Thursday, 8 July 2010

...And Out Come The Wolves

[Above] Rancid's '...And Out Come The Wolves', 1995

Good morning heartache; You're like an old friend, come and see me again

I've been working as a labourer while I'm back from college, stripping paint, pulling up carpets, sanding down, digging, etc. As it is I quite like that kind of work, especially if it's cash-in-hand. At the moment I'm working on a house with Ray Waters, and we talk all kinds of music while we work. The other day as we were planting lovely flowers (awwww) after several hours of back-breaking digging (arrrgggghh) we got talking about Rancid's third album, 'And Out Come The Wolves'. When I got home and listened to it, I realised that it's an album that's deeply influenced me; and I thought I'd write a bit about an often misunderstood [at least outside punk rock circles] band and album.

The chief division in this album is between the melodic and the discordant. Although every song is written like a classic pop song - there are very few that don't use the bridge/verse/chorus/bridge/verse/chorus/solo/double chorus form - the voices of Tim Armstrong, Lars Fredericksen and Matt Freeman aren't suitable for pop music in the slightest. They are rough, dirty and broken. Tim Armstrong really can't sing in any traditional sense. It doesn't matter. When he croaks and screams his way through Olympia W.A. you can hear his pain. Coupled with distorted, toothy guitar work, grizzled bass and an uncompromising drumbeat, there is a constant tension in each song between traditional pop elements and the punk aesthetic. A lot of Rancid's energy springs from this; their ability to take simple songs and imbue them with a definite aesthetic manifesto through their use of guitar tone, vocal style and their raw energy and passion; often the sound of their very real desperation.

What really allows Rancid to carry off this careful balancing act is the quality of the lyrics and the world evoked throughout. The lyrics themselves are something of a meeting of worlds too; a balancing act between [mainly] Armstrong's, but also Frederiksen's, twin instincts for romanticism and the unflinching reportage of white lower-middle- and working-class lives. For example, the song Roots Radicals from '...Wolves':

The radio was playing, Desmond Dekker was singing
On the 43 bus as we climb up the hill
Nothing incoming but the reggae drumming
And we all come from unloving homes

The almost feel-good image of the first three lines is undercut bluntly by the fourth; in the same way, the bridge of the song reveals a trembling desperation bubbling away beneath the song's evocation of teenage listlessness;

The music execution and the talk of revolution, it bleeds in me

'Something has to happen!' It seems to scream, 'there has to be something more!'; this song has to be more than a song; these words have to be more than words, there has to be a meaning; music has to be, 'a place to go', to borrow a line from the Rancid song Radio [On 'Let's Go', their second album]. This kind of salvation, achievable through an honest engagement with the emotional and intellectual content of rock, reggae and other forms of popular music, is something that runs right through this album; the need for salvation, for redemption, the longing for the 'cars rushing by' to go 'my way' in Olympia W.A.; the recognition of 'something burning deep inside of me'. Music becomes more than a passtime, a fad or entertainment, it becomes a way of understanding turbulent emotion; working out societal boundaries and giving meaning to a life that never will fit in with mainstream notions of success, propriety or glamour. Not only giving it meaning, but filling it with meaning; recast in the dirt and grit of Rancid's songs and lyrics, an examination of feelings that human beings have been wrestling with for centuries in art are made available to [some of] the people who need it; the unsuccessful, unpropitious, unglamorous kids on street corners in lower-middle and working-class areas across the UK and the US. To offer hope, a romantic sensibility, perhaps the offer of redemption.

The oppressed, the displaced, the frustrated, if they will not or cannot siphon their rage into alcohol or drugs, if they can't blunt their sense of worthlessness with crime and violence, will always look for salvation. This album taps into fundamentals of the human condition, and expresses them with the eloquence of the sufferer; by turns angered (Lock, Step & Gone), sad (The Wars End), full of regret (Ruby Soho), full of love (She's Automatic). There is warmth here, and humility, and a lot of humanity. Although Rancid later became a little more macho and less interesting, '...And Out Come The Wolves' is a testament to belief in music; the belief needed to overcome class, birth and social paralysis.

Desperation & Hope; you might phrase it Broken & The Blessed.

No comments:

Post a Comment