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Punks prove they are indestructible

Steve Hoeplinger | Tuesday, September 9, 2003

A lot has happened to Rancid since its last album. They’ve endured major trauma and hospitalizations, the death of family members, close friends and a mentor and the breakup of marriages. The good news for them, and for punks all over the world, is that they have picked themselves up, dusted themselves off and come back with a personally touching, totally balls-out hardcore record that proves why they are Indestructible.

The album opens up with the title track, a rocking little song in which lead singer and guitarist Tim Armstrong blasts consumerism and his ex-wife, gives a mini-lesson in Greek history and pays tribute to his late mentor Joe Strummer, all in under two minutes. The tone shifts radically with “Red Hot Moon,” an addictive ska piece featuring rapper Rob Aston that is reminiscent of 1995’s album … And Out Come the Wolves, and proves that Rancid are still the masters of the ska-punk genre. One of the most interesting tracks on the album is a song called “David Courtney,” written about a punk rocker crime boss who acts as a Robin Hood figure to the poor people of London. Aside from the hooky chorus, it features a chilling spoken word monologue at the end of the song that leaves tingles up the spine.

Indestructible also shows Rancid’s political side. “Start Now” is a song about talking your problems through instead of going to war, “Born Frustrated” blasts dead-eyed mall junkies, “Stand Your Ground” is dedicated to the homeless of Los Angeles and “Arrested in Shanghai” features Armstrong singing from the point of view of a political prisoner in China. Punk purists would most likely scoff at this slow, ballad-esque poem, but the song is reminiscent of both Joe Strummer and Bob Dylan and exhibits the band’s more mature musical talents.

Also, the album’s personal songs do not disappoint. The first of these is “Fall Back Down.” The chorus is easy to identify with for anyone who has ever relied on their friends to help them through a bad time: “If I fall back down, / You’re gonna help me back up again.” “Spirit of ’87” is about growing up in the punk community and how it saved them from being “either dead or in jail.” The album also has a few breakup songs dedicated to Armstrong’s wife Brody, who left him halfway through the recording process. “Tropical Melbourne” and “Ghost Band” leave the singer’s heart on his sleeve for all to hear. “Other Side” is dedicated to the memory of guitarist Lars Frederickson’s brother Robert, who died in 2001. As the album’s final track, it is a sendoff that manages to be mature and hardcore at the same time.

While “Indestructible” is a quality album, it is by no means the band’s best. The problems, though few, are easy to identify. At times, the sound mix gets muddy and some guitar solos blur and sound generic. The most important thing missing from this album is bass player Matt Freeman. Freeman is undoubtedly the best rock bass player alive today, but this album lacks the amazing bass lines and jaw-dropping solos that have become his trademark.

On the whole, this is a solid album. Fans of the band will like hearing the more heartfelt lyrics and punk rockers in general should get a kick out of the variety in the musical styles. It’s just hooky enough that people who have never heard of the band before or who don’t like punk rock as a principle might find a few songs they enjoy.

Contact Stephen Hoeplinger at shoeplin@nd.edu