With Rancid having released just one album in the last 10 years – 2009's somewhat underwhelming Let The Dominoes Fall – fans might have been forgiven for thinking that the quartet had rather lost interest in being in a band together.
Guitarist Lars Frederiksen and bassist Matt Freeman both now front their own bands, while mainman Tim Armstrong also produces, writes for Pink and Gwen Stefani, plays in Transplants, has a solo project and his own record label, so it’s not hard to understand why the East Bay punks have hardly been prolific in recent years.
Honor Is All We Know, then, is a pleasant surprise, a full-blooded, whole-hearted return from one of the So-Cal punk scene’s most important and influential bands. It opens with the punchy Back Where I Belong – Armstrong singing/slurring “I’ve been gone away too long, now I’m back where I’m belong” - and barely pauses for breath in the next half-hour, packing 14 songs into just 33 minutes. It’s not an album likely to broaden Rancid’s fan-base, but then that’s never been the point. Instead there are songs about loyalty and brotherhood, protest and pride, there are gang vocals and ‘Oi! Oi! Oi!’ chants, there’s a namecheck for Sham 69, a mention of a “bastard son of Christ” and enough full-tilt energy to make you think that you’re listening to a bunch of furious young bucks rather than a group of punk rock lifers who’ve been soaping up their hair spikes for four decades.
There are some great, great moments here. Collision Course salutes 45rpm records on turntables, DJs dropping needles and record shops – remember them? - in a mission statement about the empowering exhilaration of punk rock, Malfunction sounds like a souped-up Who and Already Dead has strong traces of Johnny Cash and Social Distortion in its outlaw DNA (“I lie, cheat and steal and I’ll break your fucking neck, and you’ll curse out my name when you take your last breath”). Not everything hits such heights – Now We’re Through With You is common-or-garden Rancid, while Everybody’s Sufferin’ is a cool keyboard groove in search a song – but when the quartet hit their stride, as on the infectious In The Streets or the brilliant title track, Rancid sound gloriously alive and utterly intoxicating.
Music critic bores who consider that punk should be frozen in aspic as a snapshot of UK youth revolution circa ‘76/‘77 have never given Rancid their due, refusing to believe in the ‘authenticity’ of punk rock created in the Sunshine State. Leave them to their nostalgia, for the best So-Cal punk rock will fire the blood as surely as the Pistols, Clash or Damned, and Honor Is All We Know is as fine a blast of three chords and the truth as you’ll hear all year. Welcome back where you belong fellas.