Wednesday, July 11, 2012

album review: 'days go by' by the offspring

Short version: you know what, this is, for once, the easy part. This album is a soulless, worthless, desperate cash-in by a punk band that grew up and lost their edge and sense of humour. If you're a fan, avoid at all costs. If you're not a fan, keep avoiding. 

Long version...

And here we come to the last review in the trifecta of terrible tunes, and despite my general tiredness and antipathy towards people who somehow like this music, those aren't the emotions that dominate my mind right now.

No, right now, I'm just sad. Genuinely disappointed and sad, because of all three albums that I reviewed, this one sucks for the worst possible reasons, reasons that you can't easily dismiss as incompetence.

Guys, The Offspring's Days Go By sucks not because of laziness or arrogance, but because it's an album by a band out of time, struggling desperately to keep up with the times and failing miserably because they just aren't the same people they were ten or fifteen years ago. In short, they grew up, and just aren't fun anymore.

I should explain this, and that's going to involve a brief trip, once again, to the rock music scene of the mid-nineties. Spurred by the huge breakout success of Green Day's Dookie (amongst a few others), punk rock music enjoyed a brief resurgence in the mainstream, and one of the major bands coming out of it was The Offspring. And while they did do mildly well, they were never big favourites of mine. The shouty vocals, combined with the generally uninteresting instrumentation and the complete lack of anything interesting to say, meant that The Offspring never really caught fire with me. Now, to be completely fair, the first few albums The Offspring put out were awful, particularly that unbelievably stupid single 'Self-Esteem'. But even despite that, The Offspring did have one advantage that made them at least slightly listenable: they were completely aware of how much they weren't relevant, particularly compared to the real punk rock that came before them. To make a modern comparison, The Offspring became a lot like LMFAO - a self-aware parody of better music, apeing the same trends but winking at the camera to let those who cared know that they were in on the joke.

Now, granted, there was a lot of music in this vein that could make this argument in the late nineties - both Blink-182 and Sum 41 both spring to mind, but I still think The Offspring pulled it off a bit better than those bands because of two things: they were reasonably talented lyricists, and they played absolutely everything for laughs. There wasn't any of the smugness that makes LMFAO insufferable today - it was pure dumb fun in the vein of what Andrew W.K. would use at the turn of the millennium to give Pitchfork a collective aneurysm. So when The Offspring released Americana in 1998 - right in the middle of the era of pop artifice over substance - the band earned some fame for its catchy hooks and critical praise for its self-effacing silliness that was surprisingly revealing of the youth that embraced the music. It was also at that point that The Offspring completely destroyed any punk cred they had left - even despite tracks that attempted to be relevant like 'The Kids Aren't All Right', no self-respecting punk would ever dare release music like 'Pretty Fly For A White Guy' or 'Why Don't You Get A Job' (my personal favourite Offspring song). 

And then, for some reason, The Offspring decided that they actually wanted to be taken seriously. They came out in favour of music piracy by releasing Conspiracy of One in 2000 on Napster, and they also decided to start blending elements of hip-hop and nu metal into their sound - and it really, really didn't work. The album remains, at least for me, a classic example of an album of absolute shit being buoyed by a few singles. The next album Splinter was a bit better, but it was a blisteringly short experience that left little impact, and it was clear the general darkening of tone in the pop/punk scene hadn't been good to a band that relied heavily on its sense of humour. The problem got worse on their 2008 album, Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace, but The Offspring did manage to redeem that particular album with tight instrumentation and surprisingly deft lyricism. It also helped matters that lead singer Dexter Holland had opted for a more melodic singing style in opposition to the shouting, but people were already noticing that The Offspring had gotten significantly older than the pop/emo bands that were dominating mainstream pop-rock radio. They had grown up, and the pop world was leaving them behind.

