When Joe Strummer was in his musical prime in the late ’70s, punk’s mission was to make you question everything you were told. Now, of course, it’s the sound of young people shopping. Though this is perhaps inevitable, when the former Clash leader died unexpectedly a year ago, a lot of people realized that punk had been missing something vital for years.
Around the time Strummer died, however, Tim Armstrong, the leader of the best Clash-ripoff band, Rancid, released the debut album of his side project, The Transplants, a group that at first seemed to be taking advantage of the rap-rock trend, but on closer listen was actually channeling The Clash more reverently than anyone since Rancid’s early days. The punk songs were melodic without being derivative, and Armstrong’s vocals were soulful and funky.
The change in pace and the shock of Strummer’s death obviously had an effect, because Rancid’s latest album, “Indestructible,” is arguably their best ever. Alternatingly anthemic and personal, the record’s 19 songs reclaim punk as a force that’s as political as it is musical and, at the same time, re-acknowledges “the pit” as a refuge from “the daily tragedy of life,” as Armstrong puts it.
Others have benefited from Armstrong’s second wind. Pink, who sells more records than Rancid, didn’t need Armstrong to sell any more, but she enlisted his songwriting and production skills on her third album, “Try This,” which broadcasts the Armstrong credo even further.
And then there’s The Distillers, the hard-rock band led by Armstrong’s ex-wife Brody Dalle, whose new album, “Coral Fang,” is their best yet for much the same reason that “Indestructible” is Rancid’s: a sudden change in emotional weather. Brody finds lots of creative inspiration in her failed marriage. If Armstrong neglects to mention the split in his music, it’s probably because he’s got too much on his mind.