Album Review: Rancid – “Let the Dominoes Fall”

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Following their longest span between albums, Rancid returns for their 7th full-length endeavor Let the Dominoes Fall. During their time off, both Lars & Tim spent time with solo projects, and Bret Reed decided to split. Rancid then picked up an unlikely replacement, Branden Steineckert, former drummer of The Used.

The critical reception of this album I’ve encountered has been noticeably polarizing—listeners tend to hate it or love it. This hard fault line seems to be merely an amplification of a long-standing divide of Rancid fans, the fault line between those who love their self-titled albums, the more straightforward street hardcore albums, and those fans who love the fusion albums loaded with more pop-punk & ska-reggae. Let the Dominoes Fall groups into the latter category so the allegiance with the streetcore will likely be turned off by their newest album. Ignoring the divide, one of the disappointing factors of LTDF is overall lack of novelty, especially after a six year duration. Punk rock enthusiasts often do not have a problem with a band that releases an album that is “more of the same” as long as it remains in the spirit of the scene, but with Rancid, the expectations usually differ considering their production history. In the past, each Rancid album felt like a project, a focused idea that was congruent & salient from start to finish. The first self-titled was a streetcore assault, fast & unrelenting. Let’s Go took a step back into a more Ramone mode of melodic & catchy punk. Out Come the Wolves brought ska & reggae back into the mix. Then there was the sweeping, global Life Won’t Wait that was reminiscent of The Clash’s Sandinista. Following that was a hardcore regrouping for the 2nd self-titled, and then came Indestructible which many argue is a project that refined both Life Won’t Wait & Out Come the Wolves.

So after all that comes LTDF, and instead of a new flavor, we seem to get a little of everything in the past. The major rub that I find is that there just seems to be better versions of most everything on LTDF already on record. For starters, the album leads off with “East Bay Night” which lyrically begins with “Another East Bay night…” with an exalting Tim Armstrong tone. In other words, it sounds tired with a self-admitted repetition. Rancid usually comes out the corner swinging on their albums – Adina, Nihilism, Maxwell Murder, Indestructible, etc—but LTDF takes a diluted approach – an approach that sort of speaks to the album as a whole. “This Place,” the second song, may have been a better opener choice. “Up to No Good,” the first ska-orientated track that includes an organ, comes across as a more polished version of something from Life Won’t Wait, but doesn’t have the edge and dynamic range of what Tim righteously put together on his solo album. “I Ain’t Worried” sounds like a Transplants song but Lars & Matt get some raps in this time around, which for what it is worth, is something different. Lars later pays tribute to New Orleans. While the song sounds good, the chorus is sentimentally soaked with abstraction as it personifies NO as a woman giving the whole song an over-romanticized feel. It’s as if you could just take out the word New Orleans & drop the name of any place that has ever experienced heartache & tragedy into it and the song would work. To pull a cynical punch here, “New Orleans” sounds like something a country musician would do, an opportunistic ride bent on sentiment for an instant pop-culture hit. There are a number of other topical songs like “New Orleans” on the album, but they all seem handled more strongly such as “Civilian Ways,” “Locomotive” & “Lulu.” One of the few times we get some Rancid innovation comes on “L.A. River,” a rockabilly style song with some unusual vocals done by Matt Freeman.

Overall, the album is solid but is ultimately shadowed by what Rancid has done prior. Perhaps that’s the greatest challenge a band faces when they hit so many early homeruns in the career. But for me, the most bothersome side of the record is the rampart self-aggrandizing on the album. “Last One to Die,” the song they released first as an introduction, is a total turn-off. With so many other seminal bands hitting milestones with great strength—Bad Religion, Bouncing Souls, Strung Out, Propaghandi, to name a few – it seems odd to hear so much chest-thumping and self-appointed crownings such as “Last One to Die.” Then there is the lyric on the song, “We got it right, you got it wrong / We still around, Last one to die / We’re going up, you’re going down.” Who is the “you” aimed at here? It’s quite unclear because I doubt any of the mainstay bands in their scene are that concerned about what Rancid is up to. For a band that constantly loves to remind its listeners about how “punk” they are, gloating and aggrandizing in such a matter flies in the face of “punk” ethics, at least how punk is usually theorized. At least in its conception, punk was a reaction against arena, egomaniacal rock bands. Punk bands took the democratic approach to music, to not be above the crowd but with them, and with the other bands of the community. Cutting their 7th album in the continuum of a prolific career is a strong enough statement in of itself about the dedication and accomplishments of the band. Especially with the self-made approach Rancid has done over the years. In the end, it comes across as unnecessary, and as a petty argument the band should be over with by now. If they really don’t care, as songs like “I Ain’t Worried” strongly emphasize, then why waste so much time in defense?



