Album Review: Laura Jane Grace – Stay Alive

Against Me! frontwoman Laura Jane Grace sends out postcards from the edge on surprise solo album, Stay Alive

Album Review: Laura Jane Grace – Stay Alive
Paul Travers

Distortion and volume are very fine things, but it’s often said that the mark of a good rock song is if it remains compelling when stripped to its bare bones. Few songwriters have got to put their creations to that test quite so completely as Laura Jane Grace. This batch of surprise-released songs could have sounded radically different in the hands of their original intended recipients – the fiery punk rock collective and Laura Jane’s ‘day-job’ band Against Me!.

The pandemic put paid to those plans but, like a less twattish Bear Grylls, Laura Jane decided to improvise, adapt and overcome. The result is a collection of songs that have no doubt been molded to fit the new circumstances but that absolutely work in the most stripped down of formats. Essentially, it’s Laura Jane with a guitar and the occasional automated beat, recorded in two days under the guidance of Steve Albini – who has always been able to make bare bones shine.

Lockdown records will be very much a thing over the coming months but it’s unlikely that many will surpass the spontaneity, passion and relatability of this one. ‘This only feels like the death of everything,’ she sings on opener Swimming Pool Song while the album closes with Old Friend (Stay Alive) and its exhortation to just… get through all this. In between we dip into daydreams and LSD trips, regrets and ruminations. Calendar Song and Shelter In Place seem to explore very different aspects of lockdown and Hanging Tree follows the finest protest-folk traditions, shining its righteous light at ‘A burning crucifix and a hanging tree/ Automatic weapons and white supremacy.’

Elsewhere, the vignettes take the form of acoustic campfire punk anthems and fuzzy power-pop rushes. Each is very different, but they’re connected by a sense of the time and space they were crafted in. It’s a collection of postcards from the edge that we’ve all been walking and one that’s utterly engaging.

Verdict: 4/5

For Fans Of: Frank Turner, Chelsea Wolfe, Against Me!

Stay Alive is out now via Big Scary Monsters

READ THIS: Laura Jane Grace: "Getting arrested politicised me"

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