Review Summary: The lyrics are so patently ridiculous and lacking in perspective that they become all-consuming.
There’s no real scientific evidence for it, but it’s been more or less proven that the more effort the Offspring put into forging a distinct sound, the lower the quality of Dexter Holland’s songwriting. Sure, there are anomalies- ‘Come Out And Play’ may prove to be the singularly most brilliant track the band have put out, and the sublime ‘Pretty Fly (For A White Guy)’ expertly skirts the infectious/irritating divide- but in general the Orange County punks fare best when they’re marrying Noodles’ infectious, brazen riffs with Holland’s sincere-but-fairly-meaningless political slogans. Rise And Fall, Rage And Grace
makes a point of ticking both boxes from the outset (as, indeed, did predecessor Splinter
): it takes its cues from the top commercial rock bands of the day- Muse, Green Day, Foo Fighters, etc.- and witnesses Holland waxing lyrical about the environment and all that good sh
it. So why, then, does the group’s eighth studio album make a good case for being their worst?
The cause is pretty damn fundamental, as it happens. The Offspring drafted super-producer Bob Rock to spearhead their return to the pantheons of radio rock glory. Rock, much maligned today as the man who single-handedly ruined Metallica, was in his day one of the most revered producers in the business. To bands like the Cult and Motley Crue, Rock represented an opportunity to regain focus after unsuccessful releases, if not commercially then at least critically. Rock’s uncompromising and ruthless pursuit of excellence may not have won him many friends- he’s known to have had guitarists spend entire days recording a single riff- but most of the groups he’s partnered have been quick to note his effect on raising their personal standards. And, it must be noted, all of Rock’s releases sound
immaculate- he is a perfectionist, after all. Equally, though, if Bob Rock isn’t given an awful lot to work with, the records can wind up sounding like generic Bob Rock records, rather than Metallica, Our Lady Peace or, in this case, Offspring records.
Put simply, Rise And Fall, Rage And Grace
is the least “Offspring” record the band have managed to produce. It’s obvious as early as opening track ‘Half-Truism’ that main songwriter Holland has been dipping into his theatrical rock play book, and the lessons he’s drawn don’t make for easy listening. The chiming guitar intro borrows liberally from Muse’s ‘New Born’- think ‘Ice Ice Baby’-like proportions- before resolving to a frenetically paced verse that’s more in tune with Offspring openers of old. Inexplicably, however, the song reverts to a plodding, half-speed chorus that kills all the momentum that the track had built. One can’t help but draw comparisons with The Black Parade
, so overwrought is the stab at grandiosity. The multi-layered guitar and vocal tracks are meant to emphasise the majesty of the chorus, but they succeed only in glossing over the imperfections that give Holland’s voice its unique character. They pull off the numerous tempo changes with due diligence, but this is not enough to overcome the track’s general tediousness.
This misguided eagerness to please is endemic throughout the album’s 12 tracks, from the appropriation of other artists’ styles (the chunky riffing and brutish vocals of ‘Hammerhead’ are reminiscent of Dave Grohl, while closer ‘Rise And Fall’ is a transparent attempt to recreate the vitality of Green Day’s ‘American Idiot’) to Holland’s equally unrelatable lyrics. Dexter has always been keen to play up to the teenage revolutionary demographic- occasionally striking gold, such as with the societal critique ‘Genocide’- but whereas before his lyrics only fell down under scrutiny (if at all), nowadays his political posturing sounds ridiculous the moment it leaves his mouth. He directs his ire at easy targets like bloodthirsty soldiers (Christians, natch) and the irresponsible media (FauxNews!), without ever really saying anything of substance, or at least addressing a topic that hadn’t already been run into the ground the first time they wrote about Baghdad. Even ‘Nothingtown,’ a return to one of Dexter’s favourite topics (suburban malaise), is a non-starter: your writer assumes he’s not the only one who lost interest when Holland started bleating about “picket fences.”
‘Stuff Is Messed Up’ (apparently censored for inclusion on the tracklist- the actual lyric is “sh
it is fu
cked up”) sums up the generally half-as
sed nature of the record. Racing out of the trap with probably one of the dumbest lyrics ever written, Dexter poignantly notes: “the world is crying but nobody’s listening… so please leave a message on my cell phone.”
Is this the legacy Al Gore has left us? Thing is, musically, ‘Stuff Is Messed Up’ is the one true moment of pop punk genius on the record- and it’s in no way a slight to say it could neatly sit alongside Avril Lavigne’s ‘The Best Damn Thing’- it’s just that the lyrics are so patently ridiculous and lacking in perspective that they become all-consuming. Like a moth on a TV screen during a particularly engaging movie, it becomes impossible to focus on anything else. Elsewhere, tracks like ‘Fix You’ (yes, it expresses exactly the same sentiments as the Coldplay song, except it sounds like a Sum 41 ballad) and ‘Takes Me Nowhere’ have the opposite effect- they’re vague to the point that they don’t actually say anything. It’s hard to say which is worse.