Own It or Disown It: #255: Against Me!, Reinventing Axl Rose


The Florida punk-rock outfit's debut album turned fifteen years old this week. Does it hold up?

Axl Rose is a rock singer best known as the frontman for Guns’n’Roses and slightly less known as the lead singer of AC/DC. His positive contributions to pop culture include, like, five songs outside of Appetite for Destruction, and his not-so-positive contributions to pop culture include becoming the poster child of egotistical washed-up singers who think that the next comeback is going to be the big one. There is true style and beauty with his best work, but assuming there’s enough to the Axl Rose mystique to warrant a reinvention operates under the woeful assumption that how he’s spent the majority of his days isn’t who he actually is.

So, no, I don’t get what it means to be Reinventing Axl Rose, much less why a folk-rock act would be the ones to reinvent a hard-rock act. Then again, I’m also baffled by the unanimous acclaim Against Me!’s first full-length album gets—a perfect score from Sputnik is to be expected given the source, but four-and-a-half stars from Allmusic, near-perfect user scores on any website that allows customers to leave reviews, and that everyone I’ve ever talked to in the real world who has heard it giving it only glowing praise suggests it is a world-beater of an album, a standard that changed the shape of punk to come. I’ll give that it did produce copycats out of people enamored with the band’s gleeful take on darkness—AJJ might not be the act they are today with this album—but I still don’t get the reinvention or innovation here.

It certainly doesn’t come in the form of the majority of the writing and singing here. The cries for leftist solidarity come across as pandering even as I know these guys totally are liberals, and so sums up most of what can be deciphered of every track here above the chugging party-punk screamyelled by Laura Jane Grace. She’s given the opportunity to emote more on “Jordan’s First Choice”, “Baby, I’m an Anarchist!”, and “8 Full Hours of Sleep”, but that’s three songs out of eleven where the writing have to step up, and while there is an uptick in quality, it isn’t enough to make up for that there’s only three songs with good writing here.

Which all isn’t to say that I hate Reinventing Axl Rose. Heck, I like this album. Working in punk-rock means Against Me! can get away with bringing nothing new to the table and still come out looking good if their music is infectious, and there isn’t a song here that doesn’t get its hooks in. This is basically a half-hour of drinking songs, with the standout being the pseudo doo-wop of “Baby, I’m an Anarchist!”, still the funniest song the band has ever made and arguably their best song depending on your feelings towards “Transgender Dysmorphia Blues”. What I’m trying to say is that I think Reinventing Axl Rose is a good album, not a great one, not a pole shift for the genre by any means but definitely an enjoyable listen that still plays well today. I suppose that makes this column one of the most negative pieces about this album ever written. Go, me.


I understand there might be some confusion about certain names I've used in this column, so let me clarify: Amazon has it listed as Reinventing Axl Rose, not Against Me! is Reinventing Axl Rose, so there.

Read past editions of Own It or Disown It.