Rancid | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Just when I think I'm completely and permanently immune to polemical art in all its forms, I run smack into Rancid (Hellcat), the second self-titled album (and fifth full-length overall) by this celebrated Bay Area punk quartet. And guess what? It feels shockingly good to hear guitarist and singer Tim Armstrong start the anti-TV rant "Antennas" by snarling "You're selling sexism, you're selling racism" and end it with "Let California fall in the fucking ocean." His bluntness sounds refreshing, not boneheaded--plus it's encouraging to hear stuff like this coming from a band that, according to any standard music-industry timeline, should've signed to a major and dropped the politics years ago, right after "Salvation" hit big on MTV. Rancid's great accomplishment on this record is that they can make you believe it's actually worth the trouble to yell about shit that outrages you, even though it won't change the world--first, because it might make a difference somehow, even if it's just to one person, and second, because it's such an amazing rush. On "Black Derby Jacket" I get so caught up in the grace-kissed blur of guitars and drums that I hardly pay attention to the words at all, and guitarist and singer Lars Frederiksen's surprisingly tuneful bark becomes just another great sound effect--until the instruments drop out at the end and he delivers a bittersweet farewell, "I've got a new perspective on you." Combining two great punk-rock traditions, the political atrocity song and the rocky relationship song, "Rwanda" is a love letter to a wounded nation, with an oi-style chorus elevated by Matt Freeman's slip-sliding, McCartney-esque bass. Though its lyrics are simplistic--a line like "Won't you be strong / Like a lion" seems so naive it's almost poignant--the music is so fierce and the band's conviction so sincere that any criticism feels like quibbling to me. I don't expect to hear a tune I like better all year. As Armstrong puts it on "G.G.F.," the album's closer: "When the field is wide open / I'll pick the horse who's got the biggest heart." Thursday, November 2, 7 PM, Riviera Theatre, 4746 N. Racine; 773-275-6800 or 312-559-1212.


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