Music

Rancid: Trouble Maker

Publicity photo via Epitaph Records

Rancid deliver yet another Rancid album, rehashing nearly every facet of their multi-decade career as they rage their way into middle age punkdom.


Rancid

Trouble Maker

Label: Epitaph
US Release Date: 2017-06-09
UK Release Date: 2017-06-09
Amazon
iTunes

The very idea of an aging punk would seem a contradiction of terms, the music itself the province of youthful rebellion and unbridled idealism. That there remain a select few groups of musicians continuing to pursue the punk aesthetic of their formative years should come as little surprise, given our national propensity for arrested development and the shouldering off of impending adulthood. For the perennial punks in Rancid, little has changed in the intervening decades since their classic, breakthrough release …And Out Come the Wolves. To be fair, there isn’t much that can be done in building upon an established punk framework without straying too far from the basic principles behind its creation; this is the purview of post-punks, art rockers and avant-garde experimentalists. True punks stick to the basics at all costs.

Of course, when the basics are just that, there’s little that can be done to grow musically or stylistically. Because of this, it’s easy to see why the most revered punk groups stuck around for only an album or two -- what more can be said or done with such a self-imposed, limited palette from which to work? Indeed, the majority of punk groups who have continued to make strides for better or worse in new directions are those that ultimately end up straying from the simplistic tenants of punk (see: Green Day, the Clash, et. al.) This does not seem to concern Rancid in any way, shape or form. Having settled on a sound more than 20 years prior, they’ve continued to return time and again to the same territory. It’s an approach that, rightly so, can’t help but offer a fine example of the law of diminishing returns.

In other words, a 2017 Rancid album -- in this case the newly-released Trouble Maker -- is not all that different from a 1995 Rancid album. All of the same attitudes, sounds and sneers remain in approximately the same places, making for a paint-by-numbers approach to not only punk but songwriting in general. Thematically, there’s nothing here that strays more than a few degrees from everything else within the existing Rancid canon. Part of the problem is unintentionally expressed in “Where I’m Going”: “You see I don’t understand where I am, where I’ve been or where I’m going.” Not only does this imply a lack of self-awareness, but it also strongly recalls previous Rancid songs, particularly “Daly City Train” in its structure, ska-indebted rhythm, and general lyrical sentiments.

Similarly, “Farewell Lola Blue” is little more than an update of “Ruby Soho", less the latter’s generous hook and earworm appeal. “All American Neighborhood” is an equally pointless exercise in punk attitude that falls well short of the intended social and political profundities to which it aspires. “Detroit engine knows how to scream / Two tons of chaos, American dream / Cambodia is now on fire / Richard Nixon is a goddamn liar” (“Bovver Rock and Roll”) is laughable for not only its simplistic rhyme scheme, invocation of an era that predates the original punks and faux-attitude, but for its evocation of that most un-punk of name-dropping anthems, “We Didn’t Start the Fire".

As with any Rancid album, however, knowing what to expect seems to be largely the point. Why deviate too far from a sound, style, and approach that has worked so well in the past? Simply put, you know exactly what you’re going to get when you put on a Rancid album, for better or worse. Trouble Maker is more of the same; retreads of staid ideas, sounds and themes better suited to teenage ennui. “Follow your instinct always / Don’t ever doubt yourself / When the odds are small, don’t ever let ‘em stop you / Because we’ve only got a ghost of a chance,” they advise on “Ghost of a Chance", putting into song form the lyrical equivalent of junior high-level yearbook profundities.

That said, they’ve lost little of their ability to squeeze the barest semblance of a hook out of a strangled punk melody. “Beauty of the Pool Hall” is as good as anything the band has produced to date both musically and melodically in its invocation of the early rock and roll that inspired the original punks. It’s a sentimental approach best expressed on “Buddy” when they sing, “I get nostalgic every time I think about you.” Indeed, Trouble Maker is little more than an exercise in wistful nostalgia that does little to further the firmly established Rancid template. They would’ve been better served to subscribe to their own sloganeering when they declare on “Say Goodbye to Our Heroes", “The flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long.” Here they help substantiated that most punk of punk ideologies in that it truly is better to burn out than to fade away.

5

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
3

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
5
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image