White Punks on Warner Bros. 

The not-so-covert mainstreaming of Rancid.

Page 4 of 7

Finally, there's the Rancid piece in the November issue of Revolver, which features Armstrong on the cover alongside frontmen for other punk bands that played this summer's Warped Tour; Rancid had been a marquee act for the famous punk festival, often earning the biggest crowds of the day.

Armstrong -- who still runs Hellcat Records, an Epitaph subsidiary that actually released Rancid's self-titled 2000 album, which leaves him in the peculiar position of having stolen his own band from himself -- talked tough in the accompanying interview: "Everybody talks about our business, and they don't have any idea ... Brett's worked with Warner a bunch of times already -- Brett did a deal with the Hives, did a deal with the Distillers ... Brett Gurewitz is on board, 100 percent."

Epitaph's take on the signing doesn't support that. Gurewitz has avoided talking to the media about Rancid -- through an assistant, he declined an interview for this story. Furthermore, a source within Epitaph -- which, strangely enough, just released the vinyl version of Indestructible -- paints the Warner Bros. jump as a surprise to everyone, Brett included: "I mean, Brett Gurewitz produced the record -- put his blood and soul into producing it -- and we thought it was going to be an Epitaph release. But then everything kind of changed once Brody and Tim went their separate ways and a whole bunch of new songs were written and the record was put on hold. That's when the changes came about."

Yes, Brody Armstrong -- the latest in a long string of personal injuries and losses to the Rancid camp. As husband and wife, Tim and Brody were once considered the punk equivalent of the Tim McGraw and Faith Hill union. Brody has transformed herself into the media's new punk rock it-girl with her band, the Distillers -- themselves an Epitaph act that jumped to Warner Bros. for this year's Coral Fang. But Tim and Brody's five-year marriage ended in February. Evidently, Brody's decision to leave him arrived via phone from her native Australia while Rancid was recording Indestructible. Tim has made reference to the phone call and estrangement in nearly every published interview, discussing how supportive Gurewitz was during the divorce by allowing the band to take time off from recording.

As Brody publicly moved on -- locking tongues in a Rolling Stone photo spread with new boyfriend Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age -- Armstrong took advantage of the time off to pen several songs directly addressing the split, forming a memorable component of Indestructible's lyrical tone. But the divorce is merely the latest in a string of personal losses. Freeman's grandmother passed away two years ago; that same year, Frederiksen lost his brother Robert, who is eulogized on Indestructible's final track, "Otherside."

In other instances, the pain is purely physical. Last year, in support of the Rancid/NOFX split recording for BYO Records, the bands played a three-night stint at Slim's in San Francisco. During the first show, Frederiksen collided with a stage-crasher. Normally that's the kind of thing he could brush off, but it came two months after he'd undergone painful back surgery, and the injury forced him back in recuperation, halting Rancid's part in the Slim's shows.

So believe Armstrong when he declares, on Indestructible's first single "Fall Back Down," that "I had a bad year/A lot to go through."

Perhaps lost in the furor is Indestructible itself, which flaunts Rancid's continued vitality and survival despite recent events, parading the band's in-your-face attitude to those who would doubt its ability to keep putting out aggressive, influential music.

"Initially this album was going to be more political," Armstrong told Guitar World. "Then the Brody thing happened."

If that's true, then for the sake of art, it's good that she left. Armstrong's strength as a lyricist has always centered around matters of the heart, be it loss, longing, or nostalgia like "Journey to the End of the East Bay." Indestructible's overt "political songs" -- "Out of Control," "Arrested in Shanghai," "Born Frustrated," and "Ivory Coast" -- are a mess of relayed information rather than a conveyed sense of frustration or dissatisfaction. But the lyrics allegedly written in Armstrong's blood and tears -- "Start Now," "Back Up Against the Wall," "Stand Your Ground," and "Tropical London," the most obvious response to his marital estrangement -- are classic heart-on-his-sleeve Armstrong songs.

Musically, Indestructible is most like '95's million-selling ... And Out Come the Wolves, revealing a band comfortable switching between straight-ahead street punk and easier, laid-back punk-ska. Freeman's bass fills are as intricate as ever, while Frederiksen and Armstrong are at ease holding down the rhythm with their guitars. When Armstrong solos, it's either a classic diesel-injected Chuck Berry riff or a twangy reggae lead lifted from his collection of ska records.

Rancid is as tight as ever, and under producer Gurewitz' supervision, the subtle nuances of Indestructible make this one of the band's best records.

So it'd be a shame if Indestructible's excellence is overshadowed by the mistake of attempting to hide the label. Rancid's attempt to subvert the Warner Bros. deal has seriously cut down on Indestructible's promotion: The band's desire to keep a low profile to avoid criticism has ironically canceled out any high-profile benefits a major label could offer.


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