LOUDER REVIEWS: 'Let The Bad Times Roll' - The Offspring
By now, The Offspring have undoubtedly been deified in the upper echelons of the punk rock history books. Nearly 40 years into their career, the band have managed something many thought to be unachievable: maintaining your place amongst the must-listen-to bands in the Intro-to-Punk-Rock handbook, whilst seemingly avoiding accusations of ‘selling out’ or ‘becoming tame’ as you head towards – sorry guys! – middle age. Some may argue this is because their last new record is now over 12 years old - then again, when you have the strength of tracks such as ‘Self Esteem’, ‘You’re Gonna Go Far Kid’, and ‘The Kids Aren’t Alright’ in your arsenal, why would you need to risk losing your stalwart fanbase by producing new music? The Offspring’s answer: because we want to!
That drive has resulted in their first release in over a decade, the fiery ‘Let The Bad Times Roll’. Despite now being – apologies again – older and wiser than they were on their previous efforts, there is absolutely no sense of The Offspring taking it easy here: if anything, they’re challenging the new guys to try and keep up!
‘Coming For You’ drips with sass and swagger from the off, as the low bassline rumbles seductively away; this this is a statement of intent where, whether directed at a former lover or a classroom bully, the incisive derision is scalding either way. The mosh-pit inducing chorus on ‘This Is Not Utopia’ is pure joy, with all the happy-go-lucky youthful fervour of classic tracks like ‘Original Prankster’, while ‘Hassan Chop’ is eclectic and anarchic as anything that came out of the underground punk scene in the 90s.
But perhaps the best example of them all is the heady, decadent ‘Army Of One’. A feverish pocket rocket of a melody, this track is the perfect soundtrack to a heady afternoon of rail slides and ollies. Yet, it doesn’t feel out of place for men of their experience to be embracing such a youthful sound: on the contrary, the band are simply fulfilling the same role that they have always had, which is to be a guiding light to a new generation of disenfranchised kids looking for something to believe in. The only change now is that they have already lived the trials and tribulations of those kids just discovering their music for the first time. Therefore, their emphatic declaration of independence, of looking to yourself for strength, and of finding a way to muddle through your struggles is even more impactful than ever before, because they have been there, done that, and come out the other side alive.
However, the nostalgic over-the-shoulder gaze is actually not present on the majority of this record. The boldly christened ‘We Never Have Sex Anymore’ feels as light-hearted as it gets in the first instance, sporting a funky bassline, and a brass section that comes dallying in, bringing the melodramatic grandeur of the days of big band. Yet, while the lyrics are candidly tongue-in-cheek, their subject matter is profoundly adult in nature. A critical analysis of a long-term relationship which has gone cold, the song is a desperate plea to ignite some kind of fire – whether positive or negative – in the relationship once again. This isn’t a track made for teenagers and twenty-somethings; these are words borne from experience of both life’s highest points, and it’s very lowest ones.
Similar in tone is the stunning ‘The Opioid Diaries’. Again, the radio-effect guitars, rocketing through at breakneck speed could fool you for a second into thinking this is a celebration of youthful hedonism. However, The Offspring have been known for being unafraid to tackle serious societal failings in their music: one example that springs to mind is the utterly profound ‘Come Out And Play’ from 1994’s ‘Smash’, which deals with gang violence in the band’s hometown of Los Angeles. Whilst ‘The Opioid Diaries’ is, in the first instance, a comment on the current opioid crisis in the United States, it’s intensity comes from the fact that the men delivering this message have been here before. Social Distortion frontman Mike Ness battled with drug addiction for many years; NOFX’s Smelly earned his nickname because he smelt so badly, owing to his addiction to heroin at the time; and Darby Crash of The Germs ended his own life by overdosing on heroin. These bands formed the foundations of the scene from which The Offspring would soon arise, and so this band have already seen how badly drugs can affect the lives of many of those they grew up alongside: so, if anyone has the perspective to urge today’s young people not to make those same mistakes, it’s them. The Offspring are using their role as elder statesmen of punk to provide a guiding light for the next generation, by penning lyrics that are mature and observational, with a darkly insistent truth. And that is why their riotous, fever-pitch sound still works – growing up doesn’t mean growing old, but it does change your viewpoints and your experiences become part of your journey. And that is also part of the reason you sometimes need to shake off all that adult responsibility and indulge in feeling like a teenager again!
There are some moments of unnecessary garnishing on ‘Let The Bad Times Roll’: their fuzzy guitar cover of ‘In The Hall Of The Mountain King’ is somewhat self-indulgent, and the vocals on hauntingly eerie closer ‘Lullaby’ are buried beneath more levels of bubbling reverb than it is possible to conceive of on a punk record. Yet, at times, it is taking a small breather from the spin-kicking chaos of the punk rock formula that produces some of the record’s most stunning moments: namely, penultimate track ‘Gone Away’. The introduction of the mournful piano grinds the party to a starkly bleak halt, with mournful chords that echo those in tracks such as Tears For Fears’ haunting ballad ‘Mad World’. This track is a stark reflection on grief and loss; an incredibly mature contemplation on one of the sad realities of getting older, which is that those that you love begin to leave you behind. After the year that humanity as a whole has endured, a track such as this from a band whose energy and vitality is everything is even more sobering. As the violins rise to an emotional crescendo, and the line ‘If I could trade I would’ tears its way through the melody, the humans behind The Offspring’s happy-go-lucky melodies have never been so pronounced.
All in all, this album doesn’t prescribe to any preconceived notions of what The Offspring’s fanbase looks like now. The angst and antagonism that fuels the majority of these songs could just as easily be directed at your local government leaders who have corrupted your idea of what a civilised society should look like, as it could the class bully who shoved you over and stole your lunch money. The Offspring have done the unthinkable with ‘Let The Bad Times Roll’: they have managed to grow up with their sound, without losing what made them so dearly beloved to the punk kids of yesteryear. Hats off to you fellas!
'Let The Bad Times Roll' is due for release on the 16th of April via Concord Records - pre-order the record here:
Check out the video for the title track, 'Let The Bad Times Roll', below:
The Offspring have announced a huge UK arena tour for this November, with support from The Hives! Dates are below and tickets are available here: