Against Me! – The Original Cowboy

January 01, 1970

(Fat Wreck Chords)


As this is functionally a reissue of 2004’s As The Eternal Cowboy, minus single
“Sink, Florida,
Sink,” the newly-issued collection of Cowboy demos, The Original Cowboy, is hard
to recommend unequivocally. Anyone already familiar with the 2004 offering will
likely find little in the slightly rougher sounding, alternately sequenced Original to justify a second purchase.
But chances are, that wasn’t really the point anyway.


Given the success of 2008’s supremely overrated New Wave – which Spin crowned album of the year – the band is ripe for reissues. And
that’s almost exactly what this is.


And, in fairness, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. By
re-sequencing the original, cutting “Sink, Florida, Sink” and issued the (surprisingly
complete-sounding) demos, this is, technically, a new listening experience. But
as Against Me!’s mainstream exposure increases, the inevitable hordes of new
fans unfamiliar with the band’s excellent (and in some circles legendary) back
catalog are primed for an introduction. And Cowboy – whether As The Eternal, or The Original – is as good a place to
start as any. It offers the folky rollick that made the band its name, without
sounding as unhinged and unpolished as the cult-classic Reinventing Axl Rose.


And for many, As The
Eternal Cowboy
– the Gainesville,
Fla., band’s first release for
Fat Wreck Chords – was already something of breakthrough, pushing the band from
underground buzz to Warped Tour headliner.


And musically, it’s little wonder why. Against Me!’s
releases have sounded increasingly hi-fi with each subsequent album. And even
as the Butch Vig-produced New Wave‘s
compressed modern rock tendencies were, in the eyes of this critic, a major
blow to the band’s ragged charm, Tom Gabel’s songwriting remained as sharp and
impassioned as it has been since the band’s humble beginnings.


And here, Against Me! is at its most inviting. Giant
shout-alongs and deadly hooks come on the backs of Gabel’s impassioned singing
and the band’s electric roar. At this mid-point in its career, the band had
mastered its Billy Bragg/(Young) Pioneers folk-punk, successfully melding
smart, vibrant lyrics with the insistence of heavily-strummed chords and using
the electric buzz as a launch pad for the vamped-up choruses that would shoot
Against Me! to the majors.


This might have been Against Me!’s finest moment – raw,
urgent and infectiously catchy.


Musically, whether it’s the original LP, or this de facto
reissue, this album is necessary for any Against Me! fan. Ultimately, though,
this specific version might not be. The
Original Cowboy
is an altogether unnecessary release, but it’s also an
entirely warranted frivolity, given the band’s ascendant profile in the rock
press, and the opportunity for this disc to introduce the band’s newer fans to
the good stuff they’ve been missing.


Standout Tracks: “Slurring the Rhythms,” “A Brief Yet Triumphant Introduction/Cliché Guevara”


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