1998 Rating: 9/10
2020 Rating: 8/10
I have Rancid to thank for beginning my obsession with punk rock. I remember listening to my newly purchased CD of …And Out Come The Wolves for the first time alone in my parents’ car at the age of fifteen. I didn’t know any of the songs except for the two radio singles, and it was an absolute revelation, banger after banger. It kicked off a summer where I listened to nothing but Rancid. There’s probably been enough retrospectives on Rancid’s highest-rated album, but just last week, I had a dream that I would write a piece about Rancid’s follow-up to Wolves, their fourth studio album, Life Won’t Wait (which goes to show you how exciting my life has become now that I’m dreaming about writing assignments). “Prepare yourself for the evidence which will follow…”
Life Won’t Wait stands out from the rest of the Rancid discography. For example, the tracks on Wolves blend into each other, whereas each track off Life Won’t Wait is unique in its own way. It opens with the energetic “Bloodclot,” a song I would place in the “Hard Lars” subcategory, in which Lars Frederiksen furiously belts out his vocals with little to no melody (Rancid’s fifth album is full of ‘Hard Lars’ songs). The next track “Hoover Street” has a completely different mood, one I would categorize as a “Romantic Tim” song, along with “Who Would’ve Thought” and “Corazon De Oro,” where Tim Armstrong sounds like he has a mouthful of bee-stings that he tried to remedy by chugging bottle after bottle of cough syrup. What I’m trying to say is Armstrong famously mumbles incoherently in a lot these songs, as if he’s slowly nodding off while serenading the woman of his dreams. I prefer straight punk songs like “Warsaw” and my personal favourite “1998,” where Tim sounds a lot more awake, yet still unintelligible. I kind of wish Matt Freeman had more of a vocal presence on this album, since I love his rough rock n’ roll style, but I’ll gladly settle for his constant killer bass lines.
Rancid really went all out with the instrumentation on this album, something they haven’t really repeated on later releases. The Hammond organ is a lot more prominent on the ska songs, courtesy of Vic Ruggiero of the Slackers. There’s also the use of harmonicas in the intro track and “Cocktails,” saloon piano on “Crane Fist,” brass sections on “Backslide” and “Wrongful Suspicion,” xylophones on “Hoover Street,” and steel drums on “Coppers.” In the 90s, ska was obscured by white kids in the American suburbs, who were ripping off white kids in the UK, who ripped off the style from Jamaican immigrants. Rancid paid tribute to the roots of ska and reggae by travelling to Kingston to record the dub-heavy title track, which features guest vocals from dancehall artist Buju Banton. But there’s a variety of American flavours as the band recorded all over the US; beyond the sun-drenched punk of Southern California, there’s the rich musical history of New Orleans, and the gritty sounds of the New York City streets mixed in.
I’ve always found the twenty-plus track-listing of Rancid’s albums a bit overwhelming, and with a runtime of more than an hour, it was hard finding the time to listen to Life Won’t Wait from beginning to end. Regardless, it still remains one of my favourite Rancid albums. I can listen to it over and over without tiring of it, even now that I’ve completely matured out of my ska phase. The songs sound just as good as they did when I first listened to them more than ten years ago.
Written by Chris Aitkens
*edited by Danielle Kenedy