Music stars from the ’90s stage a comeback

There’s nothing better than a comeback, though I’m sure the artists covered today would quote the eloquent LL Cool J and say not to call it a comeback because they’ve been here for years. Last week saw the release of some great and long-awaited tunes from artists that we haven’t heard in far too long. From the raw vocals of Billy Bragg to the confident lyrical strides of Havoc, this week’s edition of New Noise examines those that are bringing legendary back.

Tim Timebomb and Friends: “High Roller”

OK, so maybe this is a bit of a cheating start because Tim Armstrong hasn’t exactly been off the radar. But his last solo effort was 2007’s near-flawless A Poet’s Life, and it wasn’t until October 2012 that he put together a new creative outlet for Rancid/Armstrong fanatics to obsess over.

The Rancid frontman has dipped his toes in a variety of side projects and solo endeavors, and the latest is Tim Timebomb and Friends. The project finds Armstrong hooking up with various musicians to perform cover songs (including Rancid covers) and original tracks. When the always-prolific Armstrong baptized himself as Tim Timebomb last October, he also announced the debut of RockNRoll Theater, an original web series based around musical theater. Armstrong collaborated with his friends, AFI lead singer Davey Havok, Lars Frederiksen and Robert David Hall, in the pilot episode. Armstrong also released a soundtrack for RockNRoll Theater full of original music, and followed it up with Tim Timebomb and Friends.

So far, 80 songs have been recorded under the Tim Timebomb banner, including last week’s cover of Joe Walsh’s “Hi-Roller Baby.” The song is taken from Walsh’s eleventh studio album Analog Man, which was penned by Armstrong himself. So he’s kind of doing a cover of his own song — pretty meta. The track features Kevin, Justin and Jesse Bivona on piano, bass and drums, respectively. Proving once again his knack for making songs his own, Armstrong’s “High Roller” is a punk-country take on Walsh’s pop-rock track, with the guitar twang tuned to the key of Rancid for a bona fide original cover version.

Billy Bragg: “Handyman Blues”

Folk-punk godfather Billy Bragg is back with his first studio album after five years. Tooth & Nail finds Bragg taking on a different direction from his usual political route, and getting in touch with his inner … Sherpa?

In a press release for the album, Bragg stated that the inspiration for Tooth & Nail came from — believe it or not — a Twitter comment: “Getting over my breakup by listening to @billybragg, the Sherpa of Heartbreak.” This comment was enough to get Bragg cracking on some new material.

“Most people, when they hear my name, think of polemical anthems born in struggle,” Bragg said in the press release. “I often find myself having to remind people that I am also the Sherpa of Heartbreak, writing songs about the struggle to maintain our relationships with those we love the most.”

The first single from Tooth & Nail, “Handyman Blues,” attests to this. The beautiful bluesy-folk track is scant, with only the barest of instruments accompanying a meditative Bragg reflecting on how he’ll never be the dexterous dude around the house, because he’s a “writer, not a decorator.” The record was recorded in only five days and features Bragg’s vocals with no retakes or overdubs. “Handyman Blues” is an exciting taste of the new material that the iconic rocker will release in March.

Havoc featuring Royce Da 5’9”:  “Tell me to My Face”

One half of the hugely influential Queens hip-hop duo Mobb Deep, Havoc has always been known for his inimitable talent and influence on the NYC hip-hop scene. The rapper is just as renowned for his producing skills as he is for his emceeing, having produced songs for Eminem, Method Man, Onyx, Foxy Brown, Notorious B.I.G, Jadakiss and more. His tight beats and matchless flow have long garnered him a permanent throne in the Hip-Hop Hall of Mad Skill.

Lately, Havoc has been in the press more for his beefs than for his talent, what with his recent (and very public) row with fellow Mobb Deep-er Prodigy. When it comes to music, however, Havoc rarely (if ever) disappoints, and “Tell Me To My Face” keeps up this trend. The song is the first single off his upcoming solo album 13 — his first record since 2009’s Hidden Files — and features Detroit rapper Royce Da 5’9”. The thunderous beat is the perfect backdrop for the sharp flow of both rappers, whose styles complement each other. 13 is set to drop sometime this year, and this track does nothing but rev up the anticipation.

Swingin’ Utters: “Stuck in a Circle”

“Whoa.” That’s pretty much the first word that will come to your mind when you hear the beginning of the Utters’ “Stuck In A Circle.” The song is super melodic and way less hard than the S.F.-based street punk band’s usual material. But no need to mosh away any pain — the sound actually works for them.

The influential band played for 16 years before taking a hiatus in 2003. Seven years later, the band reformed and released their Brand New Lungs EP and put out their seventh studio album Here, Under Protest in 2011. Their upcoming album is entitled Poorly Formed, and if “Stuck In A Circle” is any indication, the album is definitely going to be a doozy.

Though the band has always had distinguishable melodies in their amped-up sound, “Stuck In A Circle” is devoid of the trademark scuzzy guitars filling up every corner of the song with sweet distortion. Instead, the venturing into “my-mom-would-actually-listen-to-this” territory winds up suiting the band extremely well. The Utters’ edge is still hanging around, rearing its head every now and then, and the reminiscing melody is plaintively pleasant. Poorly Formed is slated for release next month, and this song should definitely have fans wondering what direction the record will go in.


Rishbha Bhagi is a graduate student pursuing a degree in communication management. Her column “New Noise” runs Wednesday.