After nearly 10 years away from record production, Dexter Holland is back with a PhD in Molecular Biology – oh and the rest of The Offspring. Will their same punk force hold up in 2021, or will the last decade have dulled the rockers?
This reviewer firmly remembers The Offspring. Conspiracy of One was, alongside Sum 41’s ‘All Killer, No Filler’ one of his first exposures to American punk. With punk itself loaded up with nostalgia, I’m heading into this with no small amount of expectations to keep the head-banging eight year-old in my head happy.
Thankfully, the opening track ‘This Is Not Utopia’ is an immediate throwback to this era – plenty of thrashing power chords and almost yelled vocals. There’s a difference now though to 2000. Whilst all the power-pop/punk is still there in form, the substance is more melancholic. There’s more of this regret and confusion in ‘The Opioid Diaries’, aptly named after America’s current crisis surrounding the eponymous drugs. The track is shot through with enough personal names (Shannon, Sean) that it lends a sense of intimacy to the track despite its speed and overarching tone.
It might be a little on the nose, but ‘Let Them Bad Times Roll’ highlights this as the album title, and title track. Highlighting the ‘post-truth’ Trump error with soundbite hooks like ‘Now it was all a lie, But that b**** won’t get in my way, keep shoutin’ what I like (lock her up, lock her up)’ – it’s a direct and oh-so punk skewering of the current state of America. This carries on with the barely-restrained anger and frustration in ‘Coming For You’, a marching drum beat carries the charged lyrics through to the end, and there’s even a screeching power solo for good measure.
Of course it isn’t all politically-charged – there’s some good old nostalgic angst as well! ‘Behind Your Walls’ and ‘Breaking These Bones’ are addressing mental health – both in the singer and others if taken at just below face value. These tracks aren’t as massively in your face as Alice Cooper’s recent track on the subject, but they seem to lack the same teenage feeling as they did 21 years ago. I’m willing to let that go however, as that might be my own lack of teenage rage.
Whilst there’s no notable drop in pace over the album, keeping a fast-strummed rhythm across (nearly) all of the tracks, the same sadly can’t be said of the lyrical or musical calibre. ‘Army of One’ keeps the same speeding punk speed and energy, but despite the excitement, it can’t hold the attention needed. Hassan Chop, as one of the last tracks, sadly carries on the same theme. 100% punk, 100% energy, but 0% focus.
I say ‘nearly’ in the sense the almost perfect mid-point is such a crashing lull, and a bit of a weird juxtaposition to some of their back-catalogue. ‘We Never Have Sex Anymore’ is a strange, oddly discordant (thank you trumpets…) track that takes every great thing about Conspiracy of One’s ‘Want You Bad’ – and promptly throws the formula in the bin. Even if we work on the assumption that the band were aiming to show what’s become of the frenetic punks in their 40’s and 50’s and shine a comedic light on it, it falls flat.
This track then jolts off into an instrumental punk version of Hall of the Mountain King – enough said already, you can probably string together that weird symphony in your head.
The final tracks of the album, ‘Gone Away’ and ‘Lullaby’ feel like a bit of a departure from the rest of the album. They’re muted, sorrowful and drop the energy within seconds. