LIKE THE MOB, Scientology, or a gym membership, it's difficult to walk away from punk rock unscathed. Yet it's a Sisyphean task when your band is anointed as the most important domestic punk act of the post-Strummer era, one that brazenly claimed to reinvent the rock and roll ethos on their debut album (2002's Against Me! Is Reinventing Axl Rose) and penned the ultimate mixtape jam for young punks in love, "Baby, I'm an Anarchist!"
For Against Me! the transition from idealistic teens to realistic adults mirrored many onetime punk rockers, but when the Gainesville, Florida, band finally grew disillusioned with their constricting identity, their gradual split from punk rock spurned a deafening backlash. This was a divorce years in the making, as the band parlayed their impressive groundwork of indie recordings and relentless touring into an eyebrow-raising deal with Sire Records. (The band previously boasted about walking away from Universal's $1 million offer in their tour DVD We're Never Going Home).
Their time spent under the Sire logo resulted in a pair of recordings: the emboldened New Wave in 2007, and last year's less impressive White Crosses. This tumultuous period found Against Me! straying from the starry-eyed and neck-bearded ways of Gainesville punk, toward a more streamlined sound. This transition spilled over into frontman Tom Gabel's unabashedly candid lyrics, as he deliberately used New Wave to make a case for crossing over to the FM airwaves, then White Crosses for denouncing the band's rigid past.
In addition to the band's newfound Springsteen obsession—their Boss fantasy came to fruition when E Street offspring Jay Weinberg, son of Max, temporarily joined the band late last year—White Crosses was notable for its ironic choice of lead single. In the anthemic "I Was a Teenage Anarchist," Gabel offers a rebuttal to a song he previously penned, singing, "I was a teenage anarchist but then the scene got too rigid/It was mob mentality/they set their rifle sights on me." It's unquestionably a knee-jerk reaction from Gabel, but you can't fault Against Me! for attempting to free themselves from punk's unfaltering altruism. Since parting ways with Sire this past November the band is now able to do what they please, finally unfettered from their turbulent past.