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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?