So here we are 30 years after Rancid’s eponymous debut. The 10th studio album and 7th to be produced by Bad Religion and Epitaph head honcho Brett Gurewitz, Tomorrow Never Comes has dropped. When Operation Ivy decided to shut up shop, there was a genuine feeling that the band never reached anything like their full potential. So, what Tim Armstrong and Matt Freeman have gone on to achieve during the intervening years, shows how wrong we were. As good as Op Ivy were, Rancid have scaled heights that we could have only imagined back then. The band still only have one UK Top 30 album to their name (2003’s Indestructible), despite many reaching platinum status worldwide. Success on a Green Day level has eluded them so far, but I doubt they really care,
Dismissed by many in the UK as cheap Clash imitators, in part due to the reggae/dub fusion around the time of Life Won’t Wait, today they’re more in The Pogues camp if anything. Armstrong’s gravel vocals would not sound out of place on much of Shane Magowan’s work. There is so much more depth to their music, with each instrument finding the space to exist, without smothering it’s neighbour.
This album release seemed to catch everyone by surprise. The recent Armstrong/Michaels (both ex-Operation Ivy) release as Bad Optix, definitely whetted the appetite of many a punk rock scribe, when it dropped out of the blue back in March. Inevitably questions were asked about whether there would be more tracks, perhaps even an album in the offing. Tim is a busy man and has recently produced the best British punk album in years, the eponymously titled 4th album from Isle of Wight’s Grade 2, so when news broke that June would see the release of “Tomorrow Never Comes”, the interest in Bad Optix faded into the background.
This is their first album since “Trouble Maker” in 2017 and it’s an object lesson in less is more, as the 16 tracks clock in at 29 minutes, shorn of any excess fat. A veritable lean mean, fighting machine. No tracks over 3 minutes, in fact the longest is New American, all done and dusted in 2mins 38 secs, with 10 tracks all being sub 2 minutes, most around 90 seconds.
I’m not sure who “Eddie The Butcher” is but he gets a song to himself and also a mention on the stand out Skids infused track New American. In fact this album is notable for the variety in Lars’s guitar work throughout. There’s even a sniff of Motorhead on title track Tomorrow Never Comes.
Listening to the lyrics, I get the distinct impression that Tim may have been influenced by pirates in part on this album. Eddie The Butcher, mentions of the Barbary Coast on Bloody & Violent History, and Mud Blood & Gold with the lines “Ghost ship Cuts through the mist, Enter through the Golden Gate” and “Fistfight, blood splatter, cobblestone, Face down in the sand is where they found ya”, all the clues are there to see Cap’n! As Tim says in Devil In Disguise “beware who’s around you hiding in plain sight!”
There’s always an anger and a passion with any Rancid album, and those are still obvious to see, but this has a different feel as the anger seems less personal somehow.
We’ll get the chance shortly, to hear how these new songs stand up live against a very distinguished back catalogue. For now, Tim has been involved with the best punk album you’ll hear in 2023, it’s just not this one, as good as it is.