Let The Dominoes Fall

Written by: PP on 11/06/2009 19:58:22

Rancid needs no introduction, but in case you've been wondering where they've been for the better part of this decade, then here's some background info. "Let The Dominoes Fall", their first new studio album since 2003's rather average "Indestructible", has been in the works for the better part of the last two years. It's long been rumoured that this is Rancid's bounce-back-to-form album, and since I'm not looking to build suspension here, I'm just gonna go ahead and say that's exactly what it is. Rancid are still Rancid on "Dominoes", one of the punkest bands around without necessarily having to feature a d-beat and a ridiculous tempo in all songs. They're damn proud of their groovy bass-lines, old school sing alongs and quasi-political lyrics, and the punk rock scene recognizes that as well: Bad Religion's legendary Brett Gurewitz didn't just produce the album, but he also contributes to the gang vocals in places alongside BR singer Greg Graffin. In short, Rancid are one of the four corner stones of punk rock, the other three being NOFX, Bad Religion and Hot Water Music, and "Let The Dominoes Fall" is another example of solid proof for that fact.

In the six years since "Indestructible", a lot has changed in the world both socially and politically. That's probably why vocalist/guitarist Tim Armstrong's smoky drawl sounds much lazier, sloppier and more tired than I remember, or it could be just that he's not too happy with the lowdown of Iraq and Afghanistan wars and the Bush years. But that just makes him sound punker than ever before, so I don't think we can complain. But let it be said already at this point that "Let The Dominoes Fall" can't really be compared to "Rancid" (2000) or the other seminal albums this band has put out as of late despite the 19 tracks on the record. Here's why: during the 45 minutes that the album lasts, Rancid hits bullseye quite a few times, writing exactly the type of perfect punk rock anthems we've come to expect from the band, but there are also a lot of tracks where Rancid are just 'good', and unfortunately, a few tracks which sound like they were written with the hit or miss principle in mind and the latter was the result.

The best tracks are really fucking good. "Disconnected", for instance, is quintessential Rancid: Big singalongs, some well placed gang vocals, and Tim's lazily sung vocals. "East Bay Night" is a classic from first listen, as for the last two weeks I've been singing "Another Eaaast Baaay Niiiight" at about five minute intervals every day. It's just that catchy. "Damnation" features another chorus you just can't forget, plus Bad Religion's Greg Graffin is doing the backing gang vocals on the song as an added bonus. Then we've got "The Bravest Kids", a high-octane punk rock tribute to all American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan: "The bravest kids I know / are the ones that gotta go / (ohhhhhhh-ohhhhh) fighting over there". The chorus is mad catchy. That's already a lot of 'really fucking good' songs, eh? What about "Skull City" then, which is about as feel good summer type of song as it gets, complete with hand claps and acoustic guitar. It's one of the rare occasions where we hear Matt's bass properly in the mix (the excellent "You Want It, You Got It" is another). Given the production credentials of Brett Gurewitz, I'm sure that the faded back bass on the record has been intentional, but it's a shame because in my eyes Matt's bass-lines are second only to Fat Mike's of NOFX (and even better in some occasions) so it would've been great to hear some more of them on the record.

The goofy "L.A. River" is a bit of a surprise given its psychobilly-esqe sound and ridiculous "Boomshackalackalacka Boom! Shimy shimy shake shimy shake shimy shimy" lyrics, but it works nonetheless. The same fun-oriented vibe continues on "Dominoes Fall" in the form of some hey, ho's and na-na-na-nas, something that you wouldn't imagine fitting a Rancid song but somehow they make it sound fucking punk anyway. And that's a common theme across the whole album, it just sounds so god damn punk rock without stepping on any of the cliché-mines of the genre. Even the medium tempo, chilled out ska-tracks like "Up To No Good" sound distinctly punk rock despite featuring violins, cello, horns and even mandolin.

The thing about all the songs that I've just mentioned is that they are all future Rancid classics, given a few years time and space to grow and to find their own identity. I wouldn't be surprise to find them all on a Rancid setlist on some tour in 2011 and later. Then there are the pretty-good-but-not-awesome tracks. "Last One To Die" is a good example because it has a decent sing alongable chorus and the backing vocals provide nice contrast to Tim's smokey delivery, but it in no way matches some of the songs mentioned above. Similarly, "New Orleans" has a heartfelt chorus but I'm not feeling the song as much. Maybe it's because the vocals are mostly handled by Lars Fredriksen with Tim merely providing backing vocals on this track, and I just don't find Lars as good of a singer as Tim. "I Ain't Worried" is my least favorite track on the record, but it should be noted that it features some keyboard courtesy of Vic Ruggiero (The Slackers), so it's worthy of a listen anyway. "This Place" is an explosive party started with its gang vocals and high pace, but it's only a minute long and therefore it passes by relatively unnoticed in the beginning of the record. "Lulu" sounds like Rancid on autopilot, which is sort of the feeling I get with many of the other tracks on the record that I haven't mentioned just yet, although we have to remember that Rancid on autopilot is still better than most bands in the genre.

That being said, "Let The Dominoes Fall" is by no means a bad album. As I mentioned before, during it's good moments, it's really fucking good, among the best releases this year for sure. During the less-awesome moments the record's still solid, but you have to remember we aren't just scoring this record on our regular rating scale, we're also comparing it to previous Rancid albums at the same time. Dropping a few weaker songs in favour of a shorter album would've made me like this album way more, but regardless, this is still a bombastic album and a must purchase for anyone who follows the punk scene at all. In short, Rancid shows why they are Rancid, one of the most respected punk bands still around.

Download: East Bay Night, Disconnected, The Bravest Kids, L.A. River, Up To No Good
For the fans of: NOFX, Bad Religion, Time Again, Left Alone
Listen: Myspace

Release date 02.06.2009
Hellcat Records

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