Haunted Cities is the second album from Transplants, the band that features Rancid’s Tim Armstrong, Blink 182′s Travis Barker, and erm…AFI roadie Rob Aston. Not exactly a U.S. punk supergroup then, but certainly one capable of delivering a suitably satisfying punch.
In addition to the main band, Haunted Cities features an almost endless list of guest performers, including Sen-Dog and B-Real from Cypress Hill, the Boo Yaa Tribe, and Rancid bass player Matt Freeman (who, having been recently diagnosed with lung cancer, is thankfully now making good progress).
With guests like these, you would quite rightly guess that there is a distinct hip-hop edge to Haunted Cities. Rob Aston’s forays into rapping are not nearly as embarrassing as you might expect, although his lyrical prowess leaves a little to be desired.
Although the first Transplants album only shifted slightly away from the hardcore punk blueprint drawn up by the likes of Rancid and Operation Ivy, it occasionally let its hair down. It even managed to surprise a few people with punk party anthems like Tall Cans, DJ DJ and Diamonds And Guns. And that’s before you even mention the fact that they sound tracked a shampoo advert � cries of sell out were evidently not a problem.
Haunted Cities takes a bigger step and embraces a wider sound, and that sound is now just a little more menacing than it was on their debut. Opening tracks Not Today and Apocalypse Now may suggest that perhaps little has changed, both songs are white knuckle rides and abject lessons in angry punk – only the dub bass line of Apocalypse Now hints at any kind of progression.
The single Gangsters And Thugs takes a heavy hit on a bong, an old skool rave drum break, the poorest lyrics on a chorus you’ve heard in many a year, and still comes up smelling of roses. It’s a song that is so laid back, and yet so full of menace and grime it almost dares you not to like it. Tim Armstrong has a sixth sense when it comes to choruses however, and even the poorest lyric can sound like a gem.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of Haunted Cities is What I Can’t Describe, which is essentially 1970s soul-funk with a dollop of �90s R’n'B. The kind of thing you could play as a last dance at a wedding, it is such a shift in sound that the urge to eject the CD and check that it hasn’t been misprinted is almost unbearable.
Doomsday pulls things back with a laid back swagger. With its effortless swing, it may well be a stroll through familiar surroundings, but there’s enough going on under the surface to make for slightly uncomfortable listening. If Fatboy Slim hadn’t come up with Weapon of Choice, then perhaps Christopher Walken would be cutting a rug to this.
The hip hop influence resurfaces on Killafornia with B-Real making his presence felt. When they were exploring the point at which The Clash met Busta Rhymes, Transplants came up with this brooding little number. They also discovered that Busta and Strummer got on like a house on fire. American Guns is the only real step backwards, with leaden lyrics about the Vietnam War and punk thrash that sounds horribly out of place. Who’d have thought that a punk song would have sounded out of place on a Transplants album?
A piano riff and a funked up bass line from Matt Freeman introduce I Want It All, a song that could easily have been found blasting from the sound system in the Hacienda during the Madchester years. Yet another revelation waits in the form of the Latin styled closer Crash And Burn, an experimental tune that rather than falling flat on its face, just about succeeds.
Haunted Cities is nothing if not eclectic in its influences, it’s a sometimes bleak record, but one that shows that Armstrong and his cohorts are not satisfied by taking the easy route.