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Rancid revisited

By Steve Auto of Point Blank Poznan

Posted December 17, 2015
rancid on stage in 2006
Heroes or zeroes? Rancid, a bit of a punk-rock hot potato, really. (Check bottom for credit)

Some love 'em, some hate 'em. Steve Auto on US punks Rancid.

If there's one band that's continued to divide the punk rock community over the years, it's Rancid.

Some argue that their DIY spirit, street punk roots and enthusiasm for trying out new styles gives them free reign.

Others say their recent output has been below par and the passion has gone.

Without wanting to sit on the fence, I can see both sides.

But I'm here to argue in their defence, so here we go.

I got into Rancid when I was about 17 through ...And Out Come the Wolves (1995) and it was as life changing as hearing Bob Dylan or Dead Kennedys for the first time.

The Clash-filled grooves of The 11th Hour and Ruby Soho blasted through my stereo continuously and made me wish I'd been around in the late 70s to soak up the scene.

This was a time when the band was just starting to get regular MTV airtime.

The ska-influenced Old Friend and bass intro of Journey to the End... still send shivers down my spine.

I don't know how, but despite all this exposure, Rancid managed to keep their integrity – and their fourth album Life Won't Wait (1998) shows that.

A high contender for my favourite album of all time, Life Won't Wait is almost perfect.

Similar to the Clash's Sandinista!, the record spans a world of music, taking inspiration from everywhere you can imagine and more.

You've got the full-on punk assault of Warsaw and the dub-induced Crane Fist.

Then there's the calypso-fuelled Coppers, the inspiring sounds of Corazón de Oro and the dark, haunting lyrics of Hoover Street.

This album is Rancid at their best – if you don't like it, then move on.

rancid levitating
Look, no feet! Is that Lars bloke (right) levitating? (Check bottom for credit)

Rancid are one of the few bands that have released two self-titled albums.

The first (and début) hit the shelves in 1993, full of fast angsty street-punk tunes that give or take a couple of numbers leaves little impression.

Their follow up Let's Go (1994), however, shows more bite, mostly down to the addition of new guitarist and vocalist Lars Frederiksen (who had enjoyed a brief stint in UK Subs).

Just listen to opener Nihilism and it's easy to see the impact he made.

Lars' straight-up street vox contrasts well with Tim Armstrong's (pictured above left) more slurred approach and gave the band the kick it needed.

The second self-titled album (better known as Rancid 2000) is a full-on assault that any HC band from back in the day would be proud of.

Twenty-two songs in 39 minutes is a pretty intense listen.

I've seen the band play once at Leeds Festival (a 'greatest hits set') but I'd cut off my right arm to see this album performed in its entirety.

Antennas, Don Giovanni and Poison are spat out with pure rage, while Black Derby Jacket gives bassist Matt Freeman a chance to show off his vocal range.

Even the artwork is fucking HC – a dark skull and crossbones on the front and dirty passport pics on the back.

It really doesn't get much better.

"The whole album is a Tim Armstrong sob story following his split with his missus."

Follow-up Indestructible (2003) was a disappointment.

But stick with me, as I hold a special place for this album.

While working in Spain, I used to walk past a little music shop (Hitman Records) and was excited as fuck to see this on the shelf – the cover resembled the palm-tree boulevard I trekked down every day after work to the Old Town where I lived.

I didn't have a CD player at the time, and there was no way the Brown Cow Pub I worked in was going to play it, so I waited till I arrived in Poland before I got it.

But save for a couple of tunes, there's very little here to get the juices flowing.

The whole album is a Tim Armstrong sob story following his split with his missus.

Don't get me wrong, there are a few belters on here (Memphis and Arrested in Shanghai) but it misses Lars' vox and input.

Great sleeve, but not a great first choice if you're looking to get into them.

rancid live
Big sound: Big guitar. (Check bottom for credit)

Like most bands, there was a bit of a hiatus (wouldn't it be great to be able to take a break from work?) and all parties set off on their own projects.

Lars Frederiksen and the Bastards were formed.

Fantastic name, but aside from the mohawks and Billy Bragg covers, there was little to get excited about.

It's a very bland, disappointing affair.

Tim went back to Transplants (which he'd started in 1999 and also featured some bloke from Blink-182) but more importantly released his solo LP A Poet's Life.

It might not be the best album you've ever heard, but a mixture of ska beats and acoustic ballads make it full of fun and guarantee smiles and head nodding aplenty.

Check out Into Action, Inner City Violence and opener Wake Up.

Fuck knows what the other two were doing.


In 2009, the lads got together again, albeit with a new drummer, and ploughed out a new album.

Let the Dominoes Fall is a good effort but there just seems to be something missing.

Whereas all the previous albums had their own character, this one just sounded like they were playing everything too easily.

Damnation sounds like Give 'Em Enough Rope-era Clash and East Bay Night is a good-old-fashion sing-along.

But it's all punk by numbers.

Ironically, some of the best tunes are the acoustic ones (Civilian Ways and The Highway), which sound like they'd be better suited to Tim's next solo record.

So when news spread that ...Honor is All We Know was due to be released in 2014, expectations weren't high.

But while the music hasn't altered that much (and Lars still takes a back seat vox-wise), the album is much easier to digest.

Perhaps it's the fact they've kept it down to 14 tunes.

Perhaps it's the fact it's kept to a cool 33 mins.

Perhaps it's the fact they sound more relaxed and like they're having fun again like they did back in the day.

It's not perfect, but it sounds like they've found their stride once more.

Before I finish, it's worth mentioning that despite their MTV vids, international gigs and world-wide following, Rancid have always stuck with Brett Gurewitz's (of Bad Religion) indie label Epitaph Records.

When they decided to move to Tim Armstrong's Hellcat Records in 2000, the music was still distributed by Epitaph.

That's as DIY as you want.

Long live Rancid.

Chief hack's note: Cheers, Steve! Guess we'd better have a few tunes, eh? So here's five randomly selected Rancid songs from those listed above, embedded here on the tune-tastic Rake & Herald from the respective YouTube channels of MinorThreat81; spike1790; EpitaphRecords; tibsen; and Punk Rawk 4 Life.

See also After the Clash, posted 10/11/15, among others.

Steve Auto
is the editor of Poz-based punk and alternative music fanzine Point Blank Poznan, a publication we've very kindly been allowed to lift a fair few stories from, such as this one here, for example. Cheers, Steve! I've got half a jar of bigos out the back if you want.

Picture credits

Top and thumb: Rancid in August 2006 by Tiffany Hagler - Geard from Brooklyn.

Middle: Rancid in 2008 by Katexnixon (Ekaterina Nikitina).

Bottom: Rancid again in August 2006 by AxYoung at the English Wikipedia project.

For licensing information, click the above links.

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