Deadly sounds for the summer

Tim Armstrong, A Poet’s Life (2007, Hellcat Records). Reviewed by Jared Phillips
The Spark December 2007

From 1993, Rancid made their first two albums Rancid (1993) and Let’s Go. The dominant themes were homelessness and blue-collar problems, delivered in songs like “Hyena”, “Harry Bridges”, “Another Night”, “Salvation”, and “Sidekick”. Those albums helped bring through bands like Green Day and The Offspring.

Rancid were offered a big contract that they turned down to stay with Epitaph. They then released the anthemic And Out Come the Wolves. Then the experimental album Life Won’t Wait, recorded with Jamaican, British and American music legends.

Next we got Rancid (1999), with hardcore like John Brown (who came to “a sanguinary conclusion”).

The 2003 album Indestructible has strong songs worked up from the end of Tim’s marriage, and the rest of it has continuity with Rancid themes.

Tim collaborated with Rob Aston and Travis Barker in the hip-hop/punk band The Transplants. He wrote a stack of songs for the pop-rock star Pink and appeared with Cyprus Hill. He also released Joe Strummer’s last albums on his Hellcat label. Rancid co-writer Lars Frederickson did two albums with The Bastards.

A Poet’s Life, made with musicians from The Aggrolites, returns to Ska. The biggest song, “Into Action” performed with pop-rock singer Skye Sweetnam, is deadly summery:

Let’s get moving into action (x2), if your life’s too slow, no satisfaction, find something out there that’s an attraction, if you hesitate now that’s a subtraction, so let’s get moving into action.

Rolling out the fun, it’s helpful that this album has only got one political song, “Inner City Violence”. However, it’s one of the best tracks on the album:

Shutdown boomtown blown-out downtown streets go prepare for war / when the law come over, man they run for cover, opportunity shut the door / and the guns are blazing streets of Mogadishu, Bagdad back to Beirut / I weigh my opinion on the death squad killings every time I hear the firearms shoot / no control, strict curfew now employed / violence sustained civil liberties now destroyed / constant intimidation brought on by force / regenerated crime wave shaking things off course / a new stage is set, atrocities rise / oppressive systems, human freedoms now divide… the defenseless are slaughtered with no culpability / highly calculated deadly machines, rain down upon helpless human beings…

One of Rancid’s lyrical signatures, that Tim uses again, is unloading place names, streets, buses, and trains:

Just like the Mississippi our journey starts in Minnesota, take the interstate Thirty-Five to Ninety Surfalls South Dakota, big hearted country, girl hope you gonna make it on down, she said yeah Tim it’s good to see ya hope yal stay around
(“Hold On”)

and

We take the Trans-Bay tube on the Richmond line, leave S.F. at eight East Bay by nine, we may run out of money tonight never out of time, Harmon Street we kick it corner Adeline, it’s anybody’s guess how late we gonna run, we go all night all right midnight just begun (“Into Action”)

and in the last song:

I ain’t gonna warn ya but this is a message from disenfranchised East Bay California (Among the Dead).

It comes with a DVD. For every song there are black and white videos of Tim roaming around different US cities, symbolic sites in those cities, and punks in the US and Japan. All of these are on YouTube. With many musical weapons, hooks, and instruments at his disposal, Tim did it again.

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