Sound — 9
Rancid have been around for awhile now. Coming from the ashes of the legendary Operation Ivy, Rancid came up during the punk resurgence of the 1990's, and became one of the most notable and best selling bands during that time period. They were also one of the most experimental, playing with genres like The Blues, Rockabilly, dancehall, 2-Tone style ska, dub, and even a bit of hip hop for good measure over their near-20-year existence. This record follows their 2003 release, "Indestructible". On that record, the band went for a slightly more polished sound, and didn't stray far from the mid tempo and faster poppy punk rock that made them famous (the one exception being the skacore tune "Red hot Moon"). Many fans were unhappy with the record, as it was seen as being a strange step away from the anthemic punk rock of previous albums "Let's Go" and "... And Out Come The Wolves", the experimentation of "Life Won't Wait", and the piss-and-vinegar of "2K". 01. East Bay Night: A bit slower than their previous album openers, this one still delivers. It has all of the Rancid ear-marks: Armstrong's slurred vocals, Freeman's running bass lines and great solo, Frederiksen's anthemic, Oi-inspired guitar work, and rapid fire drum fills. It's a bit bitter sweet, but it's a great tune. It's just a fun, upbeat, catchy tune. Hopefully this sets up the vibe on the rest of the record. 02. This Place: This one sounds like it could have came off of the band's self-titled debut. It has a great, stutter step chorus with great "This Place!" sing along chants. The verses sound a little more reminiscent of the band's last couple record, with Armstrong playing it pretty low key. It's a great, 1 minute sing along that just works. 03. Up To No Good: Rancid going back the the skacore style that made Operation Ivy famous, this song is a keeper. If you don't find yourself humming along with the "Up to no good, up to no good" in the chorus, then you're quite possibly deaf. This actually reminds me a bit of the version of "I Wanna Riot" that the band did with the Stubborn All-Stars for the "Beavis and Butthead Do America" soundtrack. Booker T Jones from Jazz legends Booker T. And The MGs plays organ on this and does an incredible job. 04. Last One To Die: The first single, and the first song leaked to the public, this one really grew on me. At first, I thought it was a bit too slow but, over the last few weeks, I've come to realize that it really sits in the pocket well. In any case, think The Clash's "cheat" with a bit of Sham 69 thrown in for good measure. Cuck in a sparse, understated guitar solo and there you have it. I'm still not sure if it's the best single, but I think it fits in perfectly after the ruccous skacore of the last track. 05. Disconnected: Started with Lars and his guitar, this song sees the return of Matt Freeman on vocals. He's a "love'em or hate'em" singer, and, as one of the people that love him, seeing him back in front of the mic (first time since "Rancid 2k") is a treat. This song is an odd tune. The guitar line is straight British Oi, the beat is a pit poppier, and the bass line is all over the place. That said, it really just works here, one of my favorite tunes from the album thus far. 06. I Ain't Worried: This one sounds a bit like a left-over from Armstrong's rap/rock/dancehall side project The Transplant, or maybe a bit like their b-side "Leathal". In any case, think a hip-hop beat with a ska guitar line, some organ from Vic from The Slackers, and a great walking bass line, and the band's 3 vocalists rapping. Yes... I said rapping. It's certainly a strange song, but, admittedly, it's catchy. I wouldn't say any of the 3 have an amazing flow or anything, but the song itself has a fun feeling to it. I'm sure it's going to divide the audience a bit, though. 07. Damnation: Straight up Ramones style 3 chord punk rock, a style that Rancid has played well for almost 20 years. It's a 90 second riff fest with a fun melodic guitar bit thrown into the chorus for good measure. This on is great, and shows rancid simply doing what they love: 3 chord, simple punk rock. Short and sweet. 08. New Orleans: Lars Frederkisen probably sounds more soulful hear than I've ever heard him on record. This song is one part hymn, 1 part Oi anthem, 1 part "This Land is Your Land... " and 1 part heartfelt tribute to a city that the band obviously loves. This is easily the strongest song on the record so far. It's nice to see that the band isn't afraid to go from the short and punchy "Damnation" directly to a bigger, more polished, tune like this. The outro bass run is particularly nice as well. 09. Civilian Ways: Another bit of experimentation, this song has a bit of a mellow bluegrass feel, with it's acoustic setting, mandolin, and Dobro (played by Rocco Delucca) twang. I can also see where this one would divide fans, but, honestly, I dig it. Lyrically, it tells the story of a solider coming home from the war, dealing with reintegrating to the life he left, dealing with fallen friends, and dealing with a bit of PTSD. I never thought I'd hear Rancid record a song like this, but, man, it gave me goosebumps and made the hair on my arms stand up during the solo interlude in the bridge. 10. The Bravest Kids: Back to an uptempo punk rock tune, this one is another 90 second blast of adrenaline. As a companion piece to the previous track, this one is a tribute to "the bravest kids they know", the soldiers going to war. Short, sweet, and to the point, this one is great. 