I guess punk’s dead again
J Mascis fans fair readers. I dug up the vault tonight and came up with a nearly two-year-old post about something near and dear to my heart a crappy band fronted by a once-decent punk star. This is old stuff, and I’m not sure if this band plans on continuing, but I suppose the thoughts are still relevant, since albums (sometimes regrettably) don’t disintegrate after leaving the charts.
The Transplants not only bring to mind but enforce two truths that I always hoped to stand by:
- Jesse Michaels was the Joe Strummer of Operation Ivy, while Tim “Lint” Armstrong was the Mick Jones.
- As a friend of mine said in high school, punk rock isn’t a poor boy’s way off the streets. That’s what hip hop is for.
(photo by carolinejperez, CC) That might be not overly kind to hip hop, especially since some of the best emcees never make it bigtime and don’t want to (one reason being that they share an ethic with punk – see the convoluted requirements for being “Underground” in KRS-ONE’s song of the same name), but take one look at the Transplants’ video for “Gangsters and Thugs” and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Armstrong’s gangsta fetish has only been encouraged by his new co-conspirator Travis Barker of pop-punkers Blink 182, a guy who clearly does not want to be the punk portion of the group. Check out the photos. Only Armstrong deems it ok to be seen in a studded leather jacket or pork pie hat. And it just doesn’t get any better from there. Not only have Barker and Armstrong let Fred Durst’s dumber cousin “sing” and “rap” for them, they’re hawking everything from shampoo (could there be a product any less punk rock?) to prepaid walkie-talkie Nextel phones (apparently there could).
I sure hope Jesse Michaels – or at least the ghost of Joe Strummer – is shaking his head as “Diamonds and Guns” (see a pattern?) transitions from Armstrong’s trademark slurred chorus into the mad tight flow of Rob Aston, whose rhymes read like the Ultimate White G Shopping List, circa 1992:
I’m wiggin out, flippin’ out, hearts is what I’m rippin’ out
I’m slippin’ out, I’m dippin’ out, killin’s what I’m livin’ out
Pick ‘em, let me pick ‘em out, spin and let me whip it out
Gat to your face with the fuckin’ bullets stickin’ out
Yeah, pick up the ice cream while you’re out. You know what flavor. Remember, even Vanilla Ice claimed to pack a 9.
I sure as hell hate Eminem, but the reason why he’s got cred (and why I have to begrudgingly give him some props) is that he never stoops to the fake-gangsta posturing that has tripped up so many of our honky brethren since the advent of hip hop. Rob Aston is the worst of all worlds, a poseur faux-thug cross-bred with a junk punk. He spends so much time glorifying guns, bling, cars, bitches, and heroin that it’s hard to imagine he’s not a parody, except for the fact that the only thing he could possibly be parodying is himself.
That said, Tim Armstrong can write a catchy song, and he’s got a good enough grasp of punk, reggae, and old-school hip hop to make the songs work (note: since I wrote this he’s put out a solo album and it’s far more entertaining than anything this not-so-supergroup has done). And it almost did on the first album. I started writing this post with the intent of reviewing their newer one, Haunted Cities. Unfortunately, I can’t make it through. At least 25% of any given song is catchy and listenable, but 75% is filled with a sound so consciously punk-meets-post-modern it sounds like the Exploited stopped by Beck’s garage sale to break stuff. Not a metaphor that will get me noticed in the local MC battle, but at least I’m trying. Rob Aston has only his intense negativity, fetish for violence (Cube could argue he was telling it like it is, not so much with you buddy), and literally monosyllabic vocabulary to keep him going.
The real fault of Haunted Cities as opposed to the debut? Actually, there are two. Firstly, Transplants sounded like Armstrong and Barker were having fun with their little side project, playing at being thugs, keeping their hawks under their knit hats and spitting when they talked. Even Aston was a little bit excusable because he seemed like a guy who just stepped in to drop some bad rhymes for a while. But on Haunted Cities, not only are they trying to have a full-time bad rhymer, they’re trying to be a “band.” In doing that, they lost their spark of ingenuity and slipped into a terrible and embarassing muck of amateurish posing not at all befitting some veteran mainstream punks.
Addendum: Since writing this post, I’ve seen even worse evidence of the Transplants’ wrongdoing. Seems that Armstrong has mixed his Clash fetish with his gangsta fetish and come up with a nasty Korn-esque cover of the Clash’s “White Riot.” Mind you, this is 3 years ago, but I’m proud to be behind this curve.