Flash forward to now, and let me ask the question: in the pop-punk-rock world, who's left? Green Day (the true 'elder statesmen' of pop-punk for the past two decades) have this epic three album project they're working on, but Green Day draws so much influence outside of the punk sphere that's it's hard to put them in the same genre as The Offspring. Jimmy Eat World released an album in 2010 and the All-American Rejects released one in early 2012, but there hasn't been any news from them since, and neither have gotten significant airplay. Meanwhile, My Chemical Romance and Simple Plan sold out, Blink-182 and Sum 41 are working tirelessly and getting some acclaim by critics but little else, and Fall Out Boy and Good Charlotte are gone. The only bands that I've paid all that much attention to in the pop punk scene has been Panic! At The Disco with their amazing 2011 album Vices and Virtues and Marianas Trench's pop opera Ever After, but I have a hard time considering them punk at all. The point that I'm trying labouriously to make is that modern pop radio and modern rock radio doesn't play punk music much anymore, and the bands have struggled for relevance. And it really doesn't help matters that outside of the seemingly ageless Green Day, the 'elder' pop-punk bands all look a lot more old and tired, and they certainly don't have the same edge.

And look, as artists get older, they grow up and mature, and as much as I'd like to cite the Beastie Boys and say that great punk music can still happen as the artists get older, the truth is that people tend to get more conservative as they get older, and the old harsh punk edge begins to fall away. It's hard to sound dangerous when you've reached that age - hell, Eminem's turning forty either this year or next year, and believe me, you can tell in his delivery that he doesn't have the same insane, gleefully defiant edge he once had. Now granted, using the Beastie Boys as an example, you can still make great music as you age, as your sound evolves and changes, but often times this has to come with clear artistic direction.

The Offspring don't have that - in fact, I'm a little unsure if they ever did. The Offspring, much like LMFAO, never had much of a defining identity outside of the brash, silly, quasi-ironic music they made - they were defined by their sense of humour, deft musicianship, and clever lyrics, so what do you get when you lose all three?

Well, you get Days Gone By, the new album by The Offspring, a fast, haphazard trainwreck of an album that disappoints across the board. It becomes very clear as you listen to it that the humour that once defined the band is long gone, and that they are searching for a new sound - any new sound - that could make them relevant again. 

Let me give you all an example. I want you to look up the song 'Cruising California (Bumpin' In My Trunk)'. Go to Youtube, it's there. Listen to the whole song. If you're an Offspring fan, it will be painful. If you're not an Offspring fan... well, it'll still be painful, but you need to understand where I'm coming from.

Finished? Get a glass of water - or if you're an Offspring fan, start drinking whatever alcohol you have handy. I'll give you a minute.

Ready? Okay, so let me ask you this question: does that sound like The Offspring to you?

Non-fans are probably grimacing and nodding - namely because the same handicapping factors that made The Offspring a so-so band are clearly there. The shouty, annoying vocals, the stupid lyrics, all distinctive and present. But the fans of The Offspring - or at least those who liked their old music - know that song doesn't sound like The Offspring. No, instead it sounds like Kid Rock wrote a terrible song for a beat by Owl City, and somehow it ended up being given to The Offspring - and it's horrendous.

That's just a taster. I won't say the entire album is like this, because it's not - that's not the universal 'new sound' that the band has embraced. No, throughout the entire album, there's an incoherency that betrays The Offspring's desperation to find something - anything - that might constitute an evolution for the band. As a complete album, it's a fucking disaster, but even as a collection of singles, there's none of the wit, charm, and humour that made this band tolerable before. I even find the instrumentation generally lackluster and phoned-in - there's nothing here that sounds new, fresh, or remotely interesting.

And as for the lyrics? They hammer straight to the thesis of this review - not only are The Offspring trying to evolve andfailing, they've also seen the world completely pass them by and transform into something that they don't like. But rather than have anything to say about it - or hope to change it through fiery revolution or something you'd tend to see in punk fucking rock - The Offspring instead give up. They are fully aware the world has changed around them - perhaps for the better, perhaps for the worst, and they've conceded. The final song, 'Slim Pickens Does The Right Thing And Rides The Bomb To Hell', is either the concessionary white flag saying that the band as failed, or (even worse) a statement saying that ultimately punk has failed, and The Offspring are no longer going to fight for the losing side. Even for a band that were barely punk in name-only, that's damn near treasonous. In fact, I'd go one step further and say it's been a long time since I've heard a punk record feel so much like a flaccid, empty sell-out by a band who hasn't just given up, but is desperately catering to hack producers to make something vaguely marketable. It's the same charge I leveled against Meat Loaf's last album Hell In A Handbasket, and it's extremely fit here.

