Review Summary: How do forty-year-old 90's punks keep doing this?"All the records have their own particular smell about them, and they smell the same way today as they did in '95," said guitarist and singer Lars Frederiksen. "We've been a band for a long while and it's hard to ignore that. But this is the beginning of the next 17 years." The L.A. Times
Rancid, never leave us. For over fifteen years and through numerous side projects (all of which have also had their share of success,) the four-piece punk outfit has continually been a defacto soundtrack for the lives of the charmed and not-so-charmed. Their newest and fan-anticipated release, Let the Dominoes Fall,
doesn’t detract from this in the slightest; rather, the album brings back memories of Rancid’s pinnacle in the mid-‘90s, with the distinct “smell” of nostalgic reggae-punk. And across the wide-but-not-bloated 19-strong tracklist, it’s a Rancid smell that gets anything but rancid.
Nostalgia, in fact, is the true flavor of the album, and it washes over right from Tim’s first croon of, “another East Bay night…” As if it held the key to a rusty doorway into the past, Let the Dominoes Fall
captures the essence of memory, both good and bad. The highlight track “Civilian Ways” embodies the latter, with a meandering acoustic riff and Dylan-esque vocals, as Tim longs for his war-thrashed brother to return to his old self. The song is not necessarily political in nature, but damned if it isn’t more powerful than flat-out-facepunch band politics (Green Day, Enter Shikari, The Used, anyone?) Empathy for his brother’s plight spews into the listeners’ hearts, thanks to Tim’s very effective (and, as of late, fairly common) personal touch to his songwriting. Of course, much of the album aurally follows the old tried-and-true formula fans have seen traverse the likes of Rancid, Let’s Go,
and …And Out Come the Wolves.
“L.A. River” features Matt Freeman’s grating vocals in a sort of scat chorus, only one of his many appearances a la early Rancid.
That’s not to say, though, that Let the Dominoes Fall
is the same old story for the Berkley foursome (well, threesome and former Used drummer Branden Steineckert.) The ambitious “Up to No Good” takes on an arrangement closer to Bandits of the Acoustic Revolution, with guest spots covering viola, violin, a horn section, keys, cello, and chanting vocals. While reminiscent of songs like “Ruby Soho” and “Corazon de Oro,” the song leaps to a new height of musicianship for Rancid. “New Orleans” and “Liberty and Freedom” take the reggae feel even further, touching on old dub and dancehall sensibilities that the band consistently mimics. One less desirable thing the band has built upon recently is the squelching of guitarist and former co-lead vocalist Lars Frederikson. He is firmly stuck on the back burner vocally, barely anywhere to be seen, or rather, heard, at times. Freeman’s vocals, which as mentioned are more prominent, don’t offer a satisfying replacement, either, despite his…unique style.
Rancid have proven one thing over their long career: they never fail to deliver. They’re a band so very consistent in a genre rife with the weak and flimsy, and a beacon for ska, pop-punk, and reggae tastes alike. Even after its two remaining founders crested forty, they’re still somehow able to churn out 15-20 tracks per album and make each one fresh and fun. From bouncy and danceable pop-punk of old to their heartstring-tugging emotional side, Let the Dominoes Fall
is just another strong addition to Rancid's enviable discography and a big fan's wet dream.