Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Let the Dominoes Fall Review

Rancid is previewing their upcoming album in its entirety on their Myspace! Go listen! The record doesn't drop til the beginning of June (when some pretty epic package deals will be available), so this is a great opportunity to get a taste of what the band has been working on for six years.

It's a typically track-heavy Rancid album (count comes in at 19), but in the grand tradition the songs hover around the two minute mark.

Let's get the bad out of the way first, because for the most part I'm starting to really dig this record. The few songs that don't work are messy and border on uninteresting ("Lulu" gets off to a great start. . .)-- which is the lamentable part, since Rancid is never boring. Single "Last One to Die" is still a weaker track, though it makes more sense in the context of the whole album, though "LA River," which was one of the first songs that was previewed live last year and which I want to like, either needs some work or just won't ever work-- I need to hear it a few more times-- though it has a fun psychobilly bass riff. "The Dominoes Fall," an almost celebratory "whatever" track, has a silly chorus ("No no no no no etc") but is otherwise enjoyable. What saves many of the weaker tracks is the interplay between the vocals ("Disconnected," which I think also deserves a few more listens before a decision is made) as well as classic Rancid imagery (in "Disconnected," nation as the prototypical Rancid lady) and the gracenotes of Tim's pronunciation, syncopation and energy ("Damnation" and "I Ain't Worried About a Thing") and Lars' ability to make any phrase anthemically melodic-- basically, Rancid doing what they've always been doing.

When the tracks really fall flat is when the lyrics drag them down, especially when vague political statements are dropped, though this doesn't happen often beyond the noisy "This Place." When Rancid sticks to the more pathos-alert storytelling (think "St Mary") that in turn are able, when designed, to convey political views, the lyrics really standout, as in the nicely produced, "Memphis"-like "New Orleans": "Yeah it rained all night in New Orleans."

As a note, I do like Indestructible so maybe you shouldn't be paying attention to me, but now I think I know how people feel about that album, in terms of my feelings about Dominoes. I like it, and the more I listen to it (second time as I write this) the more I'm digging certain tracks, but it will take some time.

Two sounds that really work: First, the bands' return to their trademark swaggering ska/reggae punk ("Up to No Good".) This time, they are treading heavily in the territory of Tim Armstrong's solo release ("Skull City" could have been a more rock n roll-oriented track-- by way of, say, "She's Automatic"--off of Poet's Life), and while I'm not sure if this is a good or bad thing, the results are fun. Second: slower, contemplative, almost alt-country/western-influenced (in theme and sound) tracks like "Civilian Ways" (reminiscent of Ryan Bingham) and closing track "The Highway," a pleasant acoustic ballad complete with harmonica and generous feelings, are ths most surprising and characterize, perhaps, a new direction that the band could explore more. While it is a surprise that Rancid decided to indulge in this experiment, the exploration itself itsn't really a great leap of logic or geneology. A major component of Rancid's thematic material involves the outrageous boasting of rap and outlaw country, exemplified by the Transplants' work and also Viking, and punk tends to head south at some point (or maybe north, from Jamaica.)

I've been putting the new Green Day and Rancid releases side-by-side, mostly because of the proximity of release date and the anticipation. My final verdict? Rancid. I gave Green Day an ambivalent review because while on one hand there was nothing new, it was still a fun album on the tracks that got off the ground. On the other hand, Rancid, even though there are duds on the record, doesn't stray into self-parody or oversentimentality which is endemic in 21st Century Breakdown; my criticism of Breakdown is more concerned with fundamentals. Rancid has always had an earnestness to their songs that let's them get away with murder ("Radio"), whereas Green Day relies too heavily on shock value (oh, they said sodomy!), which might work for its new target audience but won't work for anyone else. in the world. Even though I held Rancid up to a much higher standard than I did 21st Century Breakdown, the rundown is that my more generous expectations were confirmed with Green Day--digestible, predictable and fun album unfortunately weighed down, much like American Idiot and songs like "Macy's Day Parade," by pontificating-- and were exceeded with Rancid--who don't let the few duds to be duddy enough to outweigh the good tracks.

  • New Orleans
No longer available; sorry guys-- they killed my Green Day post (all that hard work put into the review! I guess free publicity isn't worth it anymore) because of the tracks posted, so it's better to be safe than sorry I guess; looks like another few weeks staying off the radar, but I'll do my best to find other stuff to write about ;) Don't forget, Rancid has been generous enough to make the album available on their Myspace!


Northern Jon said...

Good review! I liked Indestructible also. I have gave this a few more listens and it is catchy, but some of it is just too cheesy (I guess if I want great lyrics in 2009, I'd better stick with Gaslight Anthem!) My wife won't even entertain it, but I am not willing to give up on this band just yet.

as for those package deals, the extended version looks OK, except I don't need a T-Shirt, guitar pics or 3 posters, which leaves only the documentary that is blatantly gonna be made up of the webisodes on you tube and an acoustic cd.

Jim said...

First impression after just one listen: oh dear.

If you don't mind piracy (and when have we ever :P ) I can slip you a copy of the acoustic CD though...

Anonymous said...

Just a friendly head's up on your music lingo for future reviews: A "rift" is an opening in something. A "riff" is a melodic phrase. I think you meant bass riff, not rift.

b said...

heh-- thanks anonymous- that's a pretty embarrassing typo. (thank god i haven't been doing it the whole time!) i was definitely processing more info than my brain could manage while listening to the album :)

Nuno said...

Jim... what acoustic CD?

b said...

hey Nuno-- you can find it at one of these links (in a rush so I don't have time to check them)-- it's the accompanying CD that came with the bundle-- as I was telling Jim (yay thanks Jim!) the acoustic tracks are almost easier to swallow, for some reason.

awalling05 said...

I really love this album. I like all Rancid albums except rancid 2000 which still has a few good songs.
I thougt this album was really true to who they are. Lets remember Rancid is really aging (Lars and Matt being family men now, and Tim battling health issues, and poor young Brandon being new still) and it shows on this album, but I still think they made it work. I agree that they should do more acoustic stuff, it really works for them.
I was dissapointed they did not play more new songs this past tour, and had the opportunity of catching Tim outside of the HOB and telling him so. He was understanding but also said there are always a lot of old school fans who do not follow up with there new work, and all I could say is I am one of those weirdos who would have loved to hear the whole new album done that night

b said...

hey awalling05, thanks for stopping by!!

yeah-- as i've listened to the album a few more times, it has definitely grown on me. not my favorite of the bunch, but some of the songs are getting a lot of play around the house.

i have unfortunately never had the chance to see rancid (they tend to have a weird touring schedule when they come through nyc)-- i think there are a few cuts from the new album that would be great for a live show, but i can definitely see why they wouldn't break out the acoustic songs-- (or did they?) that's awesome you got to talk to tim, btw-- i've heard different things from different people, but glad to hear he sounds like a standup kinda guy.

i think i'm actually shifting from the acoustic tracks to some of the others (really like skull city, up to no good)-- the really bouncy fun ones have become my favorites.


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