The Internet may eventually revolutionize the music industry, but with major record labels salivating to sue Napster, likely nothing much will change for now. However, with bands like the Offspring in the mix, it's not for lack of trying. The Offspring has not only endorsed the controversial music community, but also started selling Napster merchandise on their website. Earlier this year, they went even further, promising to offer free downloads of their entire album Conspiracy of One, much to the consternation of their parent company, Columbia. The suits quickly intervened, the promise was soon revoked and the album is now being released conventionally, but the controversy garnered enough attention to provoke questions. Was this just a publicity stunt or an effort to be "fan supportive rather than fan exploitative," as frontman Dexter Holland claims?
If the resultant disc is a reliable indicator, the reply is...maybe. The latest release from a group whose influences range range from the California hard-core scene to heavy metal tries to be both an album that doesn't alienate their dedicated fan base but still garners commercial success. From the outset, raunchy guitars and charging drums assault the eardrums on "Come Out Swinging", underpinning Holland's atonal shout as he reminds you that even though the Offspring have become mainstream mainstays, their roots still lie in punk. But even as the band seems poised and ready once again to pierce bubble-gum pop as they did on their notorious single "Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)" (off Americana), they decide instead to take the safer route. The album trades blows of intense, adrenaline pumped frenzy with the safer distorted power chords of mainstream rock. The first released single, "Original Prankster" tries to capitalize on the success of "Pretty Fly," simultaneously leaning on its Latin influences, copying its screw-ball sound-bites and mimicking its pop-culture references, although this time everything is a little more obscure.
It's easily the best mainstream track on the album, but almost by default. The Offspring is at their best when they're not taking themselves too seriously, and that shows up whether turning punk conventions on their ear or incorporating eccentric sensibilities into their music. However, if you don't fully listen to the lyrics, you'll miss the point. "I Want You Bad," which appears straightforward, isn't a love song, but a driving anthem mocking sexual predilections, as Holland hollers over hyped up guitars ("I want you/All tattooed/I want you bad/Complete me/Mistreat me/I want you bad"). Similarly easy to miss in "One Fine Day" is the derisive parody of the hard-drinking, hard-living lifestyle that the Sex Pistols embodied in their prime. In these moments, the lads from Garden Grove manage to be both punk and anti-punk as their energy grips and rips right through you.
If the Offspring is at home in that genre, when they stray away, the boys are certainly unwelcome strangers in a foreign land. Forays into more mainstream sensibilities seem a poorly conceived mishmash. On "Special Delivery," high pitched squeals from House of Pain's "Jump Around" trade off against the "ooga-chucka" repetition ripped from Blue Swede's "Hooked on a Feeling," while "Denial, Revisited" could have come from any band inspired by the '90s grunge craze. Offspring reaches too far in attempting to conjure lasting hooks on the more marketable songs, as they seemingly struggle to conjure a chart-topping, radio ready hit. It sounds forced, and from the belabored likes of "Living in Chaos," controversial, cursing music is definitely more their natural element.
My advice? Go to their website, download the free full version of "Original Gangster" and skip the rest unless you're a devoted fan. You won't get in trouble for getting the Offspring's music for free, because they really don't care. C
The Offspring Conspiracy of One
Conspiracy of One