…And Out Come the Wolves – Review

Epitaph Records, 1995

Rancid is not my favorite band. They’re up there, probably in the top 5, but not number one. However, I do think that their 1995 album …And Out Come the Wolves is the best punk album ever recorded. And as the best example of my favorite genre, it gets the title of “Best Album” from me without question.

It meets all the criteria of a great album. I can listen to it any time, as many times as I feel like and never get tired of it. It gets better the more I listen to it. There are no tracks I feel like skipping. It brings me back to a nostalgic place and several individual tracks conjure specific memories, and all of good times. Most importantly, it captures a band at their perfect creative peak, when their musical talent was mature, the environment was primed, and they struck while the iron was hot. Brilliant music was simply effortless for Rancid in 1995. It was as though people were just waiting for this exact album to drop.

The record kicks off with one of the most famous, blistering opening tracks in punk music history, Maxwell Murder. For all of its one and a half minute runtime it crackles with energy, and halfway through, lets the whole world know exactly how good a bass player Matt Freeman is with perhaps punk’s first virtuoso bass solo. I’ve told people about this bass solo before and had them scoff at the idea, only to be silenced the moment they heard it. I’ve been playing bass guitar for more than 10 years and I still can’t play this solo.

After that, the gears switch to mid-tempo, perfectly catchy punk rock with The 11th Hour, priming you well for Roots Radicals – widely considered one of the best punk songs ever written. Of course, I’d agree. It might be the best. I still remember the first time I heard this song. I’d listened to a little punk rock before, mostly of the Green Day/Offspring/NOFX variety, and while Rancid would find themselves in familiar company with those bands, before hearing Roots Radicals I never considered myself a “punk fan”. This one song converted me. The chorus is the definition of the word “hook” – it’s irresistible.

I didn’t think it would get any better than that, but then I was hit by Time Bomb – Rancid’s first recorded foray into ska (on full-length albums at least. I Wanna Riot may have come before, but was a B-side). Coming from Operation Ivy, Tim Armstrong and Matt Freeman were adamant that Rancid would be straight-up punk, not another ska band. Fortunately for me, they couldn’t resist the pull for too long. If Roots Radicals is a perfect punk song, Time Bomb is a perfect ska song. Upbeat, extremely energetic, and ridiculously catchy.

I could describe every one of the 19 tracks on this record with the same level of passion, but that would be a little too self-indulgent. Suffice to say, there isn’t anything approaching a dud on this entire album. It’s got Olympia, WA, a touching but energetic ode to the Pacific Northwest. It’s got Ruby Soho, probably Rancid’s most famous single, with the unforgettable line “Echoes of reggae coming through my bedroom wall, havin’ a party up next door, but I’m sittin’ here all alone”. Daly City Train and Old Friend are another pair of amazing ska songs, bookending Journey to the End of East Bay (another ode to the Northwest I suppose) with its instantly legendary bass line. Wolves even knows when to slow it down, such as in The War’s End, which begins with Lars Fredrickson’s solo guitar and voice singing about Sammy, the punk rocker, whose father never understood him: “went into his room and smashed his Billy Ratt record, didn’t want him to hear that Communist lecture”. They’re not particularly subtle or amazing lyrics, but they’re real. Misunderstood punk rockers are the type of thing a band like Rancid should be singing about in 1995, and they nailed it effortlessly.

The sequencing of the album is flawless as well. Years ago I used to believe that the one and only flaw of Wolves was that Avenues and Alleyways should have closed the record. I no longer believe that to be true. While it does feel like a great “final track”, I’ve started to perceive it more like the final scene of a film, with the actual last track The Way I Feel being the music that plays through the credits. Going through the album from beginning to end, the energy level ebbs and flows at the right spots, moving faster or slower, going from punk to ska, and switching between personal subject matter and classic punk rock defiance with ease. The two frontmen, Tim and Lars, have never worked together so seamlessly. While later Rancid records tended to alternate between “Tim songs” and “Lars songs” (Tim songs becoming more prominent as the band went on for some reason), on Wolves, they are both heard together on most tracks, either alternating verses or sharing the mic. It makes the album sound so much more powerful and dynamic.

Rancid has never topped this record after 16 years (the very next record, Life Won’t Wait, came the closest, but was just a tad too experimental for most). While some fans will certainly refute that, the fact that every Rancid album since has been accompanied with the query “as good as And Out Come the Wolves?” by the press shows that they are still under its shadow. I can imagine this being frustrating for a band, but how many people get the opportunity to create something that earns universal acclaim? I can think of worse fates.

And seriously, that bass solo will melt your face off.



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