Trouble Maker by RancidRelease date: June 9, 2017
Label: Hellcat Records
Since Rancid released their ragged self-titled classic way back in 1993, they have been nothing if not resolute in sticking to what they are good at. While their contemporaries like Green Day busied themselves with high-brow operatic concept albums and glossy chart-bound ditties, Rancid have stayed well and truly in the gutter. Sure, there have been forays into ska throughout their career and more wide-reaching fare like including steel drums and acoustic guitars in Life Won’t Wait and Let the Dominoes Fall, respectively, while frontman Tim Armstrong has branched out into reggae with his collaboration with the Aggrolites.
But by and large, you know what you get with Rancid: catchy tunes, a rock ‘n’ roll twang, gang vocals and lyrics concerned with either whimsical reminiscences of Armstrong’s tough youth in the Bay Area, downtrodden characters or social injustice. And of late, this has gotten a little stale. Dominoes was OK at best; Honor is All We Know, their most recent album, released in 2014, had a few good tunes but sounded as if the band’s heart weren’t really in it. So it is with a tall can raised triumphantly in the air that I tell you that they appear to have their mojo back with Trouble Maker, their ninth release.
There are no surprises whatsoever in any of the 19 songs – unless you count the fact they appear to have rekindled some of the energy that oozed from records like Let’s Go and …And Out Come the Wolves as a surprise. The hooks are there. Armstrong’s slurred, world-weary delivery is present. Lars Frederiksen’s inability to resist an Oi-style shout is also peppered throughout.
The album begins with five stone-cold soon-to-be Rancid standards. ‘Track Fast’ is over in less than a minute in a blast of high-speed heat, while ‘Ghost of a Chance’ sounds as if it could have come off Let’s Go. ‘Telegraph Avenue’ is a love song to the Berkeley, California crucible of counter-culture, with a guitar hook catchier than warts and a deliberately dumb ear worm of a chorus consisting of: “Na na na na na na, Na na na na na na.” It is a lovely song, showcasing all that fans love about Rancid.
The kind-of title track, ‘An Intimate Close Up of a Street Punk Trouble Maker’, follows in a more aggressive vein and it also boasts a chorus made for singing along to. ‘Where I am Going’ harks back to songs like ‘Time Bomb’ from …And Out Come the Wolves, with it wordy ska-inflected chorus which again demands repeat listens.
The rest of the album is more patchy – again, an accusation that can be levelled at many a Rancid release. Many of the songs adhere to the band’s modus operandi, which is no bad thing if you liked their first seven albums. But the mid-tempo ‘Bovver Rock ‘n’ Roll’ is a below-par number, as is ‘Molly Make Up Your Mind’. It is a blessing that the latter is barely more than a minute long.
The second half of the record rips past, with highlights including ‘Beauty of the Pool Hall’, which gives bass player Matt Freeman a rare chance to show his chops. It is a massive oversight that Freeman’s work is buried in the mix yet again, as he is a phenomenal bass player.
‘Cold Cold Blood’ and ‘This is Not the End’ could both easily sit on either of Rancid’s more hardcore-leaning 2000 self-titled album, while ‘We Arrived Right on Time’ and ‘Go on Rise Up’ – the latter of which takes its cue from the Clash’s ‘Tommy Gun’ – send the listener off with more of the catchiness that we know and expect. Yes, we have heard it before. But it is nice to hear them sounding fresh again, after all these years.