The Offspring – Americana (1998)
Bottom Line Up Front: This is a 4.85 out of 5 stars album. I’ve been encouraged by multiple people in my life that I need to give the Offspring a serious listen. My editor has been a strong supporter of this effort over the past decade. Her efforts have made me a fan of The Offspring but that serious listen didn’t happen until now with PLTAM. And I’m completely blown away by Americana. There is much more here to love than what I initially expected.
Artist Background: The Offspring have their origins in the early 80s, but they didn’t get their current name until 1986 and didn’t release their first album until 1989. The band was made up of Dexter Holland (vocals, guitar), Noodles (lead guitar), Greg K. (bass) and Ron Welty (drums) at the time of recording. Their breakout album, Smash, didn’t happen until 1994 when it sold 16M copies. It set a record for independent record sales with their label at the time, Epitaph. In fact, it is currently 6X platinum because it still sells reasonably well to this day. With their new success, they eventually moved to the major label, Columbia. It was a messy and controversial transition that is still talked about. I can’t say I disapprove of the move, though, I’m sure there are many punk purists that will never forgive them. But I hope none of them would deny Offspring’s importance in making punk relevant to the mainstream again in the 90s. I think I’m going to end it here as far as covering the history of the band but I would like to add that the Offspring have been incredibly supportive of the digital music revolution. They often tried to make their music available online even when it pissed off the record executives. They also sold Napster T-shirts on their site and donated the profits to Napster. They were doing this when other musicians like Metallica were having complete shit fits about Napster and college students with broadband connections. I absolutely respect them for seeing the bigger picture.
Album Background: Americana is a punk rock album released in 1998. It runs about 44 minutes in length over 13 tracks. It is their fifth album and best charting album having reached number two on the charts. It’s not their best selling, though, as that honor belongs to Smash by a significant margin. The Offspring tried to go back to a more traditional sound with this album as their previous album, Ixnay on the Hombre was kind of experimental and not as well received. Despite the pressures to rebound, Noodles said Americana was very easy to record and this seems accurate as it was recorded in half the time of Ixnay at 18 months instead of 36. Considering again that this is their highest charting album in their discography, I would they say they couldn’t ask for a better rebound. Americana let them show the world that Smash was not a fluke.
I try to keep these album backgrounds short, but there is one more thing I think is worth talking about. The Jerry Springer Show was considered a key influence for the album. Many of the songs are considered short stories of American life rather than satirical views of your average American. It’s an important distinction as I originally viewed the album as mainly satirical after listening to it. One of the songs that was clearly influenced by the show is Why Don’t You Get a Job which covers the topic of relationship leeches. What’s a more interesting influence on the song is the Beatles’ classic Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da. Some people said the Offspring ripped off the Beatles with this song but it sounds more like a similar style of music rather than any kind of ripoff. To put this into perspective of what ripping off a song actually means, let’s compare this to the recent Sam Smith/Tom Petty debacle. In that case, Petty was financially compensated and rightfully so. I’m not aware of the Beatles pursuing any legal action and my bet is because they really don’t have a case. Having “I know I’ve heard that before somewhere…” pop into your head after listening to a new song is one of the most fun aspects of being a music nerd.
Favorite Track: I wasn’t in love with every track on the album, but I really liked enough of them that this was not an easy decision for me. However, I’m going with the title track: Americana. So why did this stick out for me? I love a good intro and Americana excels at this. The first thirteen seconds are nothing but the intense sparse beats of a lone drum set. Then a guitar adds to the slow, steady build up followed by some light vocalizations. It’s over a minute before you hear the first lyric. After the first line, everything kicks into hyper gear as the drums and guitars go full throttle. The lyrics perfectly complement the intense delivery of the instruments with classic punk social angst and the occasional swear words. In this case, the phrase “fuck you” is expertly placed in multiple context to take advantage of the unique flexibility of the F word. The lyrics mostly concentrate on selfish attitudes of the citizens found in the main character’s dystopian visions. Slowly, he is realizing it is, in fact, a dystopian reality.
- Multifarious I fell in love with this album before I even reached the highway on my Monday morning commute. When I reached a stoplight, I had to look down on my music player to see if the first song was really that short. It wasn’t. Have You Ever is actually made up of sections so distinct that you think a new song started up. For a band to try that on the opening song with a length of only four minutes, seriously impressed me. I knew right there this week was going to be highly enjoyable. Offspring takes this concept even further with the final track, Pay The Man. This song was supposed to be on their previous album, Ixnay on Hombre, but it was so different that it wasn’t a good fit. The song has a Saharan feel to it and is considered to be far more acid rock than punk rock. It has several distinct progressions over eight minutes with no repetition tying them together. They tried to play it at a concert once. The reaction from the crowd was mostly confusion and musings of how high the band must be right now. The experiment was a failure, which is sad because I would absolutely love to see the song played live.
- Noodles Of all the members, Noodles has caught my attention most as he was an elementary school janitor at the time he joined the band and is rumored to have been brought into the band because he was the only one old enough to buy alcohol at the time. Also noteworthy is that he was stabbed at an anti-nuclear rally early in the band’s career. He has a distinct look with thick black glasses and skunk dyed hair. His aggressive playing style is a key component of the Offspring’s sound and absolutely critical to their success. My editor also love Noodles and now I understand why.
- Speed Dexter does most of his writing in his car. He’ll write stuff down when he’s stuck in traffic jams and such. It’s kind of funny that while he’s going so slow that he’s able to see gum clearly on the highway, he’s writing lyrics that are inspiring drivers worldwide to get speeding tickets. I don’t think I’ve ever felt the need for speed quite as much as I did while listening to Americana on my daily commute. And it’s great because each member of the band contributes to this overwhelming feeling to push on the gas pedal. Have You Ever, Staring at the Sun, The Kids Aren’t Alright, Walla Walla, Americana and of course, No Brakes are fantastic songs to get your heart pounding. I don’t condone speeding, but I do wonder how many times the phrase “Sorry officer, but I was listening to Offspring’s Americana.” has been uttered by a driver after they’ve been pulled over.
- Feelings I hated this song every single time I heard it on the album. It’s a punk cover of the 1975 pop song, Feelings. Feelings is considered one of the worst songs ever recorded. There are really two main reasons I hate this song. The first is that the album is flawless up until it’s played. Worse yet the song is right after one of Offspring’s masterpieces, The Kids Aren’t Alright, which is about the destruction of teenagers whole fall through the cracks of society as they approach adulthood. The other reason I hate the song is that it magnifies any and all weaknesses the band has. It’s almost like they wanted to highlight their flaws and give their detractors as much ammunition as possible when they put it on the album. If somebody wants to say Dexter is crappy singer, it’s pretty easy to make your case thanks to Feelings unfortunately.
In Conclusion: Americana is a worthwhile listen. I enjoyed this album all week. Offspring does a great job of mixing it up throughout the album with good pop sensibilities and creative song progressions to produce a memorable punk rock album. Just please be careful if you plan on listening to it in your car. I’m not paying for anybody’s speeding ticket.
Music Video Links:
The Offspring – The Kids Aren’t Alright (Official Video)
The Offspring – Why Don’t You Get A Job (Official Video)
The Offspring – She’s Got Issues (Official Video)
The Offspring – Pretty Fly (For A White Guy) (Official Video)