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Transplants: Haunted Cities



Album: Haunted Cities
Label: La Salle/Atlantic

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Some punk hard-liners continue to contend that bands like Rancid and Blink-182 just polish up youth rebellion and serve it to mall-walkers. The point is debatable (especially where the politically incendiary Rancid is concerned), and more importantly, it's moot. Authentic punk for small-town outsiders and faux-punk for upscale suburbanites both provide essentially the same "fuck the world, I want to get off" charge. The motives don't matter as much as purists want them to. Consider Transplants, the pop-punk collective formed by Rancid singer-guitarist Tim Armstrong and Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker, with vocal assistance by freelance thug Rob Aston and a bevy of guest rappers. Transplants hash together rap, ska, punk, neo-new-wave, Latin soul, and arena rock, punching a bunch of youth-counterculture buttons all at once. The first Transplants album distinctly felt like a side project, and its wild genre-hopping was in part just musicians goofing off. The follow-up, Haunted Cities, sounds more calculated. But is it an impressive shot at cross-stylistic unification, or two musicians' cynical attempt to supplement their incomes while their main bands are on the wane? Again, to a significant extent, it doesn't really matter. Haunted Cities is a kind of rampaging Frankenstein pop-monster, and it makes more sense to marvel at its lurching steps than to stand in the way asking questions. The album frequently finds comfortable places between genres and nestles in, as on the rap-hardcore anthem "Not Today," the whizzy electro-ska "Gangsters And Thugs," and the dub-house "I Want It All." And Haunted Cities hits some kind of weird peak with the low-riding murder ballad "What I Can't Describe," which has Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E. "ooo"-ing in the background and turning urban violence into a good-time summer roll. Even an honest effort can be ungainly, though, and on Haunted Cities, Transplants make a splattery mess of modern music as often as they stumble over something new and exciting. The cock-rock muscle squeezes out a lot of the soul a lot of the time. Just as The Clash's London Calling—still Armstrong's punk bible—tried to describe the musical burgoo that the band was ladling from in the late '70s, so Transplants want to make sense of what the kids of the '00s are listening to. And that includes the schlock. The trick that Transplants haven't mastered yet is how to incorporate the best aspects of monolithic VH1 rock hits without accidentally getting tainted by the worst.