Against Me! - Searching For A Former Clarity

May 14, 2023 · 1670 words · 8 minute read

Searching for a Former Clarity is Against Me!'s third album, released in September 2005; its recurring theme of second guessing choices, and imagining the various consequences, overlapped with my uncertain and reflective mood at the start of my final year of university.

Cover of Against Me!'s album - Searcing for a Former Clarity

I'd heard the lead single, Don't Lose Touch, during the summer of 2005 while doing an internship, a snappy song with a sharp rhythm, it was also the first Against Me!'s song that I'd ever heard, almost certainly played by Zane Lowe on his BBC Radio 1 Evening Show1. While the last verse draws the song clearly back into the world of punk and the music industry, I could also read my own possible futures into it, and the move from a more flexible student lifestyle, filled with other people wandering around trying to figure themselves out, to one where you have to integrate with people who have more established lives, and unlike you, aren't looking to get to know more people, just because you're new, and don't know anyone.

You're coming off kinda contrived and pretentious
You're not saying anything we haven't heard before
You're caught up in an argument
Oh, oh you're so lost in modern art

Don't Lose Touch

Added to that was the ending of the internship, during which many of us interns had lived together at a local university's halls of residence, and led to an abridged version of university life - but after it ended I quickly lost touch with the new people I'd met, something I was scared would be repeated as soon as my studies ended, as everyone scattered around the country. Were these friendships as fleeting as ones made over ten weeks of a summer?

I must have finally picked up the album after the initial rush of freshers' week and getting started on the final year, so probably October. The album's concept follows a fictional version of Against Me! after the sell out to a large music label, to the disappointment of their fans, and deal with the consequences.

As ever, Laura-Jane Grace's writing is introspective and a painfully honest portrait of what was happening to the band at the time, or what might happen. The creation and release of Searching… was a struggle with their then Indie record label 'Fat Wreck Chords', who weren't giving them the support and freedom they'd hoped for, and so were considering a move to a major label, which, spoilers! they did for their next record.

The result was the concept of Searching…, being an imagined version of the band after having made the choice to 'sell-out'; how would they, and their friends, all feel? - how would it affect their lives, would they be better for it, or worse?

The expression of those thoughts tied in with my own uncertainties about the future. Four years of study and a way of life were about to come crashing to an end next summer, with the expectation to have figured out what I was going to do 'next', by then, if not sooner. How would I, and those around me, be like after this - what are the best choices, and which ones would I regret?

In a song like Joy I could find that confusion; on one hand panic, and fear, about leaving behind an existence I'd become used to. On the other hand the chance of something new and different, and in some ways a feeling of wanting to get on with life; not forever being in the waiting room of education, which starting at age 4, means I'd done nothing else for 18 years. That school rhythm of long summers and new starts in the autumn would soon be no more, a prospect as exciting (you could go on holiday in September) as it was scary (how few weeks holiday?).

All's quiet, except for this song
So maybe while I'm not together I can feel like I'm not alone
And somewhere off in the distance, rapidly advancing, is an onslaught of sorts
Young sirens wail in a skewed sense of glory
And the lions in the cages roar at the memory of fight


I don't think that I saw these parallels as clearly as I do now then, I just know that for a few months this album was on regular rotation on my walks around campus, both for the energetic and reflective ones. As is often the case with music, something, unconsciously, somewhere clicks, and connects, in this case it was these parallels between the themes of the album and my own life.

In some cases the relevance is blatantly obvious, such as the first verse of Problems, where Laura-Jane is considering the alternatives if their major label selling out doesn't work out, and I felt the same in case I wasn't able to find a job after graduation. Also was getting a job somehow 'selling out', what where the alternatives? Should I try doing a gap year or perhaps starting a PhD instead?

An inventory has been taken of every belonging
An estimated value sold in event of emergencies
The only backup plan in case it doesn't work out
In losing all semblance of coherence to a former self
You know I am becoming the choices we're making


Pretty Girls (The Mover) hits hard in a few ways, on the face of it, it's a song someone nervous about trying to date anyone, but with some kind of dark or uncomfortable history. The nerves described certainly felt familiar, but the thing stopping any attempt at a relationship is knowing that in 10 months everyone will be moving away. I'd already seen this affecting various friends at various stages of relationships, but for me, it just added a level of "don't bother", to an already low amount of effort I'd put into starting a relationship - mostly because I was too occupied with other activities.

What are you gonna say when she picks up the phone?
Should you leave a message if she's not at home?
I wanted to know if you'd like to see a movie or get a drink
It'd be cool just to be in your company

And if she says yes, know what intentions might be
If one thing leads to another and there's some chemistry
You cannot lie, you have to tell the truth
You have to explain why this could never be, because

Pretty Girls (The Mover) - Verse 1

The chorus also has its own kicker:

There are things that cannot be undone
There are mistakes that will never be forgiven
Sometimes at night, I pray to wake
A different person in a different place

Pretty Girls (The Mover)

This imagined me in two years time, looking back at this final year, having realised I'd made some serious mistake in the choices I made, and ending up somewhere I didn't want to be, but being unable to change the situation.

The October and November of that year were the worst months for having time to reflect on the onrushing future. After that academic work and social activities started to ramp up, and the various worries because less abstract and more concrete 'to do' items, which took some of the fear out of them, as you could see it was something you could do something about.

From the safer vantage point of the future I can happily report that my worst fears didn't come true; I found a job that was interesting, and managed to move to a new city where I could meet other new people and enjoy a good social life. One thing to remember is that you don't know how good or bad the things you didn't do were, so it's impossible to compare, even if your mind tends to assume the alternatives were better. One case where I find it hard to imagine a better alternative was my first job; the team and department I first joined were excellent, and I was very lucky to spend a number of years working with those excellent people. There had been a vague plan with friends from home to do a gap year in Canada, but in the end none of us could make it happen; if I'd done that gap year, I would have missed working in that great team, as they didn't recruit another graduate for another three years - I also wouldn't have met my future best man on the way to the interview either.

Friendship wise, I can report that more than fifteens years since the end of university, the majority of friendships have reduced to passing acquaintances on Facebook, but there are a few that have not succumb to time and distance, and are close friends that I still regularly talk to. The same is true for friends from school as well.

Searching… is a brilliant album, any one of the 14 songs presenting part of the story of this fictional version of Against Me!, as well as a parallel commentary on the music industry, or the nature of making big decisions, and all that in less than 50 minutes. I think in their back catalogue it's a bit of an outlier in style. While the earlier underground classics of Reinventing Axel Rose and As the Eternal Cowboy and much rougher in recording and style, and the work from New Wave becomes noticeably more polished - neither of which is bad; I like bands that evolve, their core style of brutal honesty, even about oneself, remains intact, Searching… has an odd, incomplete style, with different ideas and formats sitting next to each other, underlining that feeling of transition.


That show ran for an incredibly long time, from 2003 to 2015. I wanted to check that my memory was correct in remembering the show in 2005, but was shocked that he had that slot for twelve years. I thought it felt like forever he was on air at that time, and it basically was.