Was there a point in the early years of this century when Tim Armstrong cracked and everything went a bit wrong? Surely the first place to look would be the Transplants first album -- a band whose only positive feature is that you don’t have to buy it, not that it stopped many a curious Rancid/Hellcat fan (me included) from the mistaken purchase of such guff.
But the Give ‘Em the Boot III compilation of 2002 (same year as the Transplants) featured the standard run of Hellcat names and it didn’t give any hint of the depths Armstrong would start to plunge to in the near future.
The break-up of Armstrong’s marriage in 2003 resulted in the first truly poor Rancid album, Indestructible. The cracks were well-concealed otherwise -- the following years' Give ‘Em the Boot was a by-numbers affair of Rancid's friends and family and the Lars Fredrickson album was decent, even if the ghetto-punx posturing was getting slightly out of hand.
In 2005, they sank further and further without a hint of returning: not only was there another Transplants album, which seemed even worse than the first, but the shortest Give ‘Em the Boot yet (18 tracks opposed to the previous 20+ ones) featured the usual suspects amongst suspicious names such as Time Again, Left Alone, Heart Attacks, Static Thought and Orange. Orange Who?
Having written the above and then listening to the first eight tracks of their second album, Escape from L.A., those first eight tracks are enough to give up on Hellcat completely…and if it weren’t for the Slackers, I probably would.
This venture into pop-punk played by a street punk band with songs and lyrics written by not particularly talented 15-year-olds and sung by an Armstrong wannabe is like trying to get to sleep whilst someone is banging 12-inch nails into your kneecaps whilst singing along to the Cheeky Girls in a very out-of-tune way. Or, indeed, singing along to the Transplants.
It seems to hit a specific mark where everything is particularly annoying and makes you hate everyfuckingthing with a Hellcat logo and want Tim Armstrong to be the victim of a drive-by shooting by rival ghetto-punx. It seems to encompass everything Armstrong and Rancid have come to represent -- limp, posing, immature, embarrassing caricatures that have nothing to offer except disappointment to those they used to offer excitement and joy to.
The irony of the whole album is that, after the unimaginative cover of "Karma Chameleon" (the Culture Club song), the hidden joke song has some great thrash metal riffage.