Their music has always been personal and uncompromising, expressing their distaste for authority and their penchant for classic punk. But Rancid have never worn their hearts on their sleeves — until now.
The band's latest album, Indestructible, is a musical manifesto of strength and courage, reflecting all the styles in the group's arsenal — from the Clash-tinged groove of "Memphis" to the roaring punk firestorm of "Born Frustrated." Lyrically, however, is where the real breakthroughs take place.
Songs like "Ghost Band" and "Tropical London" are more poignant and confessional than most of the band's past output, revealing a sensitivity that aches and throbs like a tooth in need of a root canal. If you like the band's new vantage point toward surviving agonizing relationships, thank Distillers singer Brody Dalle. She's the one who walked out on her husband, Rancid guitarist and vocalist Tim Armstrong, and started the emotional exorcism.
"Initially this record was really political and hardcore," Armstrong said. "And then my wife left me. It was the most devastating thing that's ever happened to me."
Writing breakup music was clearly cathartic for Armstrong. Even songs of solidarity like the title track and "Fall Back Down" were charged by a survival instinct that was triggered by the breakup. For a while, however, the experience was so intense that Armstrong couldn't even cope with making music.
"We shut down and we didn't know if we were gonna make the record," he revealed. "And then I went back home to the Bay Area and I listened to what we had done and started writing some new songs. And I [found the process so therapeutic] I said, 'F--- it man, let's get back in the studio."
With the decision made to persevere, the floodgates opened and ideas began to pour out. Songs that were started before the split with Brody were completed from a new perspective. And when the strain of the split started to weigh on Armstrong, he leaned on his bandmates for support.
"We're not just a band. We talk to each other every day and go places every day and we're always there for each other," Armstrong said. "Half of this record is filled with tragedy and half of it is political, but the album title, Indestructible, is about how you can't take away our friendship, and no matter what happens, your music lives forever."
In addition to quickly finishing Indestructible, Armstrong wrote many Rancid songs that weren't recorded — a bundle of tunes for a future side project as well as tracks for the new Pink album, Try This (see "Pink + Punk = Plenty Of Spunk On Upcoming Try This"). If songwriting was once a crutch for the singer, now it's more like an addiction.
"I write songs every day now," he said. "I'm always like, 'I gotta find my guitar. Where the f--- is my guitar?!' And bam, I'm writing. All I know is making records, so that's what I'm focusing on. And I think it's a direct result of the pain."
It would be insane to suggest that Armstrong is grateful for the heartbreak he's been subjected to. He's just grateful for the creativity it has inspired.
"Billie Joe [Armstrong] from Green Day is my friend, and when he heard the record he said, 'This is your best record, man,' Armstrong said. "He said, 'If pain makes great records, f---, you did it, man.' "
Jon Wiederhorn, with reporting by Iann Robinson