Punk rock has been around long enough to hold within its musical boundaries a slew of albums considered both classic and essential. We here at Dying Scene love and appreciate these classic albums, but every once and a while we have the urge to challenge what the community has deemed sacred. Every Saturday, two Dying Scene writers will square off head-to-head and either attack or defend one of these so-called classics. Up for slaughter today is Rancid‘s “…And Out Come the Wolves.” Does the 1995 classic hold up today? You be the judge. Carson Winter will be defending and Tim Ryan will be attacking.
Of all those wild and wonderful mid 90’s punk albums that boasted influence beyond their age, I find that …And Out Come the Wolves is the one I come back to the most. Smash and Dookie were surely more accessible, thus more popular, but …And Out Come the Wolves never felt like anything but a punk record. The fact that it met popularity at all seems incidental and defiant to its nature. Looking at Rancid circa 1995, they look as if they were pulled from a booklet of anti-punk caricatures. Mohawks, leather jackets, tattoos: it’s all here. Their contemporaries may have been inspired by the scene, perhaps even active in it, but god damnit, Rancid lived it.
Rancid’s sound on …And Out Come the Wolves is a more melodic progression of their work on Let’s Go. Thankfully, their street punk and hardcore influences are noticeably intact but this time around their songwriting has a decidedly more polished approach to it. Let’s Go is my favorite album but …And Out Come the Wolves represents the band at its most assured and balanced. “Maxwell Murder” is a fast, catchy track that also serves as a showcase for Matt Freeman’s impressively busy bass lines, the showcase culminating in a rollicking, technical bass solo. So often relegated as a necessary but thankless instrument, hearing Freeman play the bass guitar with such virtuosic aplomb is awe inspiring. Rancid is composed of so many different elements, but for me, their frenetic bass lines are what truly make Rancid sound like Rancid.
“Roots Radical” is another standout track, driven by palm-muted chugs and Tim Armstrong’s slurred but melodic barking. The song is a tribute to a style of politically radical reggae, but ironically “Roots Radical” is well entrenched in the sound of punk. On the other hand, “Time Bomb” is Rancid’s first foray into ska– featuring up-strums and organ melodies galore. While not my favorite song on the album, it’s catchiness is undeniable and it paved the way for Rancid’s more expanded sound.
Armstrong’s slurred, marble mouthed vocals are an easy target for mocking, but I’ve got to say he totally delivers on …And Out Come the Wolves. His voice is imperfect, but his unique tone and cadence are particularly well suited to punk rock. He doesn’t sound like a singer, he sounds like someone who’s got something to say. On “Ruby Soho,” Armstrong croakily croons “echoes of reggae, comin’ through my bedroom wall, havin’ a party up next door but i’m sittin here all alone”– his imagery holds an eerie resonance, wrapped in blue collar isolation and youthful vagrancy his voice delivers the context to which his words were written.
…And Out Come the Wolves is one of those perfect albums that is awarded a nostalgic nod and a knowing smile at a mention between strangers. Rancid may never have been able to reach the heights of this record again, but it stands to this day as an achievement. Deftly balancing raw aggression, catchy songwriting, and genre broadening experimentalism, …And Out Come the Wolves stands forever as a classic.
A while ago, I e-mailed Carson to tell him that I was interested in contributing to one of our new columns, Sacred Cow Saturday. He told me a little about how it works – the writer simply adds “Love it” or “Willing to Attack” to a list of traditionally celebrated, classic punk records – and then I waited to hear the album I’d be assigned for my Sacred Cow debut. So, I’ve been assigned the unenviable duty of attacking the almost universally praised …And Out Come the Wolves. Apparently, Carson hates me and wants me to lose all of my cred.
I’ll admit, I signed “Willing to Attack” in the column, so I was asking for it. Why? Because, well…I just don’t think …And Out Come the Wolves is all that great. Yes, the album has some great songs, songs I feel almost every punk loves, but those songs don’t eclipse the fact that taken as a whole, the album kind of flops.
…And Out Comes the Wolves kicks off with the tune “Maxwell Murder”, a pretty ripping punk song with a masterful bass solo. From there on, we’re mostly treated to Tim Armstrong Stallone-slurring his way through songs about getting drunk with friends, being poor, and being punk. And a ska song.
It’s not hard to see why Rancid eventually went major. Every chorus is begging to have a stadium full of kids screaming along with it, but by and large the group has no idea how to pen an interesting verse. More than once while trying to power through the album, I’d find myself rolling my eyes at some of the cheesiness and laughable delivery the group puts into every part of the song but the hook.
Moving on, I kind of find it hard to believe this group isn’t categorized as a rockabilly band. I used to think Matt Freeman’s schtick was playing ska bass lines over punk music – and sometimes it is – but mostly, he’s playing rockabilly bass lines over unswung rockabilly music. Just look to the leads for evidence if you don’t believe. Now, there’s nothing bad about rockabilly, but…well, why does it make it a legendary album?
Maybe I’m really just not punk enough for Rancid. Maybe my bias against punk that got super popular in the 90s – a dark time for all of us, I think – keeps me from enjoying anything from the bands involved save a few excellent records.
Or maybe, just maybe, you can’t save an entire album with “Ruby Soho.”