Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Turn Up That Noise!

By Stephen Grimstead

JULY 20, 1998: 

Rancid, Life Won’t Wait (Epitaph)

With a Ramones-style “Hey Ho” chorus and a battery of guitars that storm like Dresden, the opening “Bloodclot” blows Rancid’s latest (and best) wide open. Twenty raging and tuneful tracks later, the ambitious sweep of Life Won’t Wait is rather startling. Did we ever expect this band of mohawked Clash fanatics to get this good?

Life Won’t Wait inherits and perfects what amounts to an alternate version of the original rock-and-roll – one where punk and reggae/ska replace country and blues, one that’s urban and international rather than rural and Southern, one where class politics are spelled out rather than implied, one where the Clash is Elvis and Buju Banton is Muddy Waters (though this is where the chronology gets muddled). And, yes, they still sound unmistakably like the Clash, but they’re mere mimics no more. Rancid isn’t the first band to find its own voice through the obsessive emulation of others. In fact, that only puts them in a grand rock-and-roll tradition that started with the Stones, if not earlier. As good as 1995’s breakthrough …And Out Come The Wolves was, this is where they’ve begun to honestly conjure not only the Clash, but other great, rootsy political punk bands like the Pogues, the Mekons, and X.

At its best, Life Won’t Wait reminds you that the most thrilling thing about listening to a good rock-and-roll band may be being swept up by an aural dramatization of community and interdependence. And, with Pavement and Sleater-Kinney forever stuck on the fringes, Rancid may be the most visible purveyors of this kind of magic right now. On the elegiac “Hooligans” they proclaim, “Here’s the new face of rock-and-roll,” and with the charts dominated by too-slick R&B and hip-hoppers who think money and power equals respect, and with dull-as-dirt alternasludge as the guitar music du jour, who’s to deny them? Fathers of a “ska-core” revival they so effortlessly rise above, they provide the most rhythmic and passionate guitar/bass/drums most people are likely to hear at the moment.

Life Won’t Wait is easily Rancid’s most expansive outing to date, musically and lyrically. On “Crane Fist” acoustic piano and Hammond B-3 organ duke it out underneath some equally effusive vocal interplay. On “Warsaw” and, especially, “New Dress,” they weigh the wages of Coca-Colonization in war-torn Eastern Europe without neglecting to bring the noise. Elsewhere they send shout-outs to rude boys from Cali to NYC, London to Kingston. It’s the sound of a garage band raising the door to let the world in. A beautiful thing indeed. – Chris Herrington

Brian Wilson, Imagination (Giant)

We’ve always expected a lot from Brahma Beach Boy Brian Wilson, maybe more than he’s able (or willing) to deliver these days. His latest effort, Imagination, is his first true solo record to be released in a full decade (although bootlegs of his rejected second album, Sweet Insanity, are in circulation). While new Brian Wilson music should always be cause for celebration, Imagination isn’t anything to get too excited about.

Like Orson Welles with Citizen Kane, Wilson peaked early in his career with the watershed pop epic, Pet Sounds, making most of his subsequent disjointed efforts somewhat superfluous. While there’s nothing outright bad or embarrassing about Imagination, it just isn’t memorable. Even the remakes are forgettable, although they’re prime (if somewhat obscure) Beach Boys catalog examples (“Keep An Eye On Summer” and “Let Him Run Wild”).

With co-producer Joe Thomas attempting to mold Wilson into the next Garth Brooks, the arrangements end up sounding like faux Pet Sounds for the digital era, with schmaltzy guitars and saxophones. Add a “Kokomo”-esque collaboration with Jimmy Buffett (“South American”), and Imagination sails straight into the realm of yawnsville, unintentional lullabies without substance.

Thankfully, Wilson is in fine voice throughout Imagination (on almost 100 vocal tracks!). It’s a testament to Mr. Wilson’s unique genius that some of it manages to shine through despite the homogenized gloss. There’s plenty of fantastic music worth hearing left in Brian Wilson, but Imagination certainly doesn’t contain any of it.

Won’t someone please officially release the sessions Andy Paley produced (which were scrapped in place of this formula pap) and remind Wilson (and the rest of us) just how great he can be? Until then, consider Imagination just another self-help stop along the way to total musical recovery for the long-suffering Brian Wilson. – David D. Duncan

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