Saturday, July 9, 2011

Rancid: Let The Dominoes Fall

     Remember that Foo Fighters review I posted a little while back? Yes? Good. I said that they were one of the few big bands that had come out of the nineties into the new millennium. Thanks to Paddy, I think I've just found another! Rancid are an American punk-rock quartet formed in 1991, hailing from Berkeley, California, with 'Let The Dominoes Fall' released in the June of 2009 as their seventh studio album. This comes six years after the undeniably more poppy 'Indestructible', a change of direction criticized by fans. After looking over most of their back catalog in revision for this review however, I find the band very consistent in terms of sound. Their energy doesn't seem to have faltered or stumbled much throughout their eighteen year career, their belly rumbling with the same fiery hunger seen on 1993's self titled debut. But is that spirit enough to carry the album?
     Despite being labelled as a punk-rock group, there are 'Indestructible'-esque pop sensibilities that show themselves in the windows of this record, dusted in alternative make-up and dressed in the ripped jeans of punk-revivalism. There is a good variety of styles and structure in this album, but this only goes to mislead the listener, sending them down a dangerously pot-holed path. The recording is also understandably cleaner than that in the nineties, which only becomes a problem when you begin to wish their sound would dirty itself up a bit and roll in the mud of lo-fi production. I would have just preferred a grittier, grimier, and more aggressive record than I actually ended up listening to.
     There are nineteen tracks squeezed into the forty-five minutes here, which means a lot of the songs don't manage to run over two minutes. One such track is the second, 'This Place', with it's croaky vocals and angry political outburst, making it one of the only truly 'punk' songs here. Others don't work half as well, and in trying to recapture past times, Rancid don't really create anything that strikes me as new, even compared to many of 2009's releases. They also don't live up to their name, with poppy lyrics that feel tired and lazy. Take 'L.A. River', for example. "Boom shackalackalackalackalackaalacka boom. Shimmy shimmy shake shimmy shake shimmy shimmy shimmy"? Really? That to me sounds unmistakably immature from a band with a lengthy career like this. The cliché in the title track is desperate and so unimagined it's cringe worthy; "No no no no no no no. Na na na, I ain’t got control." Taking into consideration that this is supposed to be a punk band, as well, there are sections to this album that threaten to send you to sleep rather than provoke you into  bringing forth a social change. Take 'Civilian Ways', with a banjo carrying the verses into a yawn-inducing lull. Having said all this, there are a couple of bright spots here, but not really enough to pull this album from the trench it's already in.
      'Dominoes Fall' and 'Locomotive' have a reggae ring to them which is pretty nice, booming and thundering with a playful arrogance and swagger that only serves to boost their bombast. The beginning of 'That's Just The Way It Is Now' is great, with an alarm turning into a scream, but the melody is again, lukewarm, in relation to what the band has done before. The opener, 'East Bay Night has a nostalgic beat, luring me into a false sense of anticipation, a feeling subsequently disappointed. Back in 1991, I get the impression that these guys would have been considered very 'out-there', but for me there isn't anything very revolutionary or even subtly aggressive here, a quality I think a modern punk album should retain. I would have preferred, like I said before, a little less pop and a little more punk.. It just feels as though Rancid have tried to go back to the nineties without considering the audience the new millennium introduced. Sorry Paddy, but I just didn't feel it. An angry tractor should have torn up the meadow of this record, I reckon.