Formed from the ashes of ska punk legends Operation Ivy in Berkeley, California in 1991, Rancid were one of the most surprising success stories of punk rock's foray into the mainstream in the mid-'90's.
Whilst peers Green Day were able to craft universally anthemic, classic sounding pop rock songs, The Offspring benefitted from having, at the very least, half a stylistic foot in the alternative rock boom that Nirvana kicked off and Blink 182 were blessed with boy band good looks, Rancid borrowed from the distinctly uncommercial sound of street level punk; all spiky leather jackets, mohawks and Oi! aggression.
Despite seeming like a fundamental throwback to punk rock's first five years, they became one of the most successful bands of the era; going Platinum, giving major labels the finger and giving us a catalogue of endlessly fantastic bangers to chant, skank, pogo and bawl along to. And, as is proven by their recent adoption by AEW superstar Ruby Soho, the music they make is as enduring as ever.
Here is every studio album they have recorded, ranked from worst to best.
9) Let the Dominoes Fall (2009)
A rare mis-step in the Rancid back catalogue, but that doesn’t mean that their seventh studio album isn’t peppered with some truly brilliant punk rock songs.
In fact, despite the fact that we consider Let The Dominoes Fall (opens in new tab) to be the worst Rancid album, it starts with the power, pace and energy of an out-of-control freight train; East Bay Night, This Place, Up to No Good, Last One to Die and Disconnected all coming back-to-back at the start of the album promise another classic.
Sadly, it’s as front loaded as any album that you care to mention, with only a couple of the tracks that follow in its wake living up to that magnificent opening. Definitely not bad, but a very disjointed affair.
8) ...Honor Is All We Know (2014)
It took five years to follow up Let the Dominoes Fall, and while that lengthy break didn’t quite result in a glorious return to form, ...Honor is All We Know (opens in new tab) certainly feels like a more coherent and consistent record that its predecessor.
As usual, Rancid pull out a few worldies to remind us of their quality; the title track is as boisterous and bawdy as you’d like Rancid to always be, Grave Digger is superb, two step melodic hardcore and opener Back Where I Belong is Rancid at their most wonderfully chaotic. The rest of the album is decent, and some of the fire had clearly returned to their bellies, but the excellent standard they had set was just out of reach overall.
7) Trouble Maker (2017)
The best Rancid album in about a decade and a half, Trouble Maker (opens in new tab) finds them capturing something approaching the energy, vigour and, crucially, the massive choruses of their glory days.
From the moment Track Fast bombs past you at a million miles per hour and segues into the equally animated Ghost of a Chance you can tell that this is a different Rancid to the ones we’ve been getting over their past few efforts. But it’s when Tim Armstrong’s iconic slurred vocals drool all over the perfect Ramones-esque guitar pop of Telegraph Avenue that Trouble Maker really cements itself as a great Rancid album.
Add the truly excellent likes of Where I’m Going, Farewell Lola Blue and I Kept a Promise and you’ve got a hell of a good time.
6) Rancid (1993)
Rancid’s self-titled debut album (opens in new tab) is a great deal of fun, full of loose, sweat soaked, snarling street punk, captured as raw and as ready as the genre was meant to be. But it is missing one thing; guitarist and vocalist Lars Frederiksen, who would join after the release of the record and who went on to provide such an essential ying to Tim Armstrong’s yang. Matt Freeman is a hell of a bassist, and on the occasion that he grabs the mic these days it’s a cool little nod to the past, but as a vocalist and foil to Tim, he is no Frederiksen.
Saying that, the songs that Rancid were writing here, Hyena, Rats in the Hallway, Outta My Mind, are all killer, pummelling melodic punk, and Armstrong already sounds a completely unique vocalist with a real flair for melody and storytelling, something he went on to prove many times over in the aftermath of this record.
5) Rancid (2000)
Sorry if this is a bit confusing, but we definitely prefer the band's self-titled album (opens in new tab) to their self-titled album. The better of the pair is the one where, after some incredible mainstream success, Rancid decided to chuck away the massive choruses and sunny ska vibes of their previous work, and instead borrow from Discharge, Poison Idea and G.B.H. to make an album of hyper-aggressive, warp speed hardcore.
Opener Don Giovanni is only just over 30 seconds long, and might be the most furious song of the band's career 'til this point, but it’s matched time and time again on this record; Rattlesnake, Loki and Rigged on a Fix all present Rancid as a rough, angry as fuck, killer hardcore band.
