The Offspring's Downer Return

Five years later, the Cali mall-punks return with more mildly catchy doomsaying

These dudes were certainly never feeling the wistful teenage nostalgia of Bryan Adams's "Summer of '69"—over 20 years, the Offspring became experts at penning dark accounts of modern youth set to buzzsaw guitars and a rapid-fire beat. But unlike their contemporaries in Green Day and Rancid, the SoCal quartet surfaced as a punk band largely without a punk attitude. There was scant bratty posturing and middle-finger fanfare; instead, they focused on peer violence, desperate alienation, and the seemingly unavoidable corrosion of youth. Forget "If the Kids Are United"—now you gotta keep 'em separated. Sad stuff. From their 1994 breakthrough single "Come Out and Play" to 1998's "The Kids Aren't Alright" to 2003's "Never Gonna Find Me," the band came off as a bunch of ominous sociologists: Hell, even "Pretty Fly (for a White Guy)" and "Hit That" documented the dumbass (yet ultimately amusing) frat-boy lifestyle as well as any season of The Real World.

That their eighth full-length, the Bob Rock–produced Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace, hasn't strayed far from previous subject matter isn't unexpected. The lyrics on their first record in five years are reliably heavy on downers and doubt, despite catchy hooks that could angle a whale and loud, scouring choruses. But the patchwork of styles thrown around here distracts you from the album's strengths. The power-punk and emo tracks ("Nothingtown," "Rise and Fall," "Let's Hear It for Rock Bottom") fare fine; same goes for the electrocuted guitar blasts and SoCal bro-whoa-oh-oh harmonizing on the war-themed lead single "Hammerhead." But who knows what the hell they were thinking with the acoustic-driven "Kristy, Are You Doing Okay?" and "Fix You," which suffer from frontman Dexter Holland's strained nasal intonations and calculated earnestness. Yes, that is a dancey, fluttery Panic at the Disco intro you hear in "You're Gonna Go Far, Kid"; yes, "A Lot Like Me" sounds like AFI by way of Coldplay. This music raises more eyebrows than it does fists.

They're fine as long as they don't go acoustic.
Sony BMG Music
They're fine as long as they don't go acoustic.

Even the speedy hardcore offerings double back to cheesy devout-rocker territory. Stuttering riffs and snapping snare aside, "Trust in You" could have come straight off a Christian-rock album, with Holland pleading: "Pull me up." "Half-Truism" begins with a flurry of conviction, but the chorus slows and sways while Holland bleats: "It's ashes to ashes again/Should we even try to pretend?/All our light that shines strong only lasts for so long." Hoist a lighter, bro—maybe these are the best days of our lives after all.

 
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