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Friday, 2 November 2012

Offspring - Smash (1994)

If you were a teenager growing up in Wolverhampton with an interest in so-called ‘alternative’ music, it was almost a rite of passage that you and your friends should go and ‘hang out’ on a Saturday afternoon and meet other people who liked so-called ‘alternative’ music.

There were three key places to ‘hang out’ in Wolverhampton town centre (this was back when it was a town) where you could go, have a laugh, have some beers (so long as you knew someone who could get served), or try your luck with one of the slappers from the Girls’ High (and they were slappers): there was Prince’s Square, which was always a good place to meet up - it had two key landmarks: the statue of Prince Albert, affectionately known as “the man on the horse”, and Mike Lloyd’s records, whose second-hand section would deplete my pocket money on any given weekend; there were the gardens of St. Peter’s church with circles of enclosed bushes, and a large U-shaped bench near the war memorial; there was also behind the back of the Civic Hall, with concrete steps and strange powerful fans that pointed up from beneath a grate and would propel any small object up into the air and hold it there, clattering off a concrete overhang belonging to the Civic Centre, before dropping back down to earth once pushed away from the jets of air.

I remember one particular afternoon when I was 14. It was a few weeks after my birthday, and I still had some money left to spend in the second-hand section of Mike Lloyd’s. Based on numerous recommendations, I bought Smash by Offspring. That day, I went and spent some time with friends outside of the Civic Hall. The subject came up of getting some alcohol, and I was game. Some big kids (who frankly should have known better), took my money and came back with a few cans for me to drink: there were a couple of cans of Diamond White cider and a couple of cans of Tennent’s Super. They tasted disgusting, but I drank them anyway. The older kids offered the sage advice of mixing the cider with the lager to make it taste better, and it kind of worked – the drink still tasted of stale urine, but not quite as stale as it had been. I have little memory of the hours that follow, but I was completely drunk. A friend of my mother reported back to her that she’d seen me passed out drunk, covered in my own vomit behind the Civic Centre - that’s how bad it was. I have vague recollections of being spun around by some of the older kids and being made to throw up over the giant fans so that my vomit would fly up and hit the concrete overhang.

I completely forgot about the events of this day until, on my eighteen birthday, a friend of mine presented me with a picture of myself, lying in a foetal position next to a pool of my own vomit. What was a bit odd was that at the time she took the photo, we didn’t know each other. She saw me lying on the ground and thought that it would make a good photo; it was only after we became friends a few years later that she recognised the little drunk teenager in the photograph as me.

One good thing to come out that day was that I had managed not to lose Smash. I listened to the album numerous times over that year, and though nothing else the Offspring did piqued my interested enough to buy, I thought that this album was brilliant.

After the soothing tones of the album’s introduction urge us to kick off our shoes, relax and enjoy the melodies, Smash opens with the punk-thrasher ‘Nitro (Youth Energy)’, a song that lives up to its title: it’s full of vigour and energy, and the lines “You know nitro means / You live like there’s no tomorrow” seem to capture the devil may care attitude of youthful excess. ‘Bad Habit’ slows things down with a sulky bass groove before breaking out with a dirty punk riff that would fit quite easily on a Motörhead album. The lyrics to ‘Bad Habit’ are laughably vapid: when I was 14, the barrage of swears that are shouted before the bridge seemed quite cool, but now it just feels like quite a pathetic attempt to shock. ‘Gotta Get Away’ is built around a deliberate, punchy drumbeat. The bass-line is really good in this one, and the guitars build climactically throughout the song with some really cool subtle fills that prevent it from being just a generic punk-rock track on an album full of punk-rock tracks. ‘Genocide’ is, however, incredibly generic, as it sounds like every other A Minor Threat rip-off you could ever hear. It’s frantic and frenzied, but the song does very little for me and leaves me feeling quite underwhelmed. ‘Something to Believe In’ continues the frenetic pace of ‘Genocide’, but plays around with structure and provides a varied and interesting song. ‘Come Out and Play (Keep ‘em Separated)’ is vintage Offspring. The Arabic guitar riffs and catchy vocals make it stand out from the album as something a little different, and easily ranks as one of Offspring’s best tracks. ‘Self Esteem’ is another classic that should find itself on the playlist of any rock night with any credibility. Big choruses, massive guitar riffs, and a great sing-along vibe make this an outstanding rock song. The tracks that follow, ‘It’ll be a Long Time’ and ‘Killboy Powerhead’, are like generic covers of Dead Kennedys’ songs. ‘What Happened to You’ provides us with the staple of any 90s punk-rock album: the ska-punk song. Beyond Sublime and Rancid, I’ve never been interested in ska-punk. It’s a nice idea in principle, but is incredibly limiting in terms of its musical scope: there’s only so much that can be done with two-tone’s trademark rhythms. This being said, it’s an incredibly fun song which one can’t help but bob around to (cue skater types in long shorts jumping around trying to do their best Madness impression). ‘I’m not the One’ sees Offspring get all political and shout off about all the bad things in the world:

We're not the ones who leave the homeless in the streets at night
We're not the ones who've kept minorities and women down
Still we grow and then the problems they become our own
We carry on without even realizing why
We're innocent
But the weight of the world is on our shoulders

A nice bit of rhetorical work that places the blame at the doorstep of another whilst simultaneously wiping their hands of any responsibility to foster change – or perhaps I’m reading too much into it. Album-closer ‘Smash’ highlights what is perhaps more politically urgent for them: letting people know that they weren’t trendy, and that they did what they wanted without regard for the consequences of their actions:

I'm not a trendy asshole
I Do what I want
I Do what I feel like
I'm not a trendy asshole
Don't give a fuck
If it's good enough for you

So there you go. As insipid and vacuous as this song is, it’s actually really quite good. The rhythm is really interesting, as it sounds as if the guitar is always trying to desperately catch up with the drums, but never quite makes it.

On the whole this is a decent album. There are a few songs which I could take or leave, but through the fog of generic punk-rock there are glimmers of excellent song-writing. The album is a keeper, but only just.

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