Sound — 7
Having been one of the most important names in the punk rock boom of the '90s, Rancid's first few albums are essential listening for one to gauge that era of punk rock. But like any other band, Rancid's later albums faced tougher criticism, whether due to their trademark punk sound growing stale with age, or getting pushback from the band attempting to expand in sound. Taking a hiatus to work on side-projects after the lackluster performance of their sixth album, 2003's "Indestructible," Rancid were slow to pick back up where they left off. 2009's "Let The Dominoes Fall" may have been intended as the band's comeback album, presenting a mix of their punk rock with acoustic folk, but it would take six more years for Rancid to release a following album, making 2014's "...Honor Is All We Know" a second comeback album of sorts.
At this point, however, Rancid have gotten back into the swing of things with the second phase of their career. Now on their ninth album, "Trouble Maker," Rancid keep their sights set on recreating the punk magic of their glory days as they did with their previous album. Similarly structured as their classic records, the majority of songs come as short and sweet bursts of punk, both melodic (see "Ghost Of A Chance," "I Got Them Blues Again," and "Cold Cold Blood") and vigorous (see "Track Fast," "All American Neighborhood," and "This Is Not The End"). Also keeping the sonic variance contained, Rancid still dish out some expected curveballs, like the dose of ska in "Where I'm Going," and the power pop cut of "Bovver Rock And Roll" (which weirdly sounds like a Jet song), though they also show a couple new tricks, like touting a melodica solo in "Buddy."
Being cast in that classic punk mold, "Trouble Maker" is quite similar to Rancid's previous album, though Rancid ease back on the singalong element this time around. While they still bring forth some big group vocal hooks of "An Intimate Close Up Of A Street Punk Trouble Maker," "Make It Out Alive," "Molly Make Up Your Mind," "Say Goodbye To Our Heroes," and "I Kept A Promise," Tim Armstrong also reins in the energy for gentler moments of murmuring, pensive vocals in "Telegraph Avenue," "Farewell Lola Blue," and "Beauty Of The Pool Hall."
Lyrics — 8
Going further than their expected output of catchy punk hooks to shout at the top of your lungs (like the ode to punk rock legends in "Say Goodbye To Our Heroes," and the hard-knocked perseverance of "Make It Out Alive), Rancid's lyrics in "Trouble Maker" show more narrative. Armstrong doesn't shy away from using this to paint some gritty and unflattering scenes of America, both pulling from history ("Governor Reagan had enough / So the National Guard they pushed on through / Tear gas and riot police" in "Telegraph Avenue"; "Cambodia is now on fire / Richard Nixon is a goddamn liar" in "Bovver Rock And Roll"), and looking at the problems of today (like addressing the opioid crisis in "All American Neighborhoods"). But to balance out the rough parts of life, Armstrong also takes moments to fondly reminisce about the things he'll always love: palling around with friends and the Bay Area ("I get nostalgic every time I think about you / Like the time we took the BART train to San Francisco just for the view" in "Buddy"), and playing music ("You told me what you really thought that night / That music is a gift and it's everything that's right / And I promise that I'll always keep that in my sights" in "I Kept A Promise").
Overall Impression — 7
For any band that's already had a part of their discography immortalized, it's never easy to continue releasing music that will always struggle to reach the heights of that earlier era. Rancid have already faced the brunt end of that in their albums from a decade ago, but having decided to use this recent momentum of theirs to appeal back to their golden era punk sound, "Trouble Maker" hits its marks. One can reprimand it for feeling a bit too crowd-pleaser-ish, but if Rancid are only concerned with brewing the brand of punk rock they know best, "Trouble Maker" benefits from that simple, dependable pleasure, and a more substantial lyrical output gives the album even more value.