The Offspring, my very first “favorite band”, will always have sentimental value for me. I was in middle school when they released “Americana,” and was just beginning to discover the world of music independent of my parents’ favorite radio stations. Offspring rocked, and were relatable in a late-90’s, teenage angsty kind of way. I still think “Pretty Fly For A White Guy” is one of the seminal tracks of that period. I’ll always listen to them with a little bias, remembering those simpler times and the bands that were soundtrack to them. Sometimes I still think they can be original, exciting, funny, even insightful, bias notwithstanding. But most of the time I can tell I’m wishing they were better than they actually are. Listening to their latest album, “Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace,” I can’t shake the feeling that they’re wishing the same thing.
Even in middle school I could tell that if you were looking for deep, adult messages in an Offspring album you were looking in the wrong place. “White Guy” was funny because I knew kids who that song might as well have been written for. As a Southern California band Offspring obviously has first hand experience with one of those typical California personalities: poser white kids who try so hard to be cool that they almost succeed. “She’s Got Issues,” off the same album, is another personal favorite of mine. It’s relatable and laugh out loud funny: “Yeah I know, she’s afraid to commit, but it’s only our second date.” Tracks like these demonstrate sophisticated satirical sensibility, not just because Offspring recognizes the humor, but because they recognize the awkwardness and real pain just behind it. It’s good cause it’s true.
“Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace” tries for the same truth in songs like “Fix You,” about a depressed friend, and “Kristy Are You Feeling Alright,” about a girl with, well, “issues.” Neither is especially good: “Kristy” is touching and well intentioned, “Fix You” is clichéd, and both songs lack what was formerly Offspring’s biggest asset: a sense of humor. And that’s universal throughout “Rise and Fall.” There isn’t a single laugh-out-loud moment. In its place seems to be a forced effort at meaning. In “Stuff Is Messed Up” they reprise themes they addressed in “Americana,” (the single off the album of the same name). The difference could be in that extra effort at profundity. “Americana” succeeds because it darkly, hopelessly critiques American materialism in the late 90’s, an age of hollow values and relative prosperity. “Stuff Is Messed Up” comes out in an age that is, well, far more messed up. As opposed to the late 90’s, our society could be facing serious foundational problems, and Offspring wants to speak to them. Problem is they have nothing new to say. They rail against everything from celebrity fundraisers to the media to the war in Iraq. Well, okay, you guys got any suggestions? Not in this album. “All I know is, shit is fucked up!”
Apparently Offspring is trying to “mature.” God no. I wonder how many hardcore, adult fans the band actually has. Their breakout album “Smash,” with awesome punk-rock track “Come Out and Play,” isn’t good for it’s message, but for it’s raw, almost juvenile emotion. From there they grew into “Americana,” satirical and bleak. In “Rise and Fall” they want to sound like they understand what it is they’re talking about. Unfortunately they don’t. The Offspring should stick to what they know. Maybe they’ll touch a chord, maybe they won’t. But at least they won’t sound like the posers they used to make fun of.
Overall Grade: 6 out of 10
[This review originally appeared on MyCrazyMusicBlog, and cannot be reproduced without permission, Thank You]