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‘Transangelic Exodus’: A Radical, Theatrical, and Spiritual Epic

4 Stars

That old American romance following outlaws on the run was due for a queer rewrite. It was, to borrow from Allen Ginsberg, in need of someone “putting [their] queer shoulder to the wheel.” It is a pleasure that Ezra Furman’s fourth solo album “Transangelic Exodus”—with its trans-genre mix of anthemic rock and roll, high theatrical camp, Jewish spirituality, and raw queer realism—does so so remarkably.

The album, which sounds like an amalgamation of Perfume Genius, “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” and late-career MCR, opens with the rollicking “Suck the Blood from My Wound,” which sets the scene with Furman singing about being on the run from the authorities with his fugitive trans-angelic lover. Over glistening pop-rock backing, Furman strikes a tone that’s both gloriously campy and affectingly serious, the over-the-top and the poignant running back-to-back in lines like: “Wrap half the money in your hospital garment / We'll stash the rest inside the red Camaro's secret compartment / Even the deepest wounds will heal over time / I'll run my fingers over your scars and yours over mine.” While the two are headed off to an at best uncertain future, the song remains defiantly optimistic. As Furman howls in the anthemic chorus, “I'm not about to sit here and watch as they / Suck the blood from my wound.” It insists on dignity, strength, and freedom in the face of persecution— that feels vital with rising homo- and trans-phobia.

Equally vital is the radical queer spirituality that Furman develops over the course of the album. In cello and bass number “God Lifts up the Lowly,” Furman evocatively reclaims the biblical image of God lifting up the bowed down for those marginalized due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. The song ends movingly, with Hebrew lines from the morning Jewish prayer service. While not all of the tracks are as reassuring (“God Lifts up the Lowly” is immediately succeeded by “No Place” which has Furman hauntedly declaring that “This whole world is no place / This world is no place at all.”) the album as a whole is similar in tone to Rabbi Nachman of Breslov’s famous line: “The whole world is a very narrow bridge; the important thing is not to be afraid.” Or, in Furman’s parlance, the world may be no place at all, but he and his lover will still defiantly “drive…into the Great Unknown” as in the track of the same name that follows “No Place.” Similarly, Furman concludes “Psalm 151”—the track which draws the on-the-road narrative to a close—with Nachman’s image of perseverance and radical hope in the face of struggle and potential despair: “Angel, I'll be your guardian if you'll be mine / Authorities are trailing right behind / I'm not afraid, we read the Psalms at night / Clear through Nebraska with just one headlight.”

The lovers on the run conceit stretches a little thin at times—so it comes as a relief when Furman shifts gears for a track or two from the highly fantastic imagery to something closer to raw realism. He proves a compelling narrator of his queer experience, in its sorrows and joys. On “Compulsive Liar,” he sings about the way in which the closet afflicts the spirit, warping the self—“It opens at a young age: / That all-protective closet…The longer you stay in there / The more you'll get distorted / The more contorted all your lies will have to be.” But the song ends on an overall hopeful note, with Furman offering an intimate exchange of secrets with his lover. The track is followed by the jagged, jangly “Maraschino Red Cherry Dress $8.99 at Goodwill,” in which Furman sings about the pleasures and the pains of being found in this object of desire. He concludes bitterly and then more bitter-sweetly—“Sometimes you go through hell and you / Never get to heaven…But I thank God / Who gives strength to the weary.”

Since so much of the album combines the bitter with the sweet, it’s a treat that Furman ends with a song brimming with hard-earned unabashed queer joy. “I Lost My Innocence” is certainly one of the more jubilant falls into experience set to record. Furman sings lines like “I lost my innocence to a / Boy named Vincent / Box of Girl Scout Thin Mints / And a pack of Winstons” over a loping, Pet Sounds-esque ditty. But this pleasure shouldn’t be mistaken for something frivolous, because for Furman the personal is radically political. As he concludes, he sings of this experience with Vincent:“In a single instance / I joined the true resistance…I was set free.” Amen.

—Staff writer A.J. Cohn can be reached at amy.cohn@thecrimson.com.

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