It’s certainly an odd stylistic choice, although once you get your head around the idea it works, but with such expert songwriters in the band they couldn’t fail to give you at least one big anthem: lead single Let Me Go feels like the only left over from the more danceable Life Won’t Wait, making it the stand out track on a very interesting record.
4) Indestructible (2003)
In the aftermath of Armstrong’s well publicised split from his then-wife, Brody Dalle of The Distillers, Rancid returned with an album that musically harked back to the most beloved period of their career.
Indestructible (opens in new tab) could be looked at as Tim’s rebirth, with Lars playing the role of his best friend, band mate and shoulder to cry on, and Rancid sound as defiant, emotional and inspired as ever. The album is dominated by the clearly autobiographical Fall Back Down, which became one of the biggest songs the band ever released, and is one of the most perfect “No, no, I LOVE you mate!” statements ever made in music.
There are plenty of other treats here though, Spirit of ‘87 is Elton John’s Saturday Nights Alright for Fighting if he grew up listening to Black Flag, Back Up Against the Wall is catchier than Covid at an Eric Clapton concert, and David Courtney is a tribute to the London gangster that is so faaaaackin' brilliantly snotty and confrontational that it needs sticking in a Borstal. A great comeback.
3) Let’s Go (1994)
The first Rancid album to feature the talents of former UK Subs guitarist Lars Frederiksen, Let’s Go (opens in new tab) is the moment where the Rancid that we know and love were truly born. It ended up going gold in the US, charting in the Billboard Top 100, and made the band hot property after MTV picked up on the single Salvation.
It was a shock at the time to see music that was the antithesis of what was considered commercially viable get such traction, but Let’s Go is just so fantastically instantaneous and joyous that we shouldn’t really have been too surprised.
Today the track listing looks filled to the brim with beloved punk rock songs; Nihilism, Burn, Tenderloin, Sidekick, St. Mary... we could go on, but the key one here is Radio, a song that may be the best of their career; a poignant ode to the importance of music in their lives, it is 2 minutes and 51 seconds that completely sum up the appeal of Rancid and showcases everything sublime about this band.
2) Life Won’t Wait (1998)
Rancid have been compared to The Clash a lot. Back when their fourth album was released, with the band having gone to Kingston, Jamaica to record parts of it, the naysayers lined up to sneer that it was more Clash cosplay, just a riff on that band’s 1980 effort Sandinista. That’s all well and good, but, frankly, Sandinista wishes it was as half as good as Life Won’t Wait (opens in new tab).
This is Rancid’s most ska-focused album, with Hoover Street, Crane Fist, Hooligans and the title track, featuring reggae star Buju Banton, all having real dancehall vibes (all are absolutely brilliant by the way), but there is more to Life Won’t Wait than this. New Dress has a chattering rock and roll swing to it, Who Would Have Thought is a beautiful doo-wop style lament, The Wolf has a fabulous punk snarl, 1998 has an almost new wave/post-punk chug mixed with a fantastic bawl-along chorus, and Turntable is a party starting, rabble rousing effort.
It might be the broadest album Rancid have ever recorded, and they get it pretty much spot on whatever they turn their hand to. It would be most punk bands' best album, but you already know that it isn’t this band’s best, don’t you?
1)… And Out Come the Wolves (1995)
This is the worst to best of Rancid, but, to be perfectly honest, were we to do the worst to best of Epitaph Records, or even punk rock, …And Out Come the Wolves (opens in new tab) would still be sitting here at the top of the pile. It really is that good, that life affirming, that adrenaline inducing, a stone cold, perfect, classic record.
It’s hard to articulate just what makes Rancid’s third album such a wondrous thing, you just have to hear it, to feel it, to truly understand. But, basically, every second of … And Out Come the Wolves feels like you first kiss, your first ever sip of beer, your first fist-fight, the bell going on the last day of class before the summer holidays, your football team's FA Cup final winning goal hitting the back of the net, every unforgettable night out with all of your best friends all rolled into one.
Highlights? Jesus, where do we even start? Matt Freeman’s ridiculously nimble fingered solo on Maxwell Murder, Lars’ voice cracking in that spine-tingling key change in Roots Radical, that first “Oi oi oi!” on Alleyways and Avenues, Tim Armstrong’s lyrics and storytelling being so audaciously vivid on Olympia, WA. Every. Single. Solitary. Chorus. On. Every. Single. Song. Does that help?
Sometimes bands capture lightning in a bottle, and that’s what ...And Out Come the Wolves is; a perfect moment in time, where the stars aligned and turned a very, very good punk band into one of the most essential punk rock bands in history.