PressureLife’s Album WAR! pits two of the week’s new releases in music one-on-one and find out who really runs the charts.
This week, punk hall of famers round the bases while a pop singer gets on the floor as Rancid’s new release, Trouble Maker, takes on Katy Perry’s ambitious, Witness…
Hey! Rancid is still a thing!
Rancid’s latest release, Trouble Maker, showcases the steady ease in which the band can effortlessly master their field. Trouble Maker works as a comprehensive resume, a track listing of impressive past employment and inarguable work experience. For as much as it is inherent in Rancid’s DNA, the band’s versatility has never been appreciated as much as it should be. Better academics of the artform can delineate the what’s what but this tried and true cause and effect has made Rancid remarkably approachable while still maintaining both their core listeners and identity throughout their storied career.
True to form, there is a familiar impersonal transience throughout Trouble Maker. This ship runs aground when stretched across nineteen tracks. Rancid’s excellence is chameleonic and rarely lingers long enough to show its hand. Proving exception to the rule are tracks like “All American Neighborhood”. Sludgy guitars and bouncy bass, it’s over before it begins in the best way possible. The buzzsaw tune bares some rarely displayed teeth and offered some noticeable aggression both in lyrics and guitars.
“Molly Make Up Your Mind” and “Cold Cold Blood” are great quick hitters with the former being a admirable echo to the sensibility heard on their seminal …And Out Come the Wolves. “Make it Out Alive” is one of the few tracks that allow the listener a closer audience with the performers. “Some of us didn’t make it through / some of us didn’t make it out alive” The track provides a measure of scar tissue that only a veteran band like Rancid can offer. Sure there are lines about “Mr. Lincoln” and “pine boxes on westbound trains” and “losing legs in the wilderness” but the lines fold like origami into a lot of people’s personal struggles to survive the grinding day-to-day of modern decline.
Conversely, “Telegraph Avenue” is a rough listen in all the wrong ways and uncharacteristically long, while “Bovver Rock and Roll” is an on-the-nose barroom jukebox replica that is neither sarcastic nor sincere enough to allay the subtle intentions in its title. The road to mediocrity is paved with the majority of this album’s forgettable offerings. Even better tracks like the skanky “Where I’m Going” unravels into faceless lead guitar that is neither good nor bad. Like the bulk of Trouble Maker, it is this lack of offense that leaves it defenseless. Here, Rancid’s accessibility is led not by their inarguable skill but by an apparent determination not to be noticed.
Standout Track: “This is Not the End” – Hell hath no fury like “This is Not the End”. The track leans forward relentlessly, wielding the title lyric like battering ram warning throughout its minute fifty-seven.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5
Katy Perry’s much ballyhooed new release, Witness, has had hit singles out for over a month and has been in the news for even longer. Like other summer blockbusters, by the time of its actual release there is a real risk of over-exposure to a fanbase that has moved on before the actual release. While Witness definitely selected their best offerings in its single releases of “Swish Swish” and “Bon Appetit”, the rest of the album is enjoyable enough to offer keep Perry’s newest hit singles on even footing without ever overshadowing.
Perry’s Witness has a certain discipline throughout. While other, less confident albums would overreach in attempt to prove their worth, Witness knows what it wants to do and proficiently goes out and does it for fifteen tracks straight. At times, this dance club-devoted release can spiral into redundant loops that merely exist to serve up the title lyrics of songs like “Chained to the Rhythm”, and “Tsunami”.
This myopia is not a mistake nor should it be taken as a fault. Perry maintains an unassailable dance album partly through sacrificing the heights of her own abilities in order for the album to bear witness to the intent of its creation. A feat Perry ultimately succeeds in.
Songs like “Power” show an increased artistic aptitude that was always inherent in Perry but are now allowed a richer soundscape to display them in full. The title track has a quiet dominance that has the potential to overlooked if only for the embarrassment of riches on flashier entries on the album. As it stands, the music on “Witness” is same frenetic clicks and blips that owe homage to the unexpected influence of Radiohead’s Thom Yorke. For someone who does Super Bowl Halftime shows, Revlon commercials, etc, there are a considerable amount of risks across Witness.
Just because they initially debuted as removed from the whole, both singles, “Swish Swish” and “Bon Appetit” are both the clear cut stars around which the rest of the album orbits. Even with much of the appeal coming from Nicki Minaj’s appearance, Perry’s beef track, “Swish Swish” (a swipe swipe at Taylor Swift Swift) wonderfully flaunts just how devastatingly sharp she could be if provoked. The track really leans into the club-friendly world that lesser pop artists can but cheaply dabble in.
Perry’s B-side, “Bon Appetit”, is perhaps an even more accomplished track in its evocative lyrics and much more balanced arrangement. Lyrics that playfully weave innuendos like “If you take your time / eat with your hands, fine / I’m on the menu … Got me spread like a buffet, bon appétit, bay-be” may leave little to the imagination but Perry maintains a mastery of her own sexuality here. Despite the songs that have spurred tabloid headlines for weeks already, they never detract from the coherent thesis running through Witness from top to bottom- “I got your number / cause you’re a joker / and I’m a courtside killer queen / and you will kiss the ring.”
Rating: 4 out of 5
Standout Track: “Déjà vu” – While dubiously similar to Lady Gaga’s signature sound and arrangement, “Déjà vu” makes a fair case for Perry’s seat at the table, if not the throne itself.
Album WAR! Winner: Katy Perry – “Witness”
Katy Perry came prepared for battle. Whilst the bulk of Witness’s aural armaments are aimed at Taylor Swift, it was still more than enough to vanquish her So-Cal competitors. Witness is both instantly danceable from second one to the last and incredibly intelligent in its design. Rancid’s Trouble Maker is perfectly fine album but never for a track does it ever feel special, or like the band is trying to prove anything. And to their credit, they don’t need to.
Perry, however, is in an interesting point in her career. Her newness is gone, relying on those broad commercial-ready pop anthems would be redundant at this point. A put up or shut up album, Perry needed to prove that she could stand on her own feet and compete with the other crowded stellar peers, not just in terms of mainstream popularity but in the much more rewarding and longer-sustaining acknowledgement of her indomitable artistic capability.