A long time ago, though not too far back, teenagers used to bash heads against one another, chanting mercifully, “Come out and play!” It was the summer of 1994 and along with Green Day’s breakout album Dookie, Smash convinced every teenager they were newfound punk rockers. It didn’t take much convincing, especially since most of the fan base carried over after a certain someone was found in a certain green house. The misnomer that was grunge rock was fading and with the rise of “gangsta rap” from the likes of Nas and Wu-Tang Clan, rock fans embraced this more mainstream punk rock approach.
There’s an interesting parallel between the two pioneers, Green Day and The Offspring. Both of their follow ups, Insomniac and Ixnay on the Hombre respectively, embrace that dark side to the band, scaling back from the click n’ pop that made their breakthroughs so enjoyable (and successful). When that didn’t play out as well as they’d hoped, the two bands decided to speak directly to their audience, writing in perspectives that didn’t quite match their age, with the high school angst in Americana and the teenage drama in Nimrod. Okay, so what’s the point?
Green Day moved on. Warning and American Idiot broke past any barriers that stopped them before, working off of a more mature sound that didn’t quite find success until the latter. The keyword here is mature, something that The Offspring strayed further away from, with continuous attempts to capitalize on the success of “Pretty Fly (For A White Guy)” that resulted in later (horrid) singles, “Original Prankster” and “Hit That.” Even if 2003’s Splinter held some grit and punch, it was largely ignored commercially; instead, pushing the band into recluse.
Two words: Good call.
Rise And Fall, Rage And Grace, the band’s eighth album, is the culmination of two years writing and recording, a first for an Offspring release. With so much time locked away recording, sparring shows here and there and a Greatest Hits album to boot, one would think the band had enough time to write some bold material. The result? A pretty bad case of “this and that.”
“Hammerhead”, the current single, is a good harbinger to base this album off of, considering it changes structure and pace a few times in just under five minutes. Holland hasn’t sounded quite this sincere since the very best Americana had to offer (“The Kids Aren’t Alright”, “Have You Ever”), shouting off some frightening lyrics (“And you can all hide behind your desks now/ And you can cry, ‘teacher come help me! “) with some engine like distortion that rockets ahead. There’s some banter in the song, mainly towards the end that hints the band’s latter years, too. Altogether, it works lyrically, but lacks the swinging enthusiasm, namely due to uninspired riffs that are too polished from the start.
This is an album that shows its age. A song like “Half Truism” rings back on the 2004-2005 days, when emo rockers The Used, My Chemical Romance or Brand New banged out sing-a-long choruses (“If we don’t make it alive/Then it’s a hell of a good day to die”) that hit the heart more than the balls, which was something The Offspring previously trademarked. There’s even some backpedaling, as seen in the nostalgic “Trust in You”, which brings to mind Smash’s “Nitro” or “Something to Believe In” and an assortment of riffage from that era, despite the flashy guitar scales at the end. It’s good and all, but by the end of the day, wouldn’t you rather be listening to Smash?
The dance-y “You’re Gonna Go Far, Kid” seemingly competes with the Panic! crowd, only it’s saved by some of that edge which usually overshadows any Offspring song (Close call!). It’s a catchy tune, thanks to its lyrics (“Dance fucker dance, he never had a chance/ It was really only you”), and something any fan should appreciate. “Takes Me Nowhere” borrows from this fluff, too. It’s not as successful, but certainly not as affronting as what comes soon after..
The slower songs here stick out like sore thumbs, especially the rumored second single, “Kristy, Are You Doing Okay?”, which might be the worst song the band’s put together, complete with cheeky melodies, a horrible acoustic drawl, and a forced chorus (“Can you stay strong?/ Can you go on?/ Kristy, are you doing okay?”). Despite the story behind it, the song sounds stripped from a cliché romantic comedy, simply because that’s what it sounds like, a cliché. Again, this is unfortunate given the lyrical material there. On the other hand, “A Lot Like Me”, aside from the piano laden introduction, is a more driving, powerful hit that doesn’t necessarily belong in the Offspring catalog, but doesn’t hurt. Toss in “Fix You” to the mix, an introspective love song that showcases Holland’s vocals, and the gentle side of the former balls-to-the-wall band is available for everyone to laugh at.
Towards the end, “Nothingtown” starts sounding too Green Day, which is unfortunate for this review, given my bloated history lesson beforehand. Then there’s “Stuff Is Messed Up”, a throw away track, attempting to be contemptuous yet coming off stale, and “Let’s Hear It For Rock Bottom” that conditions itself with a series of upstroke guitar chords that lead to a chorus that once belonged to Blink-182. The closing track, “Rise And Fall”, is “American Idiot” but with cheaper lyrics, though if those aren’t your thing, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the two.
On the whole, there’s enough here to keep the fans busy and patient, that is until Holland decides he wants to grow up musically, too. It’s a shame. They’re a step up from 2003’s Splinter, but unfortunately there’s so much weight here that it’s sinking what should have been a great comeback album. Nine times the charm?