11. Skull City: This is probably the most danceable tune on the record. Again, it's sounds a bit like a Transplants tune, with it's dance beat, clap snare, and melodic backing vocals. While I like this tune, it does feel a little strange here. That said, while this record is nowhere near as "all over the place" as "Life Won't Wait", it IS pretty experimental, and, as such, it does fit in. It also shifts gears mid song, and features a great solo section and nice outro. 12. LA River: Words cannot express how much I dig this song. It sounds like a train rolling down the track at you, with Matt Freeman playing the role of engineer. This song will probably be most memorable because of Freeman's frequent use of "boom-shacka-lacka-lacka-lacka-lacka-Boom!" during the chorus, but I just think this is a great all round tune: Rapid fire verse, sing-along chorus, and a solo that, again, sounds like it would be at home on the band's debut record. It's a great, driving tune that will be stuck in your head for days. 13. Lulu: This one is a odd combination of driving punk rock verses and mellow, acoustic, sing-along chorus. It's a bit of a switch up because of this honestly. I love the verses, easily some of the strongest moments on the record. The chorus? Not so much. I wouldn't say that this is a Bad tune, per se, but it's definitely a little too disjointed for me. 14. Dominoes Fall: It's a ska song without a ska guitar line, if that makes any sense. Basically, it's an upbeat, poppy tune, with tons of organ, a bit of brass accompaniment, and a catchy, sing-along chorus. It's a bit repetitive, but it's a fun, bouncy tune. A bit more of Armstrong's rapping near the end, but it's forgivable in this case. 15. Liberty And Freedom: Another full on skacore tune, but this one is a bit more sparse. It also has 2 of the best guitar solos on the record. Very similar to a stripped down version of "Coppers" from "Life Won't Wait". Personally, I always dug it when Rancid shifted gears into this mode, and this songs delivers that style in spades. 16. You Want It You Got It: Amazing bass intro kicks into gear, going 0 to 60 straight away. This song uses one of the best devices that the band has used, but doesn't use often enough: A song where each of the 3 vocalists each sing a verse, and sing together during the chorus. "Corruption" from "Rancid 2k" is probably the best example of this. In any case, it's a great, short, fast, punk rock tune with a big sing-along chorus and will stick with you. 17. Locomotive: This one sounds like something from "Let's Go", as it's a bit more of a straight forward punk rock tune with guitar solo breaks after each huge chanting chorus. The half time, start-and-stop section before the outro is a nice touch, as is the blazing last guitar solo. Another of my favs from the record. 18. That's Just The Way It Is Now: Back to the dancehall reggae style that Armstrong used heavily on his solo project, "A Poet's Life", this on is a pretty strong tune. Heavy use of a brass section and more organ from Slackers main man Vic. BTW, as a note, this is the 2nd Rancid song to ever use a wah pedal (the first was "Let Me Go" from "Rancid 2k"). 19. The Highway: Acoustic guitar and Harmonica back Tim Armstrong in this folk-y tribute to touring musicians, and his "mobile life". Lyrically, it's similar to what Frederiksen tackled on the title track from "The Viking", his second record with his side project, The Bastards. This is actually a really nice way to end this record, keeping it heartfelt and mellow. I'm actually hard pressed to think of a better way, to be honest.
Lyrics — 8
The lyrics on this album were as heartfelt as it gets. None of them have that stupidness that for some reason has become really popular in music just singing about silly things when they have no real lyrical talent. Every song means something to someone, which is really important when your entire discography is famous for connecting to fans. The lyrics always fit with the music, the softer songs have more mellow lyrics and vice-versa. As far as singer skills go, Tim Armstrong has a controversial voice, you either love it or hate it. I personally love it, and without it many of these songs would be lacking. The other singer Lars Frederiksen has that more Oi! 80's hardcore inspired vocals which fit in nicely in the songs he sings. Another exciting factor in this CD is that Matt Freeman sings again! Indestructible had little or no Freeman vocals which sucked. But he has an entire song (LA River) and does backup in several songs. His bullfrog voice was missed but it's back and makes this album so much better.
Overall Impression — 9
Well, that's it. It was one of my most anticipated records of 2009, and It's done. Final thoughts? Well, I'd say that, as an album, it was a step up from "Indestructible". While that record felt like an over-polished record with a lot of filler, this one came across as a bit more heartfelt, and the band seemed to really be enjoying themselves here. The playing just felt livelier, they were experimenting, breaking new ground in some places, and returning to old stomping grounds in others. While I'm not sold at this point as it being as good as legendary records like "Let's Go" and "... And Out Come The Wolves", it easily stands with the best tunes from their last 2 releases ("2k" and "Indestructible"). It was also well worth the wait. 6 years is a long time between albums (though there was a Transplants record, a Bastards record, and an Armstrong solo record in between to keep fans satisfied) and I can honestly say that this one will be getting played regularly for the perceivable future. Basically, if you're a fan of the band, you'll more than likely really dig the record. If you're a newbie, I'd suggest checking out a few of the older records first, to get a feel for the multi-dimensional band on this disc.