On As the Eternal Cowboy, Tom Gabel of the Gainesville, Florida, band Against Me! seems all too aware of that trolley barreling along underneath him. "Slurring the Rhythms" finds him yelping the lines, "Destination is a purpose/Desperation is a reason to live/All that matters is that we are moving on." And moving is exactly what Against Me! has always done: Begun as Gabel's solo project in 1997, the quartet finally came together on its stirring 2002 debut, Reinventing Axl Rose, a swift uppercut of undistorted strumming and anarchistic uproar.
But Cowboy taps an even deeper vein of frustration and joy, with anthems that feel like trickled-down versions of every great "Fuck you!" song you've ever heard. Not that the group hasn't funneled its influences convincingly: "Cliché Guevera" rings like the Replacements classic "Bastards of Young," and the album is laced with everything from the left-wing balladry of Billy Bragg to the colossal melancholy of Jawbreaker. The result is a rootsy, almost rustic take on punk rock that might have made Woody Guthrie proud -- maybe even a tad jealous. On As the Eternal Cowboy, Against Me! has rebirthed an urgent mess of punk, folk, pop, and philosophy that meditates as much as it sweats. Let's get metaphysical.