Photo Credit: Daveed Benito
Although they’re called the Offspring, the Orange County, California band are in fact the begetters of a movement which has spawned both massive commercial success and nearly as much controversy in rock since the mid-90’s. With their 1994 radio hit “Come Out and Play” (which has always been more commonly referred to as “Keep ‘Em Separated”) from the prophetically-titled album Smash, the Offspring – along with fellow Californians Green Day and Blink-182 – brought punk rock literally kicking and screaming into the mainstream, opening the doors for bands like Good Charlotte and Fall Out Boy (just to name a few). Naturally, there were endless cries of “sell out” (which wasn’t helped by the fact that the Offspring did leave stalwart punk label Epitaph for industry behemoth Columbia), and just as many accusations that the band was no longer punk, or if they ever were in the first place. Still, the mainstream rock audience by and large stood by the Offspring, as every subsequent one of their albums through 2000 went Top 10 and platinum in the US.
Let the Bad Times Roll is the Offspring’s first new full-length release in eleven years (at least a bit of that lapse can be excused by the pandemic), and at just over thirty-three minutes in length, the expression “cautious return” probably applies. Opening cut “This is Not Utopia” could of just as well been called “This is Not the Offspring,” given that between the title, musical approach and lyrics (“News keeps flashing on my eyes // These dying streets are bruised and beaten // Riot flags are waving”), the track sounds unmistakably much more like the band’s former labelmates Bad Religion (as does “Hassan Chop”).
“Coming for You” takes its cues from a less closely-related – but even more commonly-mined – musical source, Garry Glitter’s 1972 classic sporting event mainstay “Rock and Roll (Part 2)”, replete with the appropriate “Hey!” chants. The title “Army of One” clearly suggests a revisitation to another common punk theme from the ‘90s and 2000s, but the track does present the album’s best hook and shows the flawless instrumentation that the band is capable of, this time primarily courtesy of drummer Pete Parada and longtime lead guitarist Kevin John “Noodles” Wasserman.
Some of what’s also included on Let the Bad Times Roll is just downright confusing. A guitar rock version of Edward Grieg’s 1875 classical instrumental piece “In the Hall of the Mountain King” seems like a very odd way to kill exactly one minute of album time (and/or pay purely random homage to Yngwie Malmsteen), while the uptempo “Let the Bad Times Roll” can’t seem to decide whether it’s being sardonic or satirical. On that subject, “We Don’t Have Sex Anymore” (yes, that’s the title) opens with a bassline reminiscent of Green Day’s “Longview” (the song which, along with “Come Out and Play”, is the one song most responsible for mainstream punk) before introducing a big band horn section and an overall approach which makes it feel more like one of “Weird Al” Yankovic’s originals.
On “Breaking the Bones” and “Opioid Diaries”, the Offspring sound the most like their old selves. “Gone Away” should also certainly sound familiar, since it’s a piano version of the band’s own radio hit from their 1997 album Ixnay on the Hombre. Although this incarnation reveals even more clearly just how much the song resembles Tears for Fears’ “Mad World” (to the point where Roland Orzabal should probably have been given a co-writing credit), including a remake of one of the band’s own songs doesn’t really suggest that the Offspring have as much to shoƒw as they ought to for the absence of an entire decade. Ultimately, Let the Bad Times Roll rolls out the bad and the good, along with the mediocre – perhaps just a bit too much of that last one.