Trouble Maker – Rancid (album review)

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(promotional art for the Trouble Maker album)

For a long time now I have been a fan of the Punk movement for the fashion, the attitude, the music and what it represents. I personally think the Punk Movement was one of the most important events in musical history and I rarely pass an opportunity to sing its praises. However, in spite of my adoration and respect for the genre, I often find myself over-looking it in a bid for new styles of music. Seeing the release of Trouble Maker, a very recent album by Punk icons, Rancid, I have decided to address this and catch up with a genre I had otherwise left neglected.

Rancid are far from new and unknown, since starting in 1991 they have amassed a large following and are often credited, along with Green Day and The Offspring, for spearheading a resurgence of punk in the mid-90’s. Whilst they may not have achieved the level of mainstream success Green Day enjoyed, they are largely respected by fans of the music for their consistency and a character which largely remains committed to the ideals and attitude of earlier Punk bands from the 70’s and 80’s. Punk has manifested in a number of ways through the years, ranging from the upbeat cheek of The Sex Pistols to the raw brutality of bands such as The Exploited and Rancid have always worn the banner of Ska Punk, shrugging off the hate-fuelled aggression of other bands in favour of a bouncy and upbeat feel of their own.

In spite of my love for the Punk movement, Rancid are one of the key names I have little experience with. I’ve heard a few of their albums in my time, but don’t have anything to really compare this album to – which, following my previous review, may be a positive thing. Generally speaking, I have always gravitated towards the more anger-fuelled Punk bands such as The Exploited, Anti-Nowhere League and Subhumans and as such it feels a change of pace from what I’m used to. This being said, I feel very positive about this album! In a manner similar to the Dubtopia album by Gentleman’s Dub Club, I find myself won over by the positive energy and personality of this newest release. There are a number of more raw and harsh-sounding tracks on this album, but this just appeals to my love of Hardcore Punk and, in my eyes, just carries the banner of what Punk really is.

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(image sourced from Bombshellzine.com)

Punk has always been an inspiration to me and I have always seen such a positive energy to it – especially in the more aggressive-sounding Punk bands. It cries out for you to live your life, live without barriers and screams for you to embrace your character and opinions and I find this as important today as it ever has been. Bands like this encourage this attitude and for that I feel they deserve so much respect. This album is no different – it makes you feel younger, more energetic and, most importantly, it pushes you into living your life. As a criticism, I would argue that the album should be a little bit longer, but the short and sweet approach exists through so much of Punk music and this album isn’t really short enough for this to be too much of a criticism.

I feel there are many parts in this album where the bass seems to carry the music a little as well. The instrumentation isn’t poorly written or performed, it just seems very predictable – but in a genre like this it is hard to avoid that. The instrumentation always seems fine, but I feel the heavily Ska-influenced bass lines give the tracks so much more colour – particularly in tracks such as Beauty of the Pool Hall and Ghost of a Chance. There are times in this album I feel they could use brass instruments, just to truly accent this Ska inspiration and draw a little more character from the album but this seems to serve the simplicity and organic feel of the band.

There’s a lot to recommend this album for and I would heartily do so, but don’t go into it expecting a peaceful and easy-listening experience. There is a wonderful rawness to this album, a glorious Punk-Rock pace and an abundance of character and I think it’s important to remember music like this and the youth and excitement we so easily forget. Albums like this remind me that music can still have heart, passion and energy and it pulls me through when I start to have doubts about music in general. Above all things, however, it reminds me that music can still be fun.

How Did We Get So Dark? – Royal Blood (album review)

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(official album artwork from How Did We Get So Dark?)

With my recent review of The XX, I have gone from one band I once loved in their early days of few studio releases and fast-growing fan base to another, I find myself in the position of rediscovering a band I once enjoyed – this time discovering a higher level of disappointment in them. Given that this album was released six days ago (at time of writing), it will be hard to approximate the level of success this album will get – but my opinion may be altered by my sheer lack of exposure to its marketing and general dissatisfaction of the album.

Royal blood is a name that will likely be familiar to a lot of people, given that they are a very recent band and, in the past few years, they received a sizeable amount of attention from general mainstream music fans and continued to spread beyond that. The band have enjoyed a reputation as being a Hard Rock/Blues Rock band reminiscent of older bands such as Wolfmother and have been appreciated by many for their take and homage to acts like this and, by many musicians, for the sound they achieve as a two-piece band.

My general opinion of Royal Blood has previously been positive, but the fact I did ease out of them speaks aloud to me. Though I have a respect for the band and I enjoy their older music, I just feel like they’re a bit of a one-trick pony and, despite the quality of their music, they never seem to stray far from a dynamic they’re obviously more comfortable with. I’ve always considered them to be a consistently good band, which is a good thing in many ways- but it seems to lack humanity when they can’t seem to perform better than this standard and don’t ever fall below into mediocrity. I just feel this makes it harder to develop a personal connection with them.

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(image sourced from Consequence of Sound webpage)

Another issue I have with Royal Blood is with the length of their albums. Now, don’t get me wrong – I have heard albums around the 40 minute mark which were absolutely phenomenal, and one might appreciate their desire to keep it short at the risk of compromising album quality, but 34 minutes? That’s just insane. I consider this, and then relate it to the Opiate EP by Tool which, as an EP, is a total of almost 27 minutes and I just feel faced with an overwhelming impression of laziness – especially when you consider the album before came to a total of nearly 33 minutes. Now I know that you’re thinking it’s not that much of a deal and I’m just being neurotic but I’m about to explain why that train of thought is totally wrong.

This album sells at approximately the same price as any other studio album, retailing at £14.99 – ten pounds more than their previously released self-titled album would cost to buy now, which is of drastically superior value with a stronger track listing and a far more organic, raw and energetic feel. This makes for a far smaller return for the money invested in the album and just makes it impossible to recommend for purchase, especially when you can find copies of albums like Dark Side of the Moon, OK Computer and Hatful of Hollow (listed as some of the best albums of all time from various sources) for far less than this.

But I digress, value for money aside, I can’t recommend this album to anybody apart from existing fans of the band. From a production point it is really good, the music sounds pretty cool in places – but there aren’t any songs I can put above anything from their self-titled album. They started off well with their previous album, and I would recommend that for a great many reasons, but it was clearly too much for them to follow and I just stand really disappointed. Part of the negativity behind this review stems from the fact I did really enjoy Royal Blood in the past and now I’ve just seen them fall from that standard. That all said, the album still shows their ability to write hard-hitting drum grooves, cool riffs and maintain a raw drive, which leaves them capable of a return to form in their next studio release if they stay true to what gave them their character in their earlier days.