That two previously obscure punk-pop bands, Green Day and Offspring, have gone platinum this year should come as no surprise. Think about the music that has shaped the cutting edge so far in the '90s: Seattle grunge, West Coast gangsta rap, Euro techno. If there's a common thread, it's that melody is secondary to bringing the noise, riding the beat or setting the mood.
Green Day's Dookie and, more recently, Offspring's Smash have brought back the tune you can hum in the shower, the chorus you can bark in the mosh pit. While diving into many of the same brooding themes with which Chris Cornell and Warren G. are obsessed, these records feel lighter, more buoyant, fun even. What a concept.
The subject that keeps turning up most often in the punk-pop underground is encapsulated by Offspring's "Self Esteem": "I may be dumb/But I'm not a dweeb/I'm just a sucker with no self-esteem." It's a tune with all of the genre's prerequisites: a rumbling bass riff, stuttering guitars and a guy who keeps getting stood up by his girl if he has a girl.
In this world there's no shortage of songs that navigate the emotional chasm between high school and adulthood, and at times Offspring come off as rote. "Nitro" and "Not the One" strive for anthem status by proclaiming, "We are the ones/Who are living under the gun every day" and "We're innocent, but the weight of the world is on our shoulders," but neither tune is fast or inventive enough to overcome the whine in Bryan "Dexter" Holland's voice.
Otherwise, the Orange County, Calif., quartet refuse to settle for slam-and-surf conventions. They tinker with tempo and dynamics on "Genocide" by spooling the tension in and out, dabbling in ska on "What Happened to You?" and sliding a Bachman-Turner Overdrive riff into the midsection of "It'll Be a Long Time." "Come Out and Play" is a car wreck that shouldn't work but does: funky drummer intro, AC/DC chords, a recurring Middle Eastern guitar riff and a catch phrase worthy of a Cypress Hill single: "You gotta keep 'em separated." Call 'em punks if you want to, but a song this cannily designed, arranged and executed is worthy of the best rock-songwriting tradition.
In contrast to Offspring's musical hopscotch, Bad Religion's Stranger Than Fiction adheres to the hardcore-pop style the quintet perfected more than a decade ago. Bad Religion's previous releases were on Epitaph, the label the band's guitarist, Brad Burewitz, created in 1982 and which is now the epicenter of the Southern California punk scene with a roster including Offspring, Pennywise, Rancid and NOFX.
On its major-label debut, Bad Religion sound fiercer than ever, produced with blue-flame clarity by Andy Wallace (Rollins Band, Slayer, White Zombie). Blasting out of the box with "Incomplete," the band allows for only subtle variations in tempo and tone as it hurtles through 15 songs in less than 39 minutes. The effect is hardly monotonous; like the Ramones' early albums, Stranger Than Fiction is a thrill ride that threatens to hurtle off the track at any second, the melodies coming in great, breathless bunches.
If there's a flaw, it's that Bad Religion pack almost too much detail into their two-minute bursts of adrenalin. Greg Graffin's pseudophilosophical lyrics sometimes get the best of him, as on "Tiny Voices": "The billions of tiny pinhole embers fade into a morning sky filled with poignant morose wonder/Waking, we bear a cosmetic peace that verifies the turmoil, which we carry deep inside."
More often that not, however, the knitted brows dissolve in a blur of guitars and drums. Bad Religion does it with instrumental sizzle, Offspring with a smirk. Either way, these bands look trouble in the eye and stampede through it. No wonder punk is back. (RS 694)
(Posted: Feb 2, 1998)
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I think this deserves more then 3 stars. This whas the album that made Offspring famous for the public and the first "mainstream" album. Even though this is a little sell out compared to their earlier album "Ignition" it is still a good album. "Self esteem" will be their best known song ever even it is not my personal favorite.
Jun 1, 2007 01:12:32
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