At this stage of their career, it’s almost impossible to envision Rancid as anything other than the four-piece ska/punk powerhouse which has been responsible for songs like “Roots Radicals,” “Ruby Soho,” “Bloodclot,” “Fall Back Down” and “Last One To Die”; they are that punk-identified pop institution. At this point in their career, the band is inextricably linked with the sound of Tim Armstrong’s cracked vocal rasp, Matt Freeman’s busy bass and surly backup vocals, Lars Frederiksen’s understatedly brilliant and searing guitar and the locked-tight drums supplied first by Brett Reed and then by Branden Steineckert – that is what fans have come to expect from the band.
That expectation may be understandable, but that doesn’t mean Rancid came out of a box or simply arrived in a ready-to-serve form. Rather, Rancid required a little bit of time to firm up stylistically. Many fans know that Rancid’s self-titled debut full-length album (released in 1993) featured Rancid as a three-piece band (Lars Frederiksen would join the band for the album’s supporting tour), but even that album’s sound was more comparable to the “Rancid” sound than that which can be heard on Rancid’s self-titled debut 7” EP, originally released on Lookout Records less than a year after the band began its journey.
Now, decades after its original release, there’s no question that listeners will be floored by what they hear here. As needle catches groove on the A-side and “I’m Not The Only One” kicks the doors open, listeners (who aren’t familiar with the ground on which the band started) will be able to feel their eyes widen and facial muscles begin to tighten as a looped sample of cackling laughter, Freeman’s bass and a really turgid sounding guitar part grind the song open. Granted, this sounds a little like Rancid, but this opening is still pretty jarring and ominous.
Happily though, the mood changes at the same rate that the song’s tempo does (about twenty-two seconds into the song) and the going gets exponentially better for the remaining two minutes of the track. Listeners with a sense of history will be able to pick out the keystone elements of what would come to be known as “classic” Rancid (Tim Armstrong’s slurred vocals an scruffy guitar, Matt Freeman’s busy bass and corrosive background vocals, predominantly), but also recognize a sense of nervousness in the performance which illustrates that nobody is perfectly confident in the band quite yet. That fact is more than a little gratifying; granted, the song is far from perfect (the return to the more grind-y sounds with which the song opened during its bridge is unnecessary), but there’s no denying that, if not solid, this is a well-rehearsed start.
The imperfect assemblage which opened the A-side of Rancid endures as “Battering Ram” follows on the heels of “I’m Not The Only One.” There, the more street punk-informed side of Rancid’s sound replaces the poppier one in the preceding track and serves the performance of the song brilliantly – even if Matt Freeman’s voice does sound uncharacteristically thin. Armstrong’s lyrics (like “Some people are rotten deep down to the core/ Some people got the kick of a bull/ and the lies of a chronic thief in store”) ring with fantastic power here and, while “Battering Ram” illustrates that a good bridge has always been a dicey proposition for Rancid, the energy level is far higher and remains high until the song’s end – which means those listening will be anxious to flip the provebial disc to see what comes next.
…And it is at the opening of the B-side, with the presentation of “The Sentence,” that all the tumblers align and Rancid begins to hammer down some great promise. There, again, Rancid opens with the same kind of ramp-up that “Battering Ram” did but when the song falls into a street punk run, the effect is a chime – the band’s first real work of art – rather than a thud. In this case, Tim Armstrong doesn’t try to move back and forth with the song’s tempo to imply movement, he just runs flat-out as fast as he can for a minute and a half, forcing Freeman and Reed to just try and lock to that tempo or fall off and be left behind. In the end listeners listeners will find themselves invigorated and excited by “The Sentence” and, while Rancid doesn’t quite achieve the same level of excellence anywhere else on the side (“Media Controller”suffers from featuring a little too much vocal assistance from Freeman, as does “Idle Hands”), the sense of satisfaction left when the needle does lift off the 45 is undeniable.
So, taking the band’s entire catalogue into account, it can only be said that this self-titled EP is not perfect, but it is a perfect place to start for Rancid. All of the greatness that the band would eventually achieve as well as little bits of every side angle the band would take are hinted at and/or are sketched out here, but none of it is completely realized. Some might call that frustrating but, when it’s possible to draw in the connective tissue between this EP and such masterworks as Let’s Go, …And Out Come The Wolves and Life Won’t Wait, it’s awfully difficult to really find fault in this running or not get excited by it. That said, whether on one of the original Lookout copies (be it one of the versions with a newsprint cover or the “fancier,” glossier slipcase copies, or on the renamed Pirates Press reissue – Rancid is essential listening for any and all of the band’s fans.
(Lookout! Records 1992, Pirates Press, 2012)
Rancid’s debut EP was reissued (sort of it appears on the B-sides and C-sides set) on Pirates Press in 2012 and remains in print. Buy it here: http://www.piratespressrecords.com/essentials/rancid.