Hard-Core Pogo

Listening to the new Rancid CD, I can't help but recall Canadian director Bruce McDonald's 1997 punk-rock tragicomedy, "Hard Core Logo." The movie follows a bunch of punk almost-stars, Hard Core Logo (who in the late '70s got as far as opening a few CBGB gigs for the Ramones and the Dead Boys), as they reunite in financial and personal desperation to give one last thumping on what would turn out to be a doomed winter tour of western Canada.

The music still kicks, and the band gives it all they have, but something is just not quite right as these now middle-aged men struggle to relive their dissipated teenage dreams. Still, for all the pathos, and for all their character flaws, Hard Core Logo ends up seeming near heroic as they blister the paint from the walls of one rock dive after another.

I mention this because I kind of feel the same way listening to this new Rancid album as I did watching that movie. For those of us who saw the early days of punk as an attempt to return to a primal rock source from which the music could (hopefully) redevelop in ways that didn't resemble Yes' Tales From Topographic Oceans, to hear a band in the year 2000 still cranking out those same two or three ram-a-lama "White Riot" chords over and over... well, it underscores the irony of that naive, failed punk ideal. Namely, that what was supposed to be anti-formula turned out to be a quite durable formula instead.

Not that one blames Rancid for this; not at all. In fact, as was the case with "Hard Core Logo," it's almost heartening to hear these guys thrashing hell-bent through songs such as "Rigged on a Fix" (RealAudio excerpt), which chides the delusions of "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire" addicts, and the blow-it-all-up nihilistic riff-rocker "It's Quite Alright" (RealAudio excerpt), as if all of this was still a matter of life and death.

In an age of "been there, done that" cynicism, Rancid come across like true believers — hell, these ARE the guys who turned down a major-label deal to stay with indie Epitaph Records, after all — and maybe, in the end, that's all that matters. Who needs Johnny Rotten slapping massive beer bellies with Steve Jones, telling you it was all just a cheap joke in the first place? That's no more believable than the notion that punk rock, or any kind of music, for that matter, is ever going to change the world.

So yes, for now, Rancid it is. Crank up Rancid's skanky dub-punk number "Radio Havana" (RealAudio excerpt) loud enough, and it sure enough does seem like 1977 again — if only for a little while. Got any better ideas?