Review Summary: Glimpses of vitality, masses of banality, end up in mediocrity.
If the millennium brought The Offspring and especially Dexter Holland one thing, then the question what to do with the success of "Americana". And you can't really pin it on them, that they couldn't repeat the "Ixnay On The Hombre" surprise, actually delivering something better than what brought them to stardom. Instead in 2000 fans got a desperate cry for media attention, a pseudo-fight between the band and their label about releasing the next album for free and in consequence a lead single no one had to pay for. All that makes the mediocre end product "Conspiracy Of One" probably a little bit more understandable, in no way more excusable though. Because the reality is, even 14 years later it still stands as a low point in their discography.
And yet it begins so unbelievably promising. Come Out Swinging
is the perfect way to enter the stage, prolongs the series of great openers started with The Meaning Of Life
in 1997. Those powerful minutes presented in Come Out Swinging
with its pounding drums and a great riff still mark one of the most entertaining performances of Holland & Co throughout their entire career. While at first musically it seems like a "same procedure as every year" thing, the differences to the last records are fairly obvious at second glance. The slick production, the crunchy guitars and the heavy mixed drums all carry Brendan O'Brien's thumbprint. The distinctive sound produced is both off-putting and appealing at the same time. On one hand another step away from their punk roots is made, with often too exposed vocals and a performance that doesn't manage to maintain the same energy as the already poppy predecessors carried with them. Then again, the obvious inspirations from hard rock and metal genres offer enough to create songs like the too short All Along
or the title track, both full of power and memorable performances of guitarist Noodles.
The big let-downs are found elsewhere. The Offspring's more humorous moments have always brought ambivalent results, ranging from the hilarious Beheaded
back in '89 to not exactly harmful, but definitely useless pieces like When You're In Prison
. These tracks, hardly ever on the better side of their records anyway, pile up in an unhealthy amount this time. Both singles Original Prankster
and Want You Bad
showcase similar problems. Rather than being funny and entertaining, they come off as forced and mediocre re-hashes of their earlier work. Especially the resemblance of smash hit Pretty Fly (For A White Guy)
and its illegitimate successor Original Prankster
isn't helpful in any way to make the latter a worthwhile listen. Even more so as the "original" wasn't that brilliant to begin with.
While we're only talking about unsatisfying mediocrity here, the band reaches an all-time low with the incredibly bad Special Delivery
. Thanks to Dexter's shrill vocals, especially in the beginning criminally exposed without any help by his bandmates, the atrocious synth sounds used and a ridiculously stupid bridge the song is in the pole position for the track you skip every time. Accompanied consequently by the juvenile One Fine Day
, an outdated pop punk hymn that describes the wildest dreams of a retarded 14-year-old and is already summed up properly by its first lines:
If I had a perfect day
I would have it start that way
Open up the fridge and have a tall boy
Luckily at times you get a few reminders why the beginning hit so hard. Dammit, I Changed Again
is very much in the vein of the opener, once again scores with its simple, yet strong guitar work and a quite good performance of Dexter, both vocally and lyrically. And while A Million Miles Away
doesn't fully survive its running time, simply because what starts with a great riff goes on with exactly that and offers pretty much no variation of any kind, the aforementioned All Along
and Conspiracy Of One
keep it fresh, serve as the needed high-quality, heavier minutes in the second half.
To top that, you even get another grunge-inspired ballad, Vultures
, which marks a powerful reminder of 90's favourites Dirty Magic
and Gone Away
. Starting with a simple chord that instantly brings the former to mind, it offers easily Dexters best singing on the album - mostly characterized by a certain understatement, that successfully hides his vocal shortcomings - and a harmonious performance by the whole band, altogether quite an emotional moment.
All of that leads to the conclusion that there is no a real conclusion. While The Offspring had their fair share of applauded albums and especially their later work is controversial amongst fans to say the least, "Conspiracy Of One" could stand as the very definition of your garden-variety pop punk record. Not exactly a quality attribute, but what suffers from some out-dated, boring or simply poor tracks is compensated by a pretty much equal amount of worthwhile moments, mostly those that effectively incorporate a heavier sound and give their up-tempo songs a harder edge. And with a well-crafted power ballad to round up the whole affair, it almost seems easy to be happy with the LP again. But the truth is, for the Orange County punks the new millennium starts as a battle of well-matched sides, one showing energetic vitality, the other a forced sound and an uninspired re-hash.
Come Out Swinging
Dammit, I Changed Again
Huck It (European bonus track)