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22 Years Ago: Rancid’s Self-Titled Debut Adds Another Chapter to the Saga of Punk Rock

Rancid album cover
Epitaph Records

Rancid are credited, along with Green Day and the Offspring, with breathing new life into punk rock music in the 1990s. Unlike the Offspring and Green Day, though, Rancid have always remained on the fringes of popular culture.

Instead of blending into the MTV crowd, Rancid seemed comfortable on the outside of the big party, choosing to get drunk and smash beer bottles in the figurative alley behind the building.

That, at least, is the picture that was conjured 22 years ago today, May 10, when Rancid released their self-titled debut album.

Green Day and the Offspring were products of middle-class boredom, contributing to the unwittingly nihilistic attitude of the 1990s. Rancid were drunken roughs who were too busy being pissed off about stuff to ever really get bored.

By the time Rancid released their self-titled debut, Green Day had already been around for a handful of years; Rancid members Tim Armstrong and Matt Freeman were already well-established in the general punk scene of California with the ska punk band Operation Ivy, which Billie Joe Armstrong cited as a major influence.

But it was apparent from the first notes of the opening track on Rancid that this was going to be something new — a different beast from Operation Ivy. The entire album, clocking in at a little over half an hour long, is pure rocket fuel. Guitars, bass, drums and vocals all exist to propel each song along at dangerous speeds with its proverbial head sticking out the window.

The lead track, “Adina,” runs well under two minutes. Freeman’s bass dances around constantly, underpinning buzzing guitars and Armstrong’s more aggressive vocal style:

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The song “Rats in the Hallway” is the sonic equivalent of a friendly fist fight happening in the back seat of a car going 60 MPH through downtown:

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Rancid is possessed by a beautiful sense of efficiency born of a single train of thought — move, move, move. It is the realization of a movement within punk that had been evolving throughout 1980s California in the wake of bands like Black Flag and Hüsker Dü. These bands established break-neck punk rock in America west of the Mississippi, then seemed to get bored with playing fast. Black Flag began slowing down, but the California punks still needed that speed and snotty attitude.

Just check out the track “Injury” for proof:

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Rancid gave the punks what they wanted while crafting deceptively catchy, accessible songs. Where Black Flag was always a tough sell to the mainstream kids, Rancid were showing themselves capable of connecting with people who wanted fast music that they could dance to. Songs like “Rejected” were great, not only for the sake of moshing, but for singing along with, as well:

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Despite the album’s catchy songs and high energy, it failed to break through to the masses the way Green Day and the Offspring did. Perhaps because of that, Rancid have maintained a certain level of punk rock credibility that the other two bands might lack today — depending on who you ask, of course.

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