Reviewing Rancid's Trouble Maker
by rick olivares
Rancid’s ninth studio album, “Trouble Maker”, is going to go down as one of their best releases.
The strength of an album (especially in this digital age and ongoing vinyl revolution) is the entire track listing holds up especially when you get past the obvious singles. Is the rest filler material that makes you go, “meh”, hence, eventually skipping them?
Now Rancid, they usually pack their albums with a ton of songs that blitz by rather quickly. If you’re a fan, you know you’re heavily invested and you want the fat trimmed.
Their self-titled debut had 16 songs. “Let’s Go” and “Life Won’t Wait” featured 23 tracks. “And Out Come the Wolves”, “Indestructible”, and “Let the Dominoes Fall” each totaled 19 songs. Their Hellcat debut, also titled “Rancid”, listed 22 songs. Their last album, “Honor Is All We Know”, had the least number of songs with 14. “Trouble Maker” has 16 songs.
Look, Rancid is punk rock. It’s not prog or pop where the onus is on acts to come up with mature sounding records that take their sound or style further with every release. Punk is rebellious, sings of society’s ills, loud, repetitious, fun, and even crude. It’s constant even with the same three-chord fury song in and out. But that’s the music’s heartbeat. And Rancid has been the genre’s pulse for the past 20-plus years with their melodious meld of punk, ska, rockabilly, or hardcore about life, loyalty, brotherhood, growing up in the Bay Area, and their influences. Sure there was a little pop sound to “Indestructible” but that was on a few tracks while the rest maintained their trademark sonic fury with soaring harmonies and rockabilly twang. “Trouble Maker” continues all that and remains strong even when the stylus goes deep into each side’s wax.
“Trouble Maker” is like a roots record as the band showcases the different styles that made Rancid who they are and arguably the best punk band since the Clash. It is a nod to their past (they even used that stamped logo that appeared on their first album) and points to their future.
There’s a nod to their pair of self-titled albums that are outright punk or Oi in “Track Fast” that is 100mph song to kick off the album. It’s the same for the “An Intimate Close Up of a Street Punk Trouble Maker” that is going to be a staple of their live shows.
There is the familiar ode to loyalty and brotherhood that find themselves in almost every Rancid record in “Ghost of a Chance”.
And there are the stories from the streets they grew up in “Telegraph Avenue” with its catchy chorus of “na na na na na na na na na” that will remind you of “Let the Dominoes Fall”.
They even threw in the nod to their fourth release, “Life Won’t Wait” in “Where Am I Going?” -- the ska-inflected tune that’s gonna have you skanking.
“Trouble Maker” is also a legacy record. We’ve had songs where they mentioned their heroes (the Clash and the Ramones). Here, there’s the song “Say Goodbye to Our Heroes” with its telling lines: “This song goes out to our punk rock heroes. You see, the flame that burns twice as bright, burns half as long. And we tip our hat to you, and you know we’ll see it through, when we say goodbye to our heroes”.
They end the record with the song “This is Not the End”. There was speculation that Rancid was finished during the long hiatus between 2003’s “Indestructible” and 2009’s “Let the Dominoes Fall”. Since then, they’ve released records at three-year intervals. This is their way of saying, there’s going to be a 10th album down the pike.
Now, you bet the band listens and hears the critics but they are doing things their way and still not only around but very much vital a quarter of a century later.
Ever since the band was accused of selling out, they’ve responded with songs like “Last One to Die” from “Let the Dominoes Fall” with some very pointed jabs, “We got it right; you got it wrong. We’re still around. We’re going up; you’re going down. We’re still around.” In their last outing, the title track “Honor is All We Know” extrapolated on their sticking to their roots.
I’ll say this about Rancid, and not because I am a fan – they do not make bad records. It might be formulaic, however, as I said, this is punk rock. Where in the hell does it say that you have to be prog?
And Tim Armstrong and the gang make some really good records. Now them’s good trouble makers.