There’s no better example that the underground rock scene has its head up its collective ass than the lack of appreciation for literate, thrashing Florida folk punks Against Me! Since the release of their 2002 debut album, Reinventing Axl Rose, few bands have matched the songwriting force of singer/guitarist Tom Gabel, whose crimson-faced poetics bellow like Ian MacKaye and Joe Strummer bum-rushing a craic in a Dublin pub. Fist-clenching, whoah-oh broadsides like “Cliche Guevara” and “Sink, Florida, Sink!” (both from 2003’s As the Eternal Cowboy) are stoutly bittersweet ballads at heart, with Gabel singing himself back home like Merle Haggard — though his prison cell is an anarchist squat.
On Searching for a Former Clarity, the band’s third full-length, Gabel’s protestations are all bitter, no sweet. While the lead track, “Miami,” uses a horn section to offset barbs about useless antibiotics and ballots drifting out to sea, elsewhere the songs clang with a raw scowl. On “Justin,” a soldier dies, but Yahoo! won’t let his family see his e-mail account, and the title track follows a loved one’s deterioration from disease. Repeatedly, Gabel assays the self-importance (and obsolescence) that trails any band presuming to redeem people’s lives. Still, he bullhorns on, even when he can’t remember why, turning up the guitars to cut through the bullshit — especially his own.