Can four Oakland, Calif., natives with ridiculous mohawks make a better Clash record than London Calling? Hard to believe, but with their third CD, ... AND OUT COME THE WOLVES (Epitaph), Rancid does just that, one-upping the British group by moving beyond brute-force punk without forfeiting urgency. No American band has ever mined this much effortless power out of Jamaican rhythms. Taking off from the loutish fist-pumping that the Clash first picked up from ska reggae and '70s glam-rock, Rancid's slurred harmony-shouts communicate a battering-ram tunefulness and plainspoken sympathy that never let up.
Wolves is like a police blotter of lost young urban '90s lives, except there's as much loneliness as aggression, as many girl characters as boys. The songwriting is journalistic in its details. ''Where do you go now when you're only 15?'' lead singer Tim Armstrong asks in ''Roots Radicals.'' Restless youths get booted into the alleyway by their parents, turn into artists, then addicts, flirt with miniskirted girls on long bus rides, run away to California only to discover ''this ain't no Mecca, man, this place is f---ed.'' Welcome to the jungle, part two. A+