Rancid – Trouble Maker (Epitaph, 2017)

Bloody hell. These guys have been around for a long ass time now, considering they were formed in 1991. That’s 26 years innit. Obviously, they’ve done a fair few albums in that time, of quite variable quality. I’ve had a fairly variable opinion of them over the years partially because of this, partially because of a particularly shoddy live appearance, and partially because the people that totally buzz off this band tend to piss me off.

I first heard Rancid in about 1996, and was introduced to their seminal …And Out Come the Wolves album by our very own Clara Barker. Probably around a similar time to hearing Sidekick on the Punk-o-Rama 2 compilation. This might seem a bit strange to readers of this site, given my prior exposure to NOFX, Pennywise, Bad Religion and the like, but I suppose Damien Long’s brother (whose name I still can’t remember – although he did buy me my first bottle of Newky Brown in Players) was more into skate punk and crossover thrash than street punk. Anyway. I loved that album, apart from that fucking song, Time Bomb, that people inexplicably seem to love. It’s utterly shit, mate. And has the worst guitar solo in it that I’ve ever heard, like… ever.

By way of further background and semi-autobiographical nonsense, to this day, I’ve never listened to the first s/t album (released in 1993). I’d been told it’s pretty terrible by people whose opinions I trusted, which had led to me never bothering. Since originally publishing this review, a few people have suggesed \i check this it out, so I now intend to do so.

1994’s Let’s Go I still think is amazing to this day. It was also the first record they did involving former UK Sub, Lars Frederiksen. Wolves we’ve already mentioned, so 1998 saw the release of Life Won’t Wait, and a totally dog shit performance on the main stage at the Reading Festival. It was seriously awful. They couldn’t manage even a semblance of playing in time with each other. Bewilderingly enough, loads of people from the “badly cut Mohican and tartan trousers brigade” were stumbling about pissed-up, saying it was the best thing they’d ever borne witness to or some such clap-trap. Nonsense. And Life Won’t Wait I thought was also pretty terrible, and people seem to totally buzz off that shit too, so what does that tell you?

In 2000, they put out the imaginatively titled s/t 2000, which I didn’t give much time to when it came out (and still haven’t), mainly because I still felt so let down by that live appearance. I was mentally scarred. Scarred. In the mind, mate. You don’t need to know much more about that one other than it’s basically a GBH tribute album with a couple of pop punk numbers tossed in. Indestructible (2003) was (and is and ever shall be) a load of derivative shite that I thought sounded like an even worse version of Busted. Yep, it was that wide of the mark. Although I’m probably being a bit harsh. Mind you, people that live in bus shelters with loads of swear words tattooed on their heads probably think it’s mint.

More recently (it amazes me that I think of 8 years ago as relatively recent – go figure), I completely missed 2009’s Let The Dominoes Fall. I’ve no further comment to make about that one. Apart from I’m still studiously avoiding it, as I’ve been advised to do so. Roll on 2014, and something amazing must have been in the water – for tt was a year of amazing come backs from bands that were definitely way past their best (I mean way, way past it). We got amazing records from Lagwagon in the form of Hang (Fat Wreck Chords), which I consider to be possibly their career best, and Against Me! put out the amazingly raw Transgender Dysphoria Blues (Xtra Mile). Of course I had to immediately check out the new Rancid album …Honor is all We Know when that dropped. And I’m really glad I took the plunge. It too was an amazing, yet improbable return to form. It really is great, if you’ve not heard it. In fact, along with Wolves and Let’s Go, it makes up the holy trinity of acceptable Rancid albums (in what I judge to be my quite correct opinion).

So, it’s understandable that going into this review I was unsure what to expect, given that previous material is anywhere on the scale of borderline genius to excruciatingly shite, mate. Against my better judgement, I decided I was gonna go for this one on a track by track basis… There are 19 songs on here, though, so you’ve got to wonder…

1. Track Fast – a rapid paced, surly intro track. Kind of what Good Riddance covering the UK Subs might sound like. Short and to the point.

2. Ghost of a Chance – this is one of the couple of tracks they previewed in recent weeks, and the only one I listened to in advance. At the time, I opined to my man Mark Lind from the Ducky Boys / Warning Shots that this sounded exactly like a tribute to the Ducky Boys own Three Chords & The Truth album. He was mightily pleased. I think it’s awesome. In addition it also has that Boston style street punk swagger from when the Dropkick Murphys used to be good about a zillion years ago.

3. Telegraph Avenue – The first time I heard this one, I wasn’t too convinced, but it’s turned out to be a real grower. Sounds kinda like The Clash wrote Born in the USA, but as if Rancid (circa 1995) were covering it. Which, admittedly, is a clunky description – still, I like to think it’s kind of apt.

4. An Intimate Close Up of a Street Punk Trouble Maker – Another rabble rousing street punk anthem in the tradition of the Ducky Boys. Seriously, Mark, if you are reading this, you guys should sue. Anyway, all the hallmarks of a hit.

5. Where I’m Going – a typical Rancid-style two-tone influenced frantic ska-reggae stomper. Thankfully more in the tradition of Old Friend, which I love, than Time Bomb which I fucking loathe. Also the token ska track on the album.

6. Buddy – OK – first minor complaint. I dislike (quite strongly) the shrill tooting. It sounds like it’s being played on a melodica (one of those weird mouth-piano things for kids). Not cool, man. Not cool. It sort of detracts from what otherwise is quite a nice narrative tale of memories of better days. Thankfully, it doesn’t totally ruin it, although it comes perilously close.

7. Farewell Lola Blue – I do enjoy a good punk rock ode to lost loves or fallen comrades. This sounds like it could comfortably fall into that bracket. It’s rabble rousing, anthemic, boots n’ braces fare. Love this.

