Neon and leggings may tell you that the 80s are back, but a look at the music landscape this year and a strong argument could be made for it being a return of the 90s. Soundgarden released their first new song in 15 years on the Avengers soundtrack, Smashing Pumpkins and Red Hot Chili Peppers have released albums this year. Fiona Apple released her first new album in 7 years last week. Sugar Ray, Everclear, Lit, Gin Blossoms and Marcy Playground are all touring together this summer and now here’s a new Offspring album. It certainly deserves more credit and appreciation than some of the nostalgia acts listed, but don’t celebrate just yet—this is certainly a flawed affair.
After rocketing to stardom in the 90s, around 2000 they became victims of the law of diminishing returns. Conspiracy of One was about half enjoyable, half too poppy and forgettable. Splinter lead with the goofy single “Hit That” and personally the album was dismissed right away. In retrospect it had a couple of songs that hinted at their roots but was mostly a stinker. Then something surprising happened. After a 5 year hiatus, they returned with Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace. It wasn’t without a couple of uninspired tracks, but for most part it had fire and purpose (the Bush years were great for inspiring punks).
The O.C. elder statesmen are back once again with Days Go By, an album that’s part backslider, part promise. As someone who followed them from almost the beginning and generally a fan of punk rock, it’s just incredibly hard to swallow some of their poppiest moments. Yes, this has been the case for a long time, but it wouldn’t sting so bad if they didn’t sprinkle in a few tracks each album to remind you of the old them. It starts incredibly strong with the fast one-two punch of “The Future Is Now” and “Secrets from the Underground,” two of the best tracks on the album. These are the moments an old school fan longs for: great sing along choruses married to break-neck speed guitars and urgency. Things slow down a little for the title track, but it’s a decent Foo Fighters-esque rock number. “Turning Into You” has some lyrics that are wince-inducing and just seems like a lesser take on the concept of the White Stripes’ “I’m Slowly Turning Into You.”
Offspring’s Cruising California (Bump’in in my Truck)
As we approach the middle of the album this where things really start to sag as they hide the filler tracks here. “Hurting As One” has all the elements of fist-pumping favorite of yore, but somehow just feels hollow. “Cruising California (Bumpin’ In My Trunk)” is perhaps the song on this album that is the most painful to listen to. Don’t get me wrong, if it was a track by Sugar Ray or some young new pop punk band it would be a certified radio hit. But as an Offspring song it’s just terrible. A female voice talks about junk in her trunk and lead singer Dexter Holland does his best Eminem impersonation for the verse. “All I Have Left Is You” is their version of a ballad and it’s not bad—but it’s not that great either.
Just as we’re falling into depression over the state of the album they throw in “OC Guns.” Since Smash it’s feels like a tradition to throw in a reggae/ska type song on each album. It starts with the sound of a crackling record, reggae beat and distant mariachi horns. It’s enough to make you check if you’re still listening to the same album. Dexter appears in the middle of the mix speaking curse words in Spanish and it all makes you chuckle. However it’s not in a negative way; Offspring have always had a great sense of humor and when they’re being tongue-in-cheek it always has satisfying results. Despite how bizarre it sounds, you could imagine an Offspring/Beats Antique mashup would sound like this.
But wait, there’s an even stranger curveball! From the depths of their catalog they’ve re-recorded the song “Dirty Magic” from their 1993 album Ignition. They already recycled the riff for the 2000 song “Vultures” but apparently that wasn’t good enough. Is this version as good as the original? No, not really. It sounds more like a typical Offspring song than the original, but in that it loses the strange vibe of channeling “Come As You Are” by Nirvana. Still, it’s a welcome thing to hear for an old school fan such as myself. The next song is another attempt at humorous song, “I Wanna Secret Family (With You). Somewhere between an Ozzy Osbourne melody and their own “I Want You Bad,” it’s got some witty lyrics but but stops just short of completely satisfying.
Just to mess with our minds the last two songs return to the fury of the first two tracks. “Divided By Zero” is catchy and has a touch of punk grit; it under stays its welcome at a scant 2:22 minutes. Also under the 3 minute mark is album closer “Slim Pickens Does The Right Thing And Rides The Bomb To Hell.” A clever Doctor Strangelove reference, it might be the best song on the album. It has a Bad Religion-worthy sing-along chorus, socio-political commentary and bristles with purpose. As evidenced on their last album, this is the sound and attitude where they excel. There’s surprisingly few big name acts that deliver heavy hitting music with a purpose, so it just feels squandered when their talent is wasted on poppy watered-down tunes. Days Go By certainly has at least 4 great and 2 decent tracks that are worth a listen for their 90s fans, and everyone else will probably enjoy it even more than that. It’s not one of their best but it’s great that Offspring are still around giving us several great tracks every few years that remind of us of what a great band they are.
Jarad Matula | Senior Writer