Transplants’ first album in eight years, In A Warzone, is the sound of a band with notoriously proficient musical faculties completely missing the boat, both conceptually and sonically. Had In A Warzone been released in 2004 it may well have served as the grimier, less conceptual and way less sentimental corollary to Green Day’s American Idiot. It serves instead as a fairly melodious token of a band whose sound grows ever narrower in scope with each release and as a reminder that you can take the boy out of California, but no amount of Warped Tours can ever sap the California out of the boy.
“In a war zone, make a wrong move, you’ll end up dead” – the same logic could reasonably be applied to music as well. The opening track and first single, In A Warzone, is straightforward frat punk that establishes the soundbed, which serves as the habitat for Transplants’ rather hermetic activities on the rest of the album.
Where the previous two records spread themselves out in multiple directions, all the while tethered to a chewy pop-punk centre, the new record feels steadfastly linear. Once upon a time the band stumbled ass-backwards into post-modernism, now they simply stay in one spot.
The guitars on Back To You are straight out of a Johnny Thunders-era New York Dolls record. There’s even an ad hoc pastoralism about the track, particularly when paired with the virtual mid-90s college radio cut Come Around. Singer Rob Aston serves up plenty of “I ain’t this” and “I ain’t thats” and has for the most part ditched the “I’ll fuck you up, sucker” posturing of old.
The sunny cruiser Something’s Different is a peak, even recalling the crossover oddity that was Diamonds And Guns, with its bright piano loop and syncopated guitars. But unfortunately, like most of In A Warzone, it’s nowhere near as memorable. The jumpy Any of Them is Aston abandoning the scumbag schtick after realising that no amount of his gutter talk can compare to the guys who wear suits to work, “boom and bust, it’s a Ponzi scheme / By a criminal Wall Street man.”
In A Warzone is an explication of what Nietzsche called “the will to frat” – when the jocks don’t want you on their playground, you make your own playground and jock there, subsequently endorsing Animal House as one of the most fastidious sociological accounts of the 20th Century. And that’s probably its saving grace. While musically uninspired and conceptually out of place, the band sounds alive and display a fair amount of dexterity in the studio, as is often the case with supergroups. Such is the paradox of In A Warzone, because in spite of the palpable good time the band is having, you’ve never heard fun sound so mundane.