Out There

Today's Specials Life Won't Wait

Epitaph Records

With its fourth album, Rancid has hitched up its bondage pants and recorded a career-making album without changing all that much. It isn't the double-album answer to London Calling that was promised, but it's no Cut The Crap either--if anything, it feels like a ska-punk version of Mike Watt's Ball-Hog or Tugboat?, with appearances by the Mighty Mighty Bosstones' Dicky Barrett, D-Generation's Howie Pyro, Marky Ramone, Jane's Addiction drummer Stephen Perkins, and members of the Stubborn All-Stars and Hepcat. The guest shots are mostly just icing though, because the album doesn't feature anything significantly different from what Rancid has been doing all along; it just does it much better.

The band's first three albums were carbon-copies of The Clash and The Specials; they sounded like something halfway between tributes and plagiaries. Life Won't Wait is a laser-printed version of the term paper Rancid has been working on for seven years, complete with footnote appearances by The Specials' Lynval Golding, Neville Staples, and Roddy Byers on "Hooligans." Life Won't Wait could--and should--have been a dismal failure: Culled from a year's worth of sessions in San Francisco, New York, New Orleans, Los Angeles, and Jamaica, the album should have been as all over the map as the band's choice of recording locations, and as unfocused as a frat boy in Deep Ellum on a Saturday night.

And sometimes it is all over the place, but singer-guitarists Tim Armstrong and Lars Frederiksen's songwriting holds it together. Armstrong has, arguably, one of the most annoying voices ever heard on record, a garbled and slurring mumble; but he obviously doesn't realize this, and at times, his obliviousness (or indifference) is almost endearing. Whether he's trading rhymes with Jamaican toaster Buju Banton on the album's title track--which occasionally sounds like someone let one-hit blunder Snow into the studio--or showing off his soft side on the rare love song "Who Would've Thought," Armstrong's voice is so bad, it sometimes makes the songs better. His punch-drunk croon is especially effective on the poignant junkie's tale "Hoover Street."

There are still uncomfortable tributes to The Clash--Joe Strummer and Mick Jones should have received co-writing credit for "Lady Liberty." But songs such as "New Dress," with its cooing harmonies, and the staccato-guitar fueled "Something In The World Today" don't owe anything to anyone. And in the end, Life Won't Wait is the first evidence that Rancid may be coming into its own as a band, not relying on faded memories and scratched 45s.

--Zac Crain