[22 September 2003]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
A decade ago Epitaph Records added a group of hungry young punks from Berkeley, CA to its impressive indie roster, and issued their self titled debut album, Rancid. The record was fast and brash and embodied a true punk rock aesthetic that had been invisible since the vibrant early ‘80s L.A. scene.
The timing of the release was interesting, as the musical world was still in the stranglehold of grunge; anything deviating from that genre’s formulaic approach, (particularly punk), would have appeared doomed to failure. Rancid was successful, however, and paved the way for 1994’s blistering Let’s Go and 1995’s breakthrough And out Come the Wolves. These albums demonstrated that Rancid was far more than an underground group or flavor of the minute; the band was a talented unit, true to their musical influences and capable of competing on the broader level with the hits “Ruby Soho” and “Time Bomb”.
Detractors criticized Rancid for being a poor man’s version of the Clash, but such accusations did not hurt record sales, nor did they deter the band from releasing two additionally strong albums, 1998’s Life Won’t Wait and 2000’s Rancid.
Now, after a three year hiatus, the band is back to prove its staying power with Indestructible, a nineteen track salvo of glorious musical mayhem.
At the very least, the new album is a testament to Rancid’s maturity as a recording entity. A variety of textures are woven into the songs, ranging from the melodic rhythms of “Red Hot Moon” and “Arrested in Shanghai” to the unbridled aggression of “David Courtney”. The band shows that it can shift gears without missing a beat, creating some fine music in the process.
Rancid’s dexterity in no way suggests that the band has gone soft or mainstream. Quite the opposite is true, as Indestructible is anchored by half a dozen genuine punk classics. “Django”, “Travis Bickle”, and “Spirit of ‘87” maintain enough edge and sneer to show that the group has not lost touch with its roots, while the furious, bass-driven “Out of Control” hearkens back to the Ramones’ timeless “Warthog”. Rest assured, Rancid is still capable of unfurling its sonic rage with great success.
Although Clash comparisons will always be present due to Tim Armstrong’s Strummeresque vocal style, the similarities are byproducts of influence and affection rather than blatant rip-off. So what if Indestructible’s title track and “Born Frustrated” are reminiscent of London Calling, they are fine songs in their own right.
If there is only one knock on Indestructible, it’s that much of the album’s strong lyrical content is buried beneath Armstrong’s ever present slur. This is nothing new to Rancid fans, but it does take away from the scope of the group’s songwriting skills, (although not many punk aficionados are looking to become enlightened through socially conscious lyrics).
The most noteworthy aspect of Indestructible comes by way of Rancid’s longevity and success. With the drastic musical shifts of the last decade, who would have guessed that a punk band could flourish while continuing to produce commercially viable albums? Amazingly, the past ten years have seen grunge, hair metal, and Britpop run their respective courses, while a bunch of tattooed, studded-jacket, California punks endure. Even with the watering down of the genre by assorted bubblegum bands, Rancid has remained true to itself and its fan base. For that fact alone, the group is deserving of praise.
In delivering another fine album, Rancid continues to buck the trend and confound the experts by remaining a legitimate punk band with mainstream appeal.
Face it, Rancid and Indestructible are just that good.