Every music fan has that band they adored when they were young; puberty was just around the next turn or already amidst your daily troubles. You were easily influenced, grabbing for something to attach to. For me, these days involved Limp Bizkit, Eminem, System of a Down ‘Toxicity’ era, bouts of Donkey Kong on the Game Boy Color, and maybe a little surface punk rock. Among all this was a small Californian group called “The Offspring. Their slew of albums remained in constant rotation in my room. The opening spoken word piece of “Smash.” The 9-minute closer of “Americana” in ‘Pay the Man.’ Hell, even the times I stood on top of my bed rocking out to “Beheaded” from their debut self-titled. I can’t listen to any of their older albums without recalling Pokemon, homework, and those bygone eras of a kid (me) who didn’t know shit about anything except every word of ‘the Offspring’s Americana album. I think we all have this band.
A new record from The Offspring post-2002 isn’t really a huge deal, on a wide social scale. Their recent output has been less than stellar, to say the least. 2003′s Splinter was fun but short and unremarkable. And then 2008 saw Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace, which was just a mixed pot of mediocre attempts to warm to an older sound and cheesy pop ballads that caused nausea. I don’t want to remember Kristy, Are You Doing OK? anytime soon and hopefully this will be the last mention of that song ever in history.
So I am in a precarious place. I can’t pretend I don’t have a self-sustained history with the group. Their albums, to me, are legendary. I see a new album by a nostalgic-infused band from my youth, and I just have that sinking feeling that they will just disappoint again. But I feel guilty. They ALREADY gave me so much?
Days Go By is much much better than I would have thought hearing a few songs leading up to the release. Lead single and title track Days Go By is by-the-books alt-rock, sounding more like a buried track 8 Foo Fighters song than old school California punk rock. The second single, Cruisin California (Bumpin in my Truck) is just ridiculously awful. You get the slight impression that the Offspring are parodying top 40 pop music, yet the song is so out of touch and obnoxiously foolish they only really end up parodying themselves.
Yet, listening through the album, my heart fluttered. It rose. My intertwined nostalgic attachments to The Offspring felt, well, satisfied. Lead track The Future is Now opens the album up well, sounding similar to The Offspring in the late-90′s. They retain some classic punk-rock aesthetics here with Dividing By Zero, a short blast of punk rock ethos towards the end of the album. Sounds a bit like All I Want, which is pure punk- if it was on the radio, of course.
Their is a cheesy ballad here (oh gawd) in the form of All I Have Left is You. It’s silly and dumb, but actually quite harmless and boasts a steady little harmony and hook that actually sticks as opposed to infuriates. For modern day attempts to reach radio appeal, there could be much worse.
Perhaps the most interesting inclusion is a song called Dirty Magic. For long-time Offspring fans, and those who heard their old material, it is a re-release and re-recording of the track from their second album Ignition. This time around, it’s heavier and cleaner, and uses this odd guitar tone. I can’t possibly listen to it without hearing the song I’ve grown accustomed to, and it sets a potentially dangerous precedent of bands re-recording songs and releasing them on a new album. The problem I have with Dirty Magic is that it didn’t need to exist in this new form.
Oc Guns is actually a really bizarre little song that uses this old school hip-hop esque drum pattern and bass line, and classical instrumentation, making for one of the most dynamic and interesting songs from the band in the last decade.
All in all, Days Go By is their best album in 12 years. It offers a dash of experimentation, a dash of balladry like their recent output, and brief inclusions of punk rock songs that would fit in comfortably mid-career. Everyone who is into music has that band or artist that they just attached to in youth. For me, that is The Offspring. Now when those artists go decades into their career, and still release music, you tend to just look at it unfavorably. With that nostalgia self-contained in their older material, it is also a bit fresh to hear a band from youth still moving forward and retaining a semblance of what made you love them in the first place. From The Offspring, and any band that is in this position for someone, that is really the best you can expect. On comparison’s sake, the new music will almost always lose. But as you remove yourself from that logic and train of thought, you find something charming and likable here, even if you aren’t twelve and recalling the best of a band’s heyday.