6 Comments

  1. dying
    Johnny X2/14/2010 10:00 AM | Permalink

    Love your point about “Last One To Die”. Could not agree more. For me, this album felt like a caricature version of the band’s form self. All the rancid-like elements were there but for some reason they felt forced and completely lacked in authenticity. This album gets 1 star from me.

  2. weazzel2828
    weazzel28283/4/2010 6:04 PM | Permalink

    i was stoked when i heard they were making a new album and although a few of the songs are good, the majority of the album just feels like something is missing. They should have stuck to one style and tried to get back to straight punk. They need to not give a rats ass about the mainstream and give it the middle finger with their music. I’ll give it 3 stars for the effort.

  3. mikee
    mikee5/21/2010 9:43 AM | Permalink

    I bought the deluxe version (with acoustic CD, DVD, posters, and guitar picks). Love the album, love the packaging, and the fact I can play this in the car, and my 5-year-old loves it as much as me. Unlike most of my albums he doesn’t yell for me to turn it off!

  4. repulsive-cocks
    Repulsive Cocks10/10/2011 3:08 PM | Permalink

    Me personally I loved Rancids old shit. Lets go, and out come the wolves. That was the shit. But as I kept listening to this album I realized that it may not have the harder punk sound but it had a punk soul. Just listen to the lyrics and you can see. Yes some of it was lacking the punk nature of their old stuff. To all who say Rancids a poser I say fuck off. Yes they sold out a bit a lot like the clash and I don’t agree with that but still I love them. I thin

  5. rudesandinista
    RudeSandinista6/21/2013 6:59 AM | Permalink

    Very accurate review. It’s not a bad album by any means and I might even like it a little more than “Indestructible”, it however does not grab me and pull at my heart strings in the way that albums 2-5 do. That may be just because I listened to those albums as a teenager and they are nostalgic and “coming of age” feeling for me but I will say that some of Tim’s solo stuff has given me that feeling. I do fall in the Clash/Ramones branch of Rancid fans as opposed to the Hardcore branch so I’m always happy with the hooks and ska which we hear on this record.

    I agree that “Last One to Die” feels a bit cocky but I think it may be more of a response to the “scene”; i.e. kids calling them sell outs when “Indestructible” came out; that it is to other bands. I actually really like “New Orleans” and “East Bay Night”; for my money there is a ton of heart in each of them and they feel more authentic than most of the songs on the last album. I’ve traveled quite a bit and there’s something genuinely charming about a love song to a city. You can say that Lars is trying to capitalize on Katrina like a country singer, but I hear genuine love in his voice on that track.

    I think the real place where this album suffers is exactly like “Indestructible”: overpolished production. Previous albums, even the studio heavy opus LWW, almost felt live. That raw grit gave this band a charm that I can only describe as 1930s blues record meets the Clash with Johnny Ramone on guitar. The songs are solid, it’s the production and packaging that feel a bit corporate/mainstream for me. I think album art really sums it up; when I first saw it I mistook it for a B-sides or Greatest hits record- it just looks a bit generic. Look at the covers to any of the earlier albums and look at this. It looks like a T-shirt compared to the gorgeous art of “Rancid (1993)”, the iconically disenfranchised cover of “…And Out Come the Wolves” or the wonderfully curious “Life Won’t Wait”. And production wise, I feel like compared to previous records it is a bit generic. As you said, there’s not much here that hasn’t been done better in the past and we hold this band to the highest standard. Still, it’s better than most and I think a good chunk of the songs are quite good. Any blue-blooded Rancid fan should find it worthwhile even if it is not a new favorite.

  6. connors
    Connors8/13/2014 3:13 AM | Permalink

    Well, a well-written review. You had your gripes, but backed them up. I feel more in common with those that liked the album. Yes, it is missing something, and is a little too polished, but I can’t resist a whole bunch of these songs. (BTW my kids loved ‘Up To No Goos’ too). Maybe that is why some people don’t like it. Is it too catchy? That doesn’t bother me. If it catches me, what does it matter. I was very pleased with this album.

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