity as compellingly as she sings about everything else – the band even named their 2014 album Transgender Dysphoria Blues. She’s also not someone to be messed with: when Topshop slapped Against Me!’s logo on a leather jacket in 2016 without asking, Grace called them out and the fashion chain pulled the product. She’s compared this sort-of-solo album, on which longtime collaborators Atom Willard and Marc Hudson become her backing band, to a mixtape. Though every song is underpinned by drums and guitar, Grace definitely shows her range here. Angsty opening track China Beach almost sounds like Courtney Love fronting The Clash, but The Friendship Song and The Airplane Song are catchy jangle-rockers, and the alt-rock missile Apocalypse Now (& Later) features an instant classic hook about the affirming power of love: “[I’m] on top of the world, at the end of the world, with you”. A song called Manic Depression is suitably dirge-like given its dark subject matter; The Acid Test Song has a welcome hint of Alanis Morissette about it.
Whether she’s singing about her commitment phobia on The Hotel Song or anxiety on Manic Depression, Grace’s candour packs a punch. “No I don’t have many friends, I only ever seem to fuck over them,” she sings on The Friendship Song. When she roars “she couldn’t make me orgasm” on Valeria Galino, it’s even more bracing. But this album also has a definite, playful sense of humour. I Hate Chicago, which features the memorable line “learn to make a pizza, you fucking jack-offs!”, isn’t actually a critique of the USA’s third largest city; it’s really about Grace venting frustration after her 2016 divorce. “For every reason that she loves it, I can’t stand Chicago!” she deadpans, referencing her ex-wife. But Grace confronts a break-up – presumably that one – head first on devastating album closer The Apology Song. “Sometimes letting go is showing love,” she sings tenderly. “Just because I’m gone, doesn’t mean you weren’t enough.” In an era dominated by social media posturing and fake news, this artist’s glorious, messy truth is definitely something to be celebrated.