Come September, Rancid’s skull-and-crossbones promo sticker’s gonna be stuck to the cover of my Trapper Keeper, like it should’ve been in ’93, when the band’s first self-titled disc mocked my middle-school world. Their new record rules, but in the party-punk, young-dumb-full-of-aplomb manner of their eponymous debut and the following year’s Let’s Go—not in the guitar-often-on-the-offbeat, more mannered manner of . . . And Out Come the Wolves (1995) and Life Won’t Wait (1998). (All things being sequel, note how “Black Derby Jacket” now knocks university high life, elevating instead the cool of hard knocks.) Their late-’90s rude-(white)-bwai belly-aching and today’s return to (hardcore) roots notwithstanding, the Iron-Lion-of-Zion-King circle-of-life crap means shit to Rancid—revisionist Disney-whitening-Pocahontas-style lollygagging in Clash-rehash tradition isn’t what the boys are after. (They are earnest enough to say it’s a small world after all, but only by way of a World Bank spank.)
So, to cut the crap: Rock crit expired-equestrian flogging re Rancid reloading the guns of Brixton gets a goose egg, and the last scribe to read what’s actually writ-large/graffitoed-small is a rotten (rancid?) you-know-what. Since Rancid 2000 references Thoreau, Emerson, and Chaucer (not to mention “Mr. Reality”), let’s note Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (and Hegel, indirectly), where he decided paradoxical progress is “how the world moves: not like an arrow, but a boomerang.” At first I conflated the last word in “Let Me Go” ‘s chorus (“Correction, I need no direction”) with “erection,” but song-scribe Tim Armstrong is venting over working stiffs, not Viagra (knocking wood?). He was one—took his lumps—before a million kids spared enough change to get Let’s Go (named after the exhortation opening their initial effort). Before Rancid, Tim was a drugged-up drunk fresh from East Bay originators Operation Ivy (who inspired Green Day’s Billie Joe—a lifetime accomplishment already). Forming the band with Op Ivy bassist Matt Freeman was one step in lieu of 12 (it then took three records to get to two-tone), and I doubt Tim looked back—rehab had already failed five times. But nine outta 15 songs on Rancid’s first record recount liquor-swilling and substance abuse, seven of the 18 off Let’s Go with their narratives chicken-scratched on the insert—maybe you’ll hear more in the total 33 if you listen closely, though good luck with the opaque slurred singing.
Show don’t tell, right? (Joe “Mescalero” Strummer was never so demonstrative.) What if fate is what’s already happened, and life is just a way of mapping it out? The new disc starts by slashing wrists with riffs, and ratchets up to a pummel in one-two-three-four (maybe a couple more) secs, beating a back-from-the-dead “Don Giovanni” to death: “So don’t fuck with me kid.” Punk was never about straight-and-narrow arrows; gutter confusion and questioning mean cars pass by but none of them seem to go your way, and you wait for the buses but the buses don’t come, and the ending isn’t here (there’s something wrong!), but it’s comin’. That’s moving without moving, or maybe moving without being moved: DIY on a spiritual tip. “I Am Forever,” Tim begs, not boasts: “Doors burst open, doors slam shut. The key to change is tiiime.” Who knows whether he’s trying to hang on to the word, or push it away. Blame the track’s one-two-three secs over the minute mark on a lengthy in-half-time intro, replete with cocky rock solo unlocking the faster-hellcat-kill-kill ferocity.
Ten tracks later, “Radio Havana” ‘s feedback waves wash in a typically herky-beefy-jerky Freeman bassline that’s running fugitive from the chord-change baseline. We’re told Havana’s a “fugitive from time,” a point illustrated in part by mention of a ’57 Chevy, cousin to the (presumably) classic Cadillac cruisin’ through Wolves‘ “Time Bomb.” (Let’s Go had precursors “Radio” and “Motorcycle Ride”—turn it up, drown it out?) “You can’t forget, you’ll never forget”: A personal-political four-way-stop fender bender. I’ve seen Cuban Chevys, but most people there roll in open, 18-wheel cattle-cars-as-buses. The nice rides are pre-revolution relics—not unlike the Rat Pack, whose gangster-greasy ‘dos and overall slick looks Freeman and drummer Brett Reed copped circa ’94; Lars Frederiksen always sports quills of varying lengths (and he slashes Gibson necks, and he growls). He now claims to be a “Young Al Capone.” Gangsters are relics, too. In 1995, long after the wall had fallen, Tim testified to Rolling Stone that he’d recently read “some book by Trotsky,” sounding at once intellectual and, um, not. That’s an untenured socialist speaking (even if he wouldn’t give up his stained-white-collar collateral today). He feels this stuff.
Another year passes. . . . And Out Come the Wolves comes out. “Olympia WA.”: Tim and Lars scrutinize 1000 Manhattanites coming home from work, Tim waiting for his grrl (Tobi from Bikini Kill, yowza!), wishing he was on the highway back to Olympia (long ride for someone with nothing to think about), wondering how many times it will take before he goes crazy. Times waiting? Or leaving? Wolves departs from Cali hardcore and the East Bay entirely for “Ruby Soho” ‘s destination unknown and echoes of reggae comin’ through the bedroom wall, with Tim still sittin’ there all alone: him and his thoughts that sound like Lee Perry echoes. And slurring made sensical over slowed songs. Life Won’t Wait was an LP-length fuck-all-y’all without one F-word: Tha rill dub shit, as if to assay so what: testing fate, too late or not. So slow-sensical the lyric sheet was a series of staple-and-Scotch-tape TV-screen scenes showing ’60s hooligans, and one simmering spoon (if it ain’t coke, don’t fix it)—no lyrics. Yugoslavia is the devil with the “New Dress” on. Buses and bikinis burst into flames.
Chris Rock says it’s the apocalypse, ’cause the greatest golfer’s black and the best rapper’s white (it’s a hard knock life, Jay). Might I add: The best punk band ain’t the Clash. And Rancid now floats the sweetest California-sinking-into-the-fucking-ocean ditty, “Antennas,” whereas I thought Tool had cleaned all competition’s clocks with “Ænema.” In a fifth of the time! None like the present. “I see Big L. [not the Rawkus recording artist] on his little sister’s pink 10-speed. . . . ‘Tim, do you remember me?’ . . . Like I would ever forget Big L. Then he’s gone like a flash.”