…AND OUT COME THE WOLVES TURNS 20
Written by Dominic Hayley
1995 was a transitional year for punk rock. With ‘Dookie’ and ‘Smash’ having both broke in 1994, Californian punk rock was enjoying the warm afterglow. Green Day, having spent the previous year hurling mud at people at festivals and picking up Grammy Awards dropped the much darker ‘Insomniac’ in September, while the Offspring were busy negotiating their way off Epitaph records.
Not that most people in the UK knew anything about it. Unless you were one of the weird 14-year olds who read Kerrang! ‘94 was when Robbie left Take That and Blur battled Oasis for the top spot. In fact, the only time you caught a glimpse of the punk bands who were taking America by storm was either video for Basket Case which occasionally found its way onto MTV or if you were sneakily up late watching Hotel Babylon trying to catch a glimpse of some boobs.
Listening back 20 years later, it’s easy to see why ‘…And out Come the Wolves’ is such an inspirational record. ‘Smash’ and ‘Dookie’ are both classics of their genre, wrapping teenage angst and college-level politics in whoa-along choruses and sharpened power chords, but neither has the musical depth of Rancid’s opus. Mixing ska, street punk and bratty skate punk, t’s a record that can still throw down when it needs to, as the opener ‘Maxwell Murder’, ‘Listed MIA’ and ‘She’s Automatic’, but it is also has a soulfulness and emotional maturity that most of their contemporaries lacked. Like all good posi-hardcore bands, ‘Wolves’ spoke about facing down adversity unbowed, and at a point in time when most alternative music was unashamedly miserable, that really struck a chord.
As defiant as ‘Out Come the Wolves’ sounds, back in 1995 Rancid was a band in turmoil. As hinted at in ‘Journey to the End of the East Bay’, the early 90s had been a tough time for Tim Armstrong. Since Operation Ivy had broken up in 1989, he’d struggled with alcoholism and homelessness, before his former band mate Matt Freeman asked him to form a band as a way of getting back on his feet. Growing to become Rancid, the band had released two full lengths, their fast, hardcore inspired self-titled debut and the more eclectic ‘Let’s Go’ on the relatively obscure LA label Epitaph. But then SoCal punk broke in ‘94.
By the time the band was putting the touches on what was to be their third full-length, punk bands, especially Californian punk bands were in high demand. With Rancid commanding a decent following around their hometown of Berkeley, Armstrong, Freedman and co quickly became the focus of a major label bidding war. Madonna’s Maverick Records reportedly sent over an offer with a nude picture of Madge herself attached and Epic Records even attempted to sign the band with a $1.5million advance, but the band did the unthinkable and stuck with the as then unknown Epitaph Records, because they felt that needed to stay “with friends”.
To this day, the album remains one of Epitaph’s biggest sellers. Shipping 30,000 copies straight off the bat, Rancid turned out to be one of the labels most bankable acts and has helped supercharge it to become one of the biggest independent labels in the world. Thanks to a look that channelled Jerry Dammers, GBH and more than a smattering of LA street gang, Rancid also went on to become one of the most recognisable bands of the 1990s. In an age where almost everyone else was either rocking a goatee and skateboard clothes or eye-liner and oversized black t-shirts, it was hard not to notice them staring out of record shop posters or old gig flyers slapped on pub walls.
In the two decades since its release, ‘Out Come the Wolves’ has rightly become recognised as one of the most influential albums of the nineties – inspiring almost everyone from Suicide Machines, Leftover Crack, The Used and even Good Charlotte. Rancid’s output since ‘95 has been mixed at best, with the excellent ‘Life Won’t Wait’ and ‘Rancid’ following in 1997 and 2000, before the wheels kind of started to fall off by the time 2003’s ‘Indestructible’ came out. I’m the first person to say that I pretty much hated The Transplants records from the get go, and was a bit taken-aback when Tim Armstrong started writing stuff for P!NK, but ‘Out Come The Wolves’ has remained like a shimmering city on the hill. An example of how a punk album can be done.
For me, the footprint left by ‘…And out Come the Wolves’ comes in two parts. The first is that it was the record that properly opened up the door to punk. Like a gateway drug, it was a way into a whole galaxy of harder, heavier and more challenging stuff. The LA hardcore and crust punk sections of the album opened up a whole world of American punk bands like Swingin’ Utters, Social Distortion and Bad Religion, which in turn switched me on to hardcore bands like Black Flag, Cro Mags and Minor Threat. The more ‘British’ sounding songs on the album such as the ska inspired ‘Old Friend’ and rabble rousing Oi of ‘Avenues and Alleyways’ joined up with the music of my parents’ generation and allowed me finally ‘get’ bands like The Specials, The Clash and Sham 69.
The second part of ‘…And out Come the Wolves’ legacy comes from the often overlooked fact that it is one of the best party albums ever released. Nowhere is that more epitomised by the single ‘Time Bomb’. I can still remember my dad rolling his eyes at it’s blatant rip-off of the 2-tone sound, but this song has been one of the anthems of my adult life. I’ve danced to it in clubs in Coventry, Edinburgh, London and Barcelona. I’ve danced to it on dates and after break-ups. I’ve drunkenly skanked away to it at birthday parties, after show parties, New Year’s Eve throw-downs and random Wednesday night piss ups. My friend is getting married next year, and I’m fairly certain I’ll dance to it then too. If ‘…And Out Come The Wolves’ only had to be judged on that, I’d reckon it was a massive success.
…And Out Come The Wolves is available on limited edition deluxe LP reissue via Epitaph Records on November 27 2015.