Laura Jane Grace - Stay Alive album review

Laura Jane Grace - Stay Alive
(Image credit: Supplied)

Stay Alive

According to a criminally underrated offcut from 2010’s White Crosses, Against Me! frontwoman Laura Jane Grace once dreamed that Bob Dylan was a friend of hers (the track is titled, quite aptly, “Bob Dylan Dream”). We’re not sure if that amity ever blossomed, but it’s clear that Grace still admires the Minnesotan folk god –her first proper solo album, Stay Alive, is delightfully Dylanesque: it’s bold and bright and beautifully bare‑bones, packed with delicate acoustic twangs and tongue-in-cheek lyrical whimsy; a far cry from the gritty, guttural punk rock that Grace (quite literally) cut her teeth on.

Upon the LP’s surprise release on October 2nd, Grace was quick to note that “if at any point you refer to this album as an ‘acoustic album’, my six-string strumming ghost will haunt ten generations of your family, every night of their lives with bedroom busking from 11pm to 6am.” We duly heed the warning, but can’t ignore the album’s innate suitability for campfire singalongs – all but four cuts on Stay Alive showcase solely Grace, her acoustic guitar and her warm, charismatic singing voice.

In a lot of ways, it feels like a natural progression from her 2018 release with The Devouring Mothers [Bought To Rot], of which roughly half was centred around these folky, bluesy stabs of introspection. But where that record had slivers of punk and pop and colourful rock ‘n’ rock to fill in the gaps, Stay Alive is defiantly naked all the way through, monochrome and sans SFX. We’re still tugging at the proverbial frills of Grace’s dress for another album of battered yells and chugging guitars, but in the meantime, there’s plenty to sate fans’ hungers on this lowkey detour. The guitar lines are simple yet striking, each prickly noodle and dusty strum derobing another step forward in this flowery lucid-dream journey. Grace’s knack for poetic, pseudo-fantastical storytelling is tighter and more enrapturing here than it’s ever been.

Add in the luscious sense of roominess that Steve Albini’s loose and laidback production gifts it, and the inescapable luminosity with which Grace spouts every punchy and polychromatic quip, and Stay Alive becomes much more than a compendium of short, scattered ideas that Grace had while pent up in quarantine. It’s a snapshot of her signature spasmodic, spur‑of‑the‑moment creative buoyancy – a love letter to spontaneity, old-school acoustic folk, and ice cream.

All in all, Stay Alive is a duly welcomed status update to Laura Jane Grace’s personal stream of songwriting social media, and in its own right a top-notch acoustic alb--SJ#S8!2A NO, GHOST LAURA, PUT DOWN THE KNIFE!!!!

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Ellie Robinson
Editor-at-Large, Australian Guitar Magazine

Ellie Robinson is an Australian writer, editor and dog enthusiast with a keen ear for pop-rock and a keen tongue for actual Pop Rocks. Her bylines include music rag staples like NME, BLUNT, Mixdown and, of course, Australian Guitar (where she also serves as Editor-at-Large), but also less expected fare like TV Soap and Snowboarding Australia. Her go-to guitar is a Fender Player Tele, which, controversially, she only picked up after she'd joined the team at Australian Guitar. Before then, Ellie was a keyboardist – thankfully, the AG crew helped her see the light…