The disc’s opener, “Wake Up”, is evident of the harmonic symbiosis of Armstrong and the Aggrolites.
Exemplary of the bulk of the songs on A Poet’s Life, “Wake Up” is full-throttle reggae with echoing vocals that incorporate both old school punk and modern hip-hop.
Given Armstrong’s own tumultuous love life in recent years, the lyrics, “Wake up / You son of a bitch / I wanna know who your with / And why do you roll in and out / At like six in the morning”, seem to indicate a two-fold anger directed at himself for not recognizing the situation sooner, and to a woman painted as unappreciative and largely responsible for the demise of the relationship; possibly a nod to his divorce from Brody Dalle of the Distillers.
A combination of luck and marketability brought the demo to the attention of Canadian label execs, who hooked Sweetnam up with a local producer and instrumentalist named James Robertson.Once upon a time, before Tim Armstrong and his Rancid cohorts swaggered out of the Berkeley punk scene, there was Operation Ivy.One of the most influential bands in terms of bringing ska to the forefront of the underground punk music scene and eventually to the mainstream during the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, Armstrong references his former outfit on the disc’s autobiographical tune, “Among the Dead”, with lines like “1987 in the East Bay / Cold as hell, it’s the middle of summer / Me and Jesse and Matt and / Dave Mello, he was the drummer”.Throughout his career as a vocalist, Armstrong’s voice has been compared to the late, great frontman for the Clash. Both men possessed an expressively breathless anger that sometimes whispered and, at others, melodically shouted about the socio-political ills of the day, sharing a leaning towards reggae in their music at various stages.Ironically, Armstrong continued his tutelage at the feet of the punk idol with the signing of the Mescaleros (Strummer’s last musical project before his death) to Hellcat Records in 2001.
With a homage to his heroes looming in the background, Armstrong’s own backing band on A Poet’s Life are fellow Hellcat labelmates, the Aggrolites.