Against Me! As the Eternal Cowboy is where Against Me! went electric, pissing off punks everywhere who were enamored with the Gainesville quartet’s folk instrumentation and unrefinedness on debut Against Me! Is Reinventing Axl Rose.1 Whereas the latter album featured hand-claps, muddy production, and romantic odes to anarchism, As the Eternal Cowboy is cleaned up, like someone got these crusty street kids out of the yard and into their first shower since that fateful day spent listening to that Crass demo back in high school. The production is fresh, the progressions are major (for the most part), and frontwoman Laura Jane Grace actually sings instead of screaming like she’s coughing up blood. It’s a total change from the group’s humble beginnings, and one that is almost certainly going to be divisive for any punk rock fan. Is that a fucking piano ballad on “Sink, Florida, Sink”? Damn straight it is.
Since it’s pop punk produced in Gainesville (on Fat Wreck Chords, no less), there’s “whoa”s a plenty, almost to a humorous extreme. But where Is Reinventing Axl Rose took itself way too seriously, As the Eternal Cowboy gives one the impression of a band who’s having fun in addition to being outwardly, cleverly pissed off. “Cavalier Eternal” pokes fun at punk rock ballads in describing the dissolution of a relationship where “it wasn’t the other men / because there were other women / this just isn’t love / it’s just the remorse of a loss of a feeling,” like a punk version of Oasis’ “Married with Children” on Definitely Maybe. Mid-album highlight “Rice and Bread” is a true-as-steel validation of the individual voice, encouraging the listener to “sing your heart out / sing it like you mean it / you’re gonna sing everything you’re thinking / and you’re gonna sing it until they’re listening.” There’s an emotional balance of anger and joy here that was conspicuously lacking on the group’s debut – one that provides depth to Grace & Co.’s frustration. Sure, the world might be going to shit for these guys,2 but there’s always going to be reasons to sing.
That’s what makes Against Me! such a great band. Through storm and stress, there really is always a reason to sing – and even more reasons to celebrate in the little bits of minor happiness of life, even ones as small as a good take of a song, as heard in the studio chatter following “Sink, Florida, Sink.” Happiness and positivity make one more able to appreciate the good things when they come, in addition to making one’s rails against slights and inequality all the more fervent. Is Reinventing Axl Rose really only talked about love in the light of cynicism, but As the Eternal Cowboy gives us the pleasantly fumbling “You Look Like I Need a Drink,” which gets surprisingly poignant at the line “”do you know when you’re coming back again” after a one-night stand that began with the tongue-in-cheek observation “I’m sure you do this all the time.”
As the Eternal Cowboy shows that even when you’re angry at the world’s shit, you can still find a reason to grab a bit of happiness for yourself when everything else is sinking.
1. T.S.R. – (1:35) – ★★★☆☆
2. Cliché Guevara – (2:09) – ★★★★☆
3. Mutiny on the Electronic Bay – (1:12) – ★★★★★
4. Sink, Florida, Sink – (2:40) – ★★★★★
5. Slurring the Rhythms – (2:42) – ★★★☆☆
6. Rice and Bread – (1:42) – ★★★★☆
7. A Brief Yet Triumphant Intermission – (1:29) – ★★★☆☆
8. Unsubstantiated Rumors… – (1:40) – ★★★★☆
9. You Look Like I Need a Drink – (2:14) – ★★★★★
10. Turn Those Clapping Hands into Balled Up Fists – (4:46) – ★★☆☆☆
11. Cavalier Eternal – (2:53) – ★★★★★
1… an album title that I’m still not entirely convinced I understand.
2Go to Florida and see for yourself.