In the past dozen years, Against Me! singer Tom Gabel's gone from being an Americanized Billy Bragg strumming angrily against the man to a rock juggernaut with enough fist-in-the-air intensity to rival the anthemic agit-prop of the Clash. Last summer, the Gainesville, Florida quartet made the leap to the majors for its third album, New Wave. While a tad more polished and sonically impressive, it doesn't sacrifice any of Gabel's outrage or intelligence. From the marching "Americans Abroad," which equates the band's international touring with U.S. "profit-driven expansion into foreign markets," to the poignant paean to recovery and independence, "Thrash Unreal," Gabel's songs avoid knee-jerk punk sloganeering. "White People for Peace" even questions the value of "protest songs in response to military aggression," as he turns the spotlight inward instead of assailing the American Idiot. Admittedly, Gabel's lyrics are much more imaginative and unique than the music. Against Me! employs a chugging punk backbeat swathed in chiming guitar whose nuance and hook-carrying capacity have continually increased, to the point where they're quite catchy, and not just a Prius for Gabel's rhetoric. After emo's lovelorn misanthropy, it's refreshing to hear punk aiming for something higher than a GED, and it's hummable to boot.
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