Rancid – Trouble Maker
OUT – June 9th, 2017
Rancid Line up:
Tim Armstrong – guitar, lead and backing vocals
Lars Frederikson – guitar, lead and backing vocals
Matt Freeman – bass, lead and backing vocals
Branden Steineckert – drums, percussion
Being a Rancid fan in Australia can be a little tough at times. They haven’t toured in almost 20 years, and their last couple of albums have struggled to really leave an impression (although I personally feel that 2009’s Let The Dominos Fall is wholly underrated). Either way, when they announce a new album it still comes with a decent amount of fanfare – they are fucking Rancid after all. Trouble Maker is their 9th studio album and the 6th that has been produced* by Brett Gurewitz (of Bad Religion) fame.
Rancid announced the new album at the start of May, and since then have trickled out a few tracks in the lead-up. Unfortunately, nothing that was released managed to inspire confidence in fans. That said, the album is far better than songs like ‘Telegraph Avenue’ would lead you to believe. It’s not to say it’s a great album, but it’s also not the complete train wreck that some of us might have been expecting.
One of the things that made Rancid famous was their ability to craft incredibly catchy, sing-a-long choruses. ‘Ruby Soho’, ‘Fall Back Down’ and ‘Olympia WA’ feature some of the most recognisable choruses in punk rock history. But it’s something that Rancid have failed to live up to since about 2003. Over the last two albums, there has been a reliance on simpler melodies and repetition and it seems with each outing the returns are diminished. Even at its best Trouble Maker never quite manages to soar – as soon as a catchy riff or vocal melody is found it gets repeated in a sort of monotonous ramble.
In some respects, the album’s biggest weakness in Armstrong’s vocals. But it’s not so simple. His voice is so unique that it’s kind of a staple of the Rancid sound – and in the past, his odd melodic choices have worked in his favour. His voice takes a little getting used to. But across the majority of Trouble Maker, it feels like he just isn’t trying. It’s not that he’s out of key, exactly, it’s just that it sounds like most of the time he doesn’t give a fuck at all. It’s kind of like he is playing his vocals so cool that he forgets to do anything at all. But it’s a really mixed bag. ‘Telegraph Avenue’ is not just an album low point, it might be the worst song Rancid has ever put out, but it’s followed by ‘An Intimate Close up of a Street Punk Trouble Maker’ and ‘Where I’m Going’ – which are easily two of the best songs on the album (especially where Armstrong’s vocals are concerned).
But there are few things in this world that you can always count on and Rancid’s bass player Matt Freeman is one of them. His bass never fails to be on point – and let’s face it, he is one of the most talented and consistently interesting bass players in punk rock. I wouldn’t say that he is doing anything as mind-meltingly insane as what he was doing 20 years ago, but there are more than a few great licks in there – ‘All American Neighborhood’ is classic Freeman, and it’s a pretty solid punk rock song.
Trouble Maker isn’t a bad album, but I’d struggle to call it a good one. The whole experience feels contrived and lifeless, and even with the odd banger of a track, it’s just not something that I think I’d want to spend a lot of time listening to again.
Rancid – Trouble Maker tracklisting;
1. “Track Fast” 0:58
2. “Ghost of a Chance” 1:36
3. “Telegraph Avenue” 3:19
4. “An Intimate Close Up of a Street Punk Trouble Maker” 2:34
5. “Where I’m Going” 2:23
6. “Buddy” 3:03
7. “Farewell Lola Blue” 2:26
8. “All American Neighborhood” 1:13
9. “Bovver Rock and Roll” 3:02
10. “Make It Out Alive” 1:50
11. “Molly Make Up Your Mind” 1:12
12. “I Got Them Blues Again” 1:48
13. “Beauty of the Pool Hall” 2:15
14. “Say Goodbye to Our Heroes” 2:10
15. “I Kept a Promise” 2:58
16. “Cold Cold Blood” 1:42
17. “This Is Not the End” 1:57
*Armstrong is quite a talented producer, and while he isn’t credited (to my knowledge) I would assume he isn’t passive in the process. His production credits are pretty impressive, including AFI, Pink and The Interrupters. And his accomplishments as a musician and songwriter are jaw-droppingly impressive – if you’re yet to check out his solo work, including his album from 2007 or his work with Jimmy Cliff then I highly suggest you do it because it’s all legitimately amazing.
Note: Kevin Bivona most likely performed organ/piano on the album, however, I’m not privy to the full album credits at this point. He provided those parts on Rancid’s previous album and is often found working with Armstrong on a variety of projects. He is the guitarist for The Interrupters and bassist for The Transplants who are both on Armstrong’s Hellcat label.