The Distillery: Rancid's Let the Dominoes Fall

rancid dominoes.jpg
What it do, Rancid? What's crackin', formerly crusty-punk rude boys? Been a long time since we last hang, bros. When Dan Zeller lent me Let's Go during senior year of high school, I knew y'all were onto something special: three-billy-goats-gruff sung scrabbling punk anthems and routs with just a hint of ska. ...And Out Come The Wolves was what really sold me, though, as you found a slightly more commercial sound that brought MTV rotation (for "Time Bomb"), plus a platinum plaque.

Our interest began to wane after you flew to Jamaica to record Life Won't Wait. I bought 2000's Rancid out of loyalty, but nothing on it resonated with me; it's probably rotting in a Baltimore-area record store's used bin as I type this. As for 2003's Indestructible, I can't front: haven't heard a note of it.

It wasn't you, guys, it was us; our interests changed. Separated from higher education and the friends who indoctrinated us to the Epitaph/Fat Wreck Chords/Punk Uprisings/etc nu-punk axis, I suddenly had less of a desire to listen to dudes yelling about smashing the state and so on. I wanted more indie, more rap, maybe some Flaming Lips. I didn't even notice that y'all were on a 6-year hiatus, though your side projects were duly noted (if never explored).

So we're tucking into Let the Dominoes Fall (Hellcat), and it feels like a reunion of sorts. Admittedly, I was ready to hate this album, to make jokes, to have a hard time coming up with 10 distilled tracks, to just generally be an asshole. But on the real? Everything here is essential, in terms of context. This isn't your older cousin's Rancid; that's for sure: their moves are more melodic and less jittery, their voices are less growly, there's next to no horn action.

Dominoes has nothing on ...And Out Come The Wolves. Yet what makes that assessment irrevelant is the down-to-earth good will, heart-on-sleeve positivity, and all-inclusive vibe that have always Rancid radiated. Digging Rancid is equivalent to sort of being part of Rancid, a feeling reinforced by the group vocals they've always worked into tunes; there's a benign gang aura about them.

When we caught Rancid live on the 1998 Vans Warped Tour stop in Washington, D.C., this didn't really come across well, mostly because they were playing outdoors on a super hot day for hundreds of people and competing with BMX bikers pulling crazy stunts and Yoohoo summer interms giving away free Yoohoo swag. But plunk Tim, Lars, Matt, and Branden down in a club and get the pilsner flowing, and we've no doubt that "Ruby Soho" and "Salvation" and "Life Won't Wait" would turn into raucously emotional/teary shout-alongs.

1. "East Bay Night": Dominoes is very boots-on-the-ground and meat-and-potatoes, full of songs about real people living real lives with real, circa-00s consequences. (Being away six years, Rancid had a lot of catching up to do - ergo a song titled "New Orleans" that's partly about Hurricane Katrina and is more affecting than it has any right to be at this point. Or "Lulu," which casts a sympathetic eye on illegal immigrants.) Maybe this realness and sincerity hits as hard as it does because the recently released 21st Century Breakdown - from Green Day, who looked up to Tim and Lars back in the Operation Ivy days, when Gilman Street meant little or nothing to people who weren't Cali punks - deals in empty hot-air abstractions that scan as meaningless.

You can guess which record will sell more just by comparing past sales figures, but we know which record we'll still be spinning a week or a month or two years from today. Anyway, "Night" brings us back to Rancid's stomping grounds and serves as a reintroduction of sorts. Good to be back.

2. "This Place": As a lyric, "The land of liberty has been betrayed by the monster corporations/The monster won't stop until it lays waste to everything" could have been cribbed from any hardcore punk screed written anytime over the past 30 years or so - but that doesn't make it any less true, especially at a moment in time when the president's been forced to bail corporate America out of mess(es) of its own making.

6. "I Ain't Worried": Rancid, rapping! And it's not a debacle, somehow, maybe owing to the reggae-lite and the convictions they hold. Tops pretty much everything the Beastie Boys have done this decade. Did I just say that? Life's weird.

9. "Civilian Ways": A very restrained - seriously, it's mandolins and unplugged guitars and tapped drums and pedal steel, here - mildly corny ballad about a soldier home from war that becomes much less corny over time. What most endears "Ways" to me isn't the sub-Springsteen-esque heartland folk feel or the sense of artistic growth, but the narrator's constant rememberances of the friends who died overseas so that he could get out alive.

10. "The Bravest Kids": If "Ways" was somber, numb, and melancholy, "Kids" is the pissed other-side-of-the-coin: fast-paced, loud, snarling at authority, giving pounds to the grunts who suit up and ship out to fight overseas.

12. "L.A. River": This rockabilly number sneaks up on you; it arrives at a point on Dominoes where the listener starts to tune out a bit. "Boom-shaka-laka"s? Sure. Twisting, chopping basslines? Bitching about Hollywood? Whatever, okay. "LA river/ Dragnet coming down" chorus? Sort of meaningless, but it'll do. Then, without reaching any conclusions or shifting in any significant way, something significant happens around the two-minute mark: the instrumental clutter and growling-in-the-margins drop away as the chorus arrives, and it's as if you've spent those first two minutes wandering the city without a care...but suddenly, helicopters are swooping in and SWAT units are flooding the streets, and they're coming for you.

14. "Dominoes Fall": Basically they're saying that shit happens, but they're saying it in a peppily anthemic way. (Which seems kind of antithetical to punk's action-brings-about-change ethos, but hey.) Think about it: Bad Religion once spent an entire album explaining why we have no control!

16. "You Want It, You Got It": Rancid's equivalent of MXPX's "One Step Closer." We already knew that there's room for us in Rancid's skull'n'crossbones emblazoned tent, but it's nice to be reminded.

17. "Locomotive": A bristling, back-to-basics shot-across-the-bow establishing that Rancid aren't going anywhere. Think of it as their "Forgot About Dre." No, wait, don't.

18. "That's Just The Way It Is Now": "This is no set of ideals/This is flesh and blood." Well said. The tide of songs about endless touring as blessing and curse rolled into one never ceases. This is another one of those, delivered in a hokey Americana style that should irritate but doesn't, somehow.

With Rise Against and Billy Talent, 7 p.m. Saturday at Verizon Wireless Theater, 520 Texas (Bayou Place), 713-230-1600 or www.livenation.com

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