Roots radicals

Rancid's newest album returns to punk roots, lacks in complexity


Album: … Honor Is All We Know

Artist: Rancid

Release Date: Oct. 27

Label: Hellcat Records

Grade: B+

Six years ago, punks around the world got their hands on the latest Rancid album, Let the Dominoes Fall. Since then, turntables have been spinning the same seven records.

The veteran punk-rock group Rancid finally released its eighth studio album, …Honor Is All We Know, Oct. 27 after teaser videos aired on Facebook in September. Rancid promised its fans in 2011 a new album would be coming out but the side projects of its various members seemed to stand in the way.

Tim Armstrong transformed into Tim Timebomb and is leading a new folk-punk-ska-sometimes-cover-sometimes-original group, Tim Timebomb and Friends, while still recording with the punk-rap group, The Transplants. Lars Frederiksen is recording with his punk bands, Lars Frederiksen and the Bastards, and The Old Firm Casuals. And Matt Freeman singing lead vocals and playing a double bass in his band, The Devil’s Brigade.

These are some seriously busy punk rockers.

Rancid formed in 1991 under the incarnation of Armstrong – or should I say Timebomb – on lead vocals and guitar, Freeman on bass and Brett Reed on drums. Frederiksen joined in 1993 and Branden Steineckert became the new drummer when Reed left the band in 2006.

Over the past 22 years, Rancid has maintained its distinctive sound and …Honor Is All We Know is a tribute to that but it lacks in the social consciousness and musical complexity that characterizes albums like the 2007 compilation B and C Sides, or …And Out Come the Wolves of 1995 or even the somewhat pop sounding album Indestructible, released in 2002 and distributed through Warner Bros. Studios, much to the aggravation of many fans.

…Honor Is All We Know is nice.

As simple as that sounds, the album is nice. It’s Rancid, so of course it’s going to be good, but superficial lyrics, too-soft guitar parts and the incredible shortness of the album plague it. The album is just a mere 33 minutes long.

The opening song, “Back Where I Belong,” is an upbeat, heavy rhythm Rancid-punk song that apologizes to fans for the six years in between albums. It’s got the Timebomb-Frederiksen unified vocals and classically Rancid guitar riffs that showcase what it means to hear Rancid and is something to join the pit for and two-step to.

Unfortunately, “Raise your fist” follows the promising opening and sours the album.

The simplicity of songs like “Raise your first” and “A Power Inside” is disappointing as they fall short of the social consciousness of so many older Rancid, or general punk, songs. Whereas “New Orleans” (Let the Dominoes Fall) mourns the destruction Hurricane Katrina wrecked on the city and “New Dress” (Life Won’t Wait) addresses the Bosnian War of the early 1990s, “Raise your fist” calls on listeners to, simply, raise their fists, “to the power that exists.” The opening of the song is too soft for a riot chant that attempts to return to the roots of punk music – fighting the oppression of the working class.

Armstrong growls, “When the people wake up / there’ll be riots in the street,” but the song doesn’t provide anybody anything to “wake up” to.

The third song, “Collision course” picks you back up and plops you right down in a complex, wailing, rock n’ roll bonanza, accented with Timebomb’s characteristic yelp.

“Collision course” has a classic rock n’ roll influence that is uncommon for Rancid, but follows through all of …Honor Is All We Know, particularly in the country Western rock n’ roll jam “Already Dead.”

Luckily, the songs following “Raise your fist” restore the complexly layered Rancid sound. “Evil is my friend,” the fourth song on the album, and “Everybody’s sufferin,’” the second-to-last song, break down Rancid’s reggae and ska roots into the basic formula of steady rhythm, guitar walks and a few “ch-ch-ch” now and again.

It seems like Rancid took some cues from The Aggrolites, a “dirty reggae” group from Los Angeles under Hellcat Records, in “Everybody’s sufferin’” with the up-tempo keyboard that takes over the song. The keyboard bridge recalls Timebomb’s recent work with Tim Timebomb and Friends.

Sure, the song doesn’t articulate what people are suffering from or how to fix it, kind of like the obtuse riot chant of “Raise your fist,” but it’s way more fun to skank along with.

...Honor Is All We Know ends on a strange song in “Grave Digger,” appropriate only in its title. The song wails against the privileges of the wealthy but doesn’t hold the same weight as “Face Up.” Frederiksen and Timebomb sing they’re “lucky to wake up face up,” referencing the years of trials the band members have gone through, from heroin addictions, to Frederiksen’s seizure on stage in 2006, to Freeman’s lung cancer diagnosis in 2005.

Although the album is a little too lazy in lyrical complexity and depth, Rancid delivers with its acknowledgement of the band’s age and experience in themes like forgiveness, gratefulness and hardship, which run through all the songs. The album boils the Rancid-punk sound to its core elements. It’s a little bit softer, a little less intense, but it grows on you with each listen.

Like Rancid proves every show, every tour and every album, punk isn’t dead – it’s just getting older.