The Transplants - Take Cover [EP] (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

The Transplants

Take Cover [EP] (2017)


I’m a big fan of punk rock and a moderate fan of hip-hop, and I always love bands that merge the two genres together, even though there are very few. Prayers for Atheists still stand out as the best rap-punk band that nobody’s ever heard of, but the Transplants are still one of the best in this very small genre. “Skinhead” Rob Aston, while not the greatest rapper in the world by a long shot (“No one lives forever/In fact we all die” still remains, to me, the single dumbest line I’ve ever heard in an otherwise quality song) but as much as he offends me and sometimes annoys me, I do think he sometimes says things that the more suburban punk fans really need to hear. Plus, he adds a certain amount of street cred to a rap group whose other two members are the drummer from Blink-182 and the guy who co-wrote Pink’s third album.

But when I heard that the Transplants were putting out this covers EP called Take Cover, I was a little skeptical because covers aren’t really something that the Transplants are set up for. They have two vocalists, one singer and one rapper, and the rapper (Aston) doesn’t play an instrument, so he seems to be wasted on songs where he doesn’t have a vocal part. Not that many songs out there have rapping and singing parts, at least not ones that the Transplants would want to cover. Zebrahead, another rap-punk band with a similar singer/rapper dual vocalist setup, once put out a cover album called Panty Raid which was—well, I hesitate to call anything from Zebrahead “good,” but it was entertaining. But Panty Raid played off of irony, featuring nothing but covers of pop songs from female artists (there are no female members of Zebrahead), and when working with that kind of music there are a lot more hip-hop elements in the original songs. The Transplants, on the other hand, are trying to perpetuate more of a street punk image, meaning they mostly picked songs from artists that have credibility with die-hard punk and hip-hop fans. The result is an album with a few bright spots, some fairly unremarkable tunes, and one absolute stinker.

The EP begins and ends with original songs, the first track, “Saturday Night,” being referred to as a “Transplants Cover” in one press release. How did the Transplants cover themselves? The song actually first appeared on Travis Barker’s 2011 solo album, Give the Drummer Some, where he invited his Transplants bandmates, as well as legendary guitarist Slash, to record a song with him. The 2011 version of “Saturday Night” has a laid back Latin vibe thanks to Slash’s guitar riffs. The version on Take Cover reimagines the song as a more traditional Transplants style punk-rap song, with a faster tempo and shouted, rather than spoken, rap lyrics. It’s hard to say which version of the song is better, but the Take Cover version will appeal more to traditional punk fans.

Next up is our first cover of the album, Minor Threat’s “Seeing Red.” It’s a bit ironic to see the band that wrote the songs “Tall Cans in the Air” and “D.R.E.A.M. (Drugs Rule Everything Around Me)” covering a song from the first straight edge band. The Transplants pull off a competent rendition of the song, but it doesn’t sound all that different from the original, and it fails to justify why this song needed a cover from a rap-punk group. Next up is Madness’s “Baggy Trousers,” which is a bit more in the Transplants’ wheelhouse because a slower ska beat isn’t all that different from a hip-hop beat. Musically there’s not a huge difference from Madness’s original, but the vocals are strikingly different. Skinhead Rob shouts all of his lines in the song, even though the material really doesn’t call for it. Tim Armstron, though, is always at home on a ska track. I don’t know what it is, but I love when he puts on that mouth-full-of-marbles drawl of his. It just sounds so badass.

Next up on the album, we have “Nothing But a Heartache” originally by The Flirtations. Now, I had never heard of the Flirtations, so I had to look them up and found that they were a female R&B group from the 1960’s and 70’s. “Nothing But a Heartache” was one of their first big hits in 1968. The Transplants’ version raises three questions for me: 1. How did they hear about this song? 2. Why did they think they were the right band to cover it? 3. Once they heard their finished version of the song, why did they still decide to put it on the album? Because this particular track is not just the worst song the Transplants have ever put out, it’s honestly one of the worst songs I’ve ever heard, period. I don’t mean that as an insult to the original Flirtations version, which I found online and listened to and it’s pretty good. I specifically mean that the Transplants’ cover of the song is one of the worst things I’ve ever heard. Remember that time Pussy Galore did a track-for-track cover of a Rolling Stones album? Yes, this is even worse than that. Both Tim Armstrong and Rob Aston scream/sing their parts so harshly that it actually sounds like they must be in pain. It sounds like two cats fighting in slow motion. Meanwhile, Travis Barker, a man known for his complex and intricate drum beats is criminally underused on this track, playing a rather standard drum part. The song ends on a fade out, which is not something you hear too much of in music today. What’s more, it’s an oddly abrupt fade out, which really makes me want to hear the rest of the original recorded track to see what went even worse on this trainwreck of a song. Really, when you look at the rating I gave this album, a big part of it is due to “Nothing But a Heartache.” It’s just one song, but it does weigh down the entire album. I do give Armstrong and Aston credit for one thing on this song, and that’s the fact that they don’t change the pronouns of the song’s love interest, who is male, singing about a “he” instead of a “she.” So many performers are too insecure to do that, and that shows some maturity from two men who, from what I’ve heard of their music, I assume to be heterosexual (but, of course, I could be wrong, I don’t know them personally and sexualities come in all shapes and sizes).

The cover of The Violators’ “Live Fast Die Young” cleans up some of the sloppiness of the original, but, again, is rather unremarkable and doesn’t make a good argument for needing the particular talents of the Transplants. Then comes their Beastie Boys cover. The Beastie Boys can be a difficult band to cover, specifically because they say their own names in a lot of their songs, and, especially with one member now deceased, it’s a little awkward to say someone else’s name when covering one of their songs, and even more awkward to try to change the lyrics to fit your own name. The song the Transplants chose was “Gratitude,” which has the advantage of not having the names of any of the Beastie Boys in it, and also has the advantage that the original version is a rock-rap song to begin with. In fact, the song has previously been covered, not by hip-hop artists, but by Rollins Band and later by The Refused. This makes it a perfect song for a Transplants cover. It falls perfectly into their wheelhouse and comes out with a cover that’s as good as the original.

The EP finishes off with a brand new Transplants track, “Won’t Be Coming Back,” which sounds like something that could have worked on their last LP, In a Warzone. After a few cover songs that didn’t all quite work the way they wanted them to, it feels refreshing at the end of the album for the Transplants to do what they’re actually best at: their own music. The song gives us a punk beat and a surf bassline with the assistance of a horn section to give it a retro feel while still maintaining the band’s punk and rap signature sounds. Hopefully the song title “Won’t Be Coming Back” is not meant as a goodbye from the band, because, while a covers EP was probably not the best idea for their next release, I’m still reminded of why I love the Transplants and want to see more original material from them.