Happy 25th Anniversary to The Offspring’s third studio album Smash, originally released April 8, 1994.
For a number of reasons, I was apprehensive about looking back on The Offspring's seminal punk rock record Smash. In some respects, it offers a strange duality: a record that meant a lot at the time yet means nothing to me now. Smash was released on April 8, 1994, notably three days after Kurt Cobain committed suicide and with his passing, the dominance of Grunge on early nineties music and culture began to wane. Punk, or a mutated pop form at the very least, was becoming exceptionally hip in retaliation to Grunge's more earnest methods. Smash was, at the time, the best-selling album ever released on an independent label (Epitaph Records) and with that, The Offspring were considered, at least to my mind anyway, the more authentically punk rock compared to Green Day, who had released their massive major label release Dookie a few months before.
Smash reached number four on the US Billboard Charts and to date has sold an estimated eleven million copies worldwide. The record's singles included the infectious “Come Out and Play,” “Self Esteem,” and “Gotta Get Away.” All of which received heavy rotation on MTV and extensive radio play.
This wasn't necessarily the case in the UK. Smash and, to an extent, the whole new wave of punk rock only made a small splash on those shores. The UK at the time was in the throes of the burgeoning Britpop revolution. Oasis, Blur, Suede and Pulp would release records that pissed on the over-exposure of US rock music in the UK.
As a fourteen-year-old British lad reared on American grunge and defiantly uninterested in any music currently being made in my own country, I flipped between Dookie and Smash for a month or so, trying to gauge and adapt to this new and exciting musical venture. Did it happen? In a word no, no it didn't. "No Future" snarled Johnny Rotten on The Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy in the U.K,” the fist-pumping punk single from 1977, which set the template for punk rock to come. The opening track of Smash, the bristling “Nitro (Youth Energy)” mirrors Rotten in its chorus that we should all live "like there's no tomorrow." And in those short weeks, I realized this American variation on punk rock had no future for me. American new wave punk had no tomorrow in my mind.
Early punk rock was societal commentary. The whole cultural landscape was damned and any political future was nil and void. This new wave of ‘90s American punk bands were not talking about Bush or Clinton. The lyricism was about personal failures, ego damaging relationships, pathetic attempts at being human, or as was the case with most of these bands, failing at being a male. And often they were painted in cartoonish colors. Perhaps this goes someway to explaining why these records have little impact today. Smash and Dookie are eternally juvenile records. The content has not aged along with the listener. No new revelations emerged in the intervening years to allow for renewed (or new) connections to be found. They remain forever locked in 1994.
Smash does engage with its culture and musically at times defies the slim punk template from which it borrows from. For example the jaunty “Come Out and Play” explores the gun culture of American teens and with its spoken refrain of "You've gotta keep'um separated" is a masterstroke. The whiny “Self Esteem,” a song that reflects on a quite one-sided sexual relationship is married to a tune that juts and struts about and really has no place on a punk rock record. It's all the better for it. Yet songs like “Bad Habit,” a story of a driver experiencing road rage and contemplating gunning down his fellow drivers, leaves the listener, in the aftermath of countless mass shootings in America and indeed thought the world, somewhat aggravated and, excuse the pun, triggered.
Ultimately what happened to me after this brief foray into puck rock music was that Britpop finally got its claws into me. Oasis, Blur, Suede and The Stone Roses became more important and more telling of my existence than bright and sunny American pop/punk. Within no time, these bands in sounds and style—and matched to many more cultural signifiers—would point me back to British musical history. The Smiths, New Order, Joy Division, The Cure, The Clash, The Sex Pistols and so on. In comparison to the Offspring and Green Day, there was a sense that there had been a vibrant and deeply authentic punk rock movement that spoke more to me than its American new wave variant.
On listening to Smash for this piece, it is instantly recognizable that there are enough earworms to warrant its place as an important album of its genre and its era. “Gotta Get Away,” for example, moves into a chorus that simply defines catchiness in all its essence, whilst “What Happened To You” is a proto-punk/ska knees-up that would easily create a rough ocean of bopping heads at an indie disco or live gig. The song basically reeks of cheap beer tossed in the air.
Where are The Offspring now? It’s been a while since their last record (2012’s Days Go By) surfaced, but a new record is already in the can and awaiting release sometime in 2019. What I mean by this question of where they are is more about their influence on the culture at large. For such an immense album you would think that an echo of their sound could be heard ricocheting in mainstream music today. But it is for the most part absent.
This is not the fault of The Offspring, nor Green Day to an extent, but more the fault of the subcategorizing of rock music in general. It certainly didn’t start with Grunge, but it’s an interesting modern example. From here, and in very short space of time, rock music morphed and took various avenues into Nu-metal, Emo, Industrial, Grindcore, Rap Rock, Stoner Rock, culminating at the start of the new century in bands such as The Strokes and The White Stripes who stripped back a lot of the bullshit for what they deemed a more authentic experiences of Garage Rock. And this is just the American aspect. Bands such as The Offspring, Green Day, Rancid, NOFX, all by and large new-wave punks originators, had to watch their sound dilute into bands such as Blink 182, Sum 41, Good Charlotte, Fall Out Boy, Bowling for Soup, and dare I continue towards Alien Ant Farm and Crazy Town. The punk became less, the pop became more, style and gimmickry was everything. A perfect example of the MTVification of everything.
The Offspring’s 1998 album Americana tested the waters of this farcical by-product, at least in its singles “Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)” and “Why Don’t You Get a Job.” Both videos produced for these singles were directed by McG and became massive MTV hits.
I’m not saying these bands listed above and these sub-genres don’t carry any merit, but I am saying that The Offspring have in some respects been lost to the noise of lesser bands that became more popular in a blaze of hit singles and flashy music videos.
It’s worth revisiting Smash for its instant pop/punk kicks, its defiance, and to see where the pointers lay for all those pretenders who followed after.