But let me ask the question: was there any way this story could have possibly worked out for The Offspring, a band that was always more parody than actual substance? Could they have ever risen to the task like Green Day (a band that has cribbed plenty from classic rock and punk, but at least tried to say something) without losing their humour? Or was this always destined to happen - a band growing up, losing its edge and its wit all at once to an avalanche of bitterness that, in retrospective, has always been lurking in the background?

I don't know that answer. What I do know is this: Days Gone By by The Offspring fucking sucks. Out of the three bad albums I've reviewed recently, this is easily the most disappointing, and the one that fans of the band should avoid at all costs. For the good of the fans and the good of the band, let The Offspring play out the end of their careers in peace playing their hits, not playing the desperate, soulless, heartbreaking cash-ins that came from this piece of shit. Avoid this album like the fucking plague, and maybe, just maybe, out of the same desperation that caused The Offspring to become corporate tools, they'll break out of it and find something to say.

And since they were never any good at that, I'd settle for putting a smile on my face. That'd be enough.

Up next: I review some good R&B from the genius/insane creator of 'Trapped In The Closet'. For once, this is going to be FUN.


  1. Obviously you didn't like the album - which is fine - but I think the fact that you don't really like The Offspring to begin with kind of invalidates your statements that fans should avoid this.

    I'm just a bit confused as to where you are coming from on a lot of your points. 'Cruising California' was a shock to me at first, but after a few spins I realised that it really isn't any different to their leading singles from the last few albums (RaF,RaG excepted) - look at 'Pretty Fly', 'Original Prankster' and 'Hit That' - all are leading singles off three different albums. 'California' is essentially just a continuation of this, and your saying they've lost their sense of humour is just wrong when you look at this song beyond the superficialities. 'Crusing California' is a parody of today's radio scene, complete with autotune and rap. You may not like it, but it shows they are still fun and capable at parody, which you said they weren't.

    Also, the album as a whole (as you may have gathered) is about nostalgia - there are songs on here that are very true to the '90s Offspring era, such as 'Hurting as One' and 'Slim Pickens'. The self-aware irony in the title 'Days Go By', the imagery of the cover art and the inclusion of a 'Dirty Magic' re-recording are by no means coincidences.

    I think maybe you just aren't an Offspring fan, and you went into this album expecting to hate it, because from a long-time fan of everything they've done, I accept this album as being their best since Conspiracy of One (which was fantastic, by the way).

  2. I think part of the problem is that I did like The Offspring - I never thought they were great, but for an act that built their careers on humour, I liked what they were doing.

    But if we're going to argue parody-through-music (we're always going to run into a grey area here), I see your point regarding 'Cruising California - but to me, it doesn't feel like a parody, considering the tone of the rest of the album. You mentioned the rerecording of 'Dirty Magic', but the straight, rather dreary way that song was played only emphasizes my point that The Offspring were looking to be more serious. 'Days Go By', one of the stronger tracks, is an incredibly bitter track that completely lacks humour as The Offspring laments being left behind by the rest of the music scene. To me, 'Cruising California' doesn't feel like a parody in their old style, but an attempt to tackle a new style in the same way they tried to incorporate hip-hop and nu-metal on 'Conspiracy Of One' - and it doesn't work. I'd consider the diversity of attempted style on this album eclectic if it wasn't such a mess. And I don't see how one can listen to 'Slim Pickens' and not consider it lyrically a condemnation of punk music as a whole.

    So yeah, I might not be as invested in The Offspring as I was other bands, but I went into this album hoping for the best and expecting the worst - and I got the latter.

  3. What did you think of that AAR album? It's honestly one of my favorite albums ever.

  4. I haven't listened to the whole album, but I do really love "Divide by Zero".