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Short Cuts

Punk "supergroup" makes hardcore go pop.

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Transplants

Transplants

(Hellcat)

There probably aren't a lot of music fans who would ever admit to recoiling in horror at the punk-rock "revolution," but it must have happened; otherwise, the Ramones would have been instant millionaires.

So take a ride on your back-in-the-day-cycle and imagine just how wrong punk rock must have sounded to so many ears when it first gained momentum and credibility in the late '70s. Imagine seemingly incompetent singers fronting seemingly incompetent bands that only held about a half-hour's worth of live material and played up ugly sound and ugly looks as the new beautiful tomorrow for the nonexistent future. Imagine audiences spitting on a band as a sign of approval. Imagine the scandal when rock singers took shots at the Queen!

Today, the shockwaves of punk rightfully belong to a time made simple by loss of detail. But the best thing about Transplants is the way in which its Frankenstein's-monster music improbably evokes the scattershot psychosis of early punk.

A mini-super-group, the Transplants take punk rock for a wild ride that's equal parts tune and attitude, throwing everything into the mix and coming out like avant-garde geniuses. Rough edges stick out all over. Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker's percussion races off in every direction. Rancid's Tim Armstrong marshals synths and some Bob Stinsonian guitar-scribbling behind the piano samples, organ intros, and Beach Boy choruses that buoy the hardcore and make it go pop. And singer Rob Aston scream-raps beery profundities about hard living and untimely death.

If the record has a flaw, it's Aston's relentlessly shrill hip-hop vocalizing and hard-ass posing, which steamroll even his wise and tender outreach on "Sad But True." If the record has a hero, it's Armstrong, who co-wrote and produced everything and whose slurred crooning is so far beyond speech that it becomes as lovable as the howling of a neighborhood mutt. As de facto boss, he also gets to "articulate" the communal theme of the enterprise by gurgling "This is for the misfits, the freaks, and the runts."

Join the party. -- Addison Engelking

Grade: A-

The Delgados

Hate

(Mantra/Beggars Banquet)

It takes a lot of cheek to title a track "All You Need Is Hate" -- not a one-joke Beatles parody either, but an invigorating piece of pop music: a dark, comically cynical song with a sing-along chorus -- half pop hook, half pub chant -- that bristles against the song's hateful sentiment like fingernails on a chalkboard.

Not only does the Scottish band the Delgados have the nerve to write such a slyly pessimistic song, they've also named their third album after it. Hate is a mixture of similar contradictions: Fronted by Stewart Henderson and Emma Pollack, the band manages, thanks to and in spite of producer Dave Fridmann, to sound simultaneously heavy and ethereal.

The opening track, "The Light Before We Land," begins with soft strings before blasting in with heavy Bonham-style drums. The lilting melodies that mark each song -- more focused and clear than on their previous album, The Great Eastern -- shine through a filter of manic production, noisy feedback, and ambient sound effects, so much so that at times it feels like Henderson and Pollack are trying to sing above the din Fridmann has created.

But together, the two principals are the biggest contradiction on Hate. Pollack's introspective lyrics and vocals are edgily detached and dryly self-assured, many years' worth of hurt and tragedy affecting her voice. Henderson, on the other hand, sounds alternately self-lacerating and drunkenly bemused: In one song, he sings, "How can I find what's right/The truth is our lives were shite," but later claims, "I had hope now where I keep my doubts." This small admission of hope, albeit long gone, sounds like his greatest triumph in life --he may be under the table, but he can still see a little light.

Both personalities inform the Delgados' music, making Hate a vivid, textured album, a monument to sarcasm, irony, and hope in the face of all life's pain. -- Stephen Deusner

Grade: A-

The Best of Morphine

1992-1995

Morphine

(Rykodisc)

The career of Boston three-piece Morphine effectively ended on July 6, 1999, when bass player/vocalist Mark Sandman collapsed and died from a heart attack at the age of 47 onstage during a performance in Palestrina, Italy. After his sudden death, the surviving members did a farewell tour as Orchestra Morphine with guest vocalists and released an album, The Night, which the group, with Sandman, had completed before his death.

Morphine was not your usual three-piece band. For starters, the group consisted of saxophone, drums, and two-string bass, with only Sandman on vocals. This allowed them to play modally at times, since they were not shackled to a guitar as the only melodic instrument. Sandman, with his vocals and swooping two-string bass, along with saxophonist Dana Colley carried the main melodic lines in very unusual ways. What sounded on paper like your usual willfully obscure, unlistenable, avant-rock lineup turned out to be a tuneful, almost mainstream-sounding (well, at times) thinking person's pop group with R&B overtones.

Also unusual is Rykodisc's releasing only a partial best-of package on Morphine, covering the band's early years, 1992-1995, and drawing on the albums Good, Cure for Pain, Yes, and a handful of unreleased tracks. If you're looking for a taste of Morphine or a starting point, get The Best of Morphine, but you're likely to want the rest afterward. My advice is to start with Cure for Pain or The Night.

Great band, wonderful music, cheesy package. -- Ross Johnson

Grade: A-

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