8. All American Neighborhood – this is I suppose to be a belligerent circle pit kinda rant track or something. It feels a bit slipshod to be honest. Like a cut price version of something they’ve done much better in the past. Thankfully, it’s short. For a better take on this, check out Big Man on Campus by the Down and Outs on their debut album Boys from the Black Stuff (Dead and Gone Records, 2004).

9. Bovver Rock and Roll – I’m not down with this one at all. This feels about as relevant as the token annual appearance of Chas n’ Dave at the Rebellion punk festival in Blackpool. It sounds like fucking Status Quo, mate. Utter dogger.

10. Make It Out Alive – I’m not gonna lie. I think this one is fantastic. Again, I’m gonna throw out the comparison to Three Chords & The Truth for the verses, paired with a chorus style heavily reminiscent of the verses from God Willing by the Dropkick Murphys (from their brief return to form on their The Meanest of Times album in 2007). Another overly complex description, but fuck it. I want to raise me fist and shout along. I’m sold.

11. Molly Make Up Your Mind – Definitely reminiscent of vintage Rancid. If the chorus didn’t let it down a bit, this could easily be as anthemic as Ruby Soho or Roots Radicals for example.

12. I Got Them Blues Again – I’d say this is like a more successfully executed version of the previous track. Possibly a bit more in tune with the Let’s Go era.

13. Beauty of the Pool Hall – this one definitely feels like filler. There’s not really anything wrong with it, beyond a comparatively weak chorus, and there’s even a clean channel section that reminds me of a non-scuzzed up version of something from the first Against Me! album (Reinventing Axl Rose, No Idea Records, 2002). As an entity, it’s a bit non-memorable though.

14. Say Goodbye to Our Heroes – I really can’t make up my mind on this one to be honest. It starts out strong, with a solid intro, verse… and then another disappointingly weak chorus. I feel like Tim Armstrong is trying a bit too hard to relive the glory days, rather than successfully communicating genuine passion and feels. There is a particular part that really clangs rather embarrassingly: a spoken section that goes “This song goes out to our punk rock heroes. You see, the flame that burns twice as bright, burns half as long”. Which, when you think about it, makes Rancid seem a bit silly, 26 years in. Realistically, the only thing I can think of that seems equally cringe worthy is that god-awful tribute to Joey Ramone that U2 did the other year.

15. I Kept a Promise – there’s something about the chorus to this that reminds me of something else. It’s at the periphery of my memory. Floating around just out of grasp. I’ll probably sit bolt upright in bed tonight and shout it out. I think this one is OK, I suppose, but I feel like it falls more in the filler category than the ‘hit’ category.

16. Cold Cold Blood – Yes… Yes. This is good. More like it, lads. More of your vintage Rancid, but again with that classic Boston street punk swagger running right through its core. It’s an instantly anthemic street punk hit, this. At least in my opinion.

17. This is Not the End – Oh yeah. Another instant classic here. When these guys bang out the anthems, they can still clearly do it with style. For me, when a band can write punk rock songs to this standard, I really have to ask why they feel the need to include the songs I’ve (quite correctly) taken issue with. This kind of reminds me of Argy Bargy meets The Bruisers, with a classic Rancid core. This song would have sat quite happily on …Honor is All We Know.

18. We Arrived Right On Time – a bit more storytelling meets punk rock anthem here. Thoroughly enjoyable, this. It’s kind of traditional meat n’ spuds anthemic street punk, but it also feels remarkably current, fresh and relevant.

19. Go On Rise Up – This one feels like a bit of a departure, to be honest. There’s something here that speaks to me of catharsis and letting go. It’s a lighter, and definitely more uplifting tune that closes out the album nicely.

If you’ve managed to stay on board through all this waffle, I congratulate you. Now I’ve got to try and conclude this. With a Rancid album, you kind of expect them to deliver a lot of songs. They tend on average to put 19 tracks onto a record, which is exactly what they’ve done here. Although this might at first seem generous, it does raise the question of quality control, though. To be perfectly honest, when a band has been around this long, it feels a bit lazy to include what I assume is every track they sessioned for the album. There’s a fair amount of fat they could have trimmed here and left something close to perfection, at a still respectable 13 tracks. Instead, what we are dealing with is an extended strong 7 track start and a strong 4 track close out, with a decidedly wobbly and baggy middle part containing a couple of extra gems. I do however, feel like this record is well worth the investment of your time. Admittedly, it’s gonna be easier to skip tracks on a CD or MP3 player than a record player, but hey, this is punk rock, the songs are short.

Tony of Nurgle rating: 7/10… but with the crap trimmed, could’ve easily been a 9.

Given this is on Epitaph, you can pick this record up pretty much anywhere.

You can have a listen and watch of this below. Have a look and listen and form your own opinion…

Tony of Nurgle is a true child of the North, currently living in exile in Croydon, South East London. He used to co-run a specialist record store in Manchester (Roadkill Records), and also spent a couple of years as a promoter, and put on shows for the likes of Leatherface, the Loved Ones, Lucero, Minus The Bear, These Arms Are Snakes, Spy vs Spy, Latterman etc. He also spent several years DJing at shady rock clubs in Manchester, and started the infamous Thursday night "punk room" at Jilly's Rockworld. Also responsible for Middle Finger Response, and collaborated with a couple of friends on a monthly night called Refuse to Lose, which will still occasionally reunite the original DJ line-up - hopefully in the not too distant future. Apart from that, it's all bitterness and a jaundiced view of human nature, rarely skateboarding, often reading books with maps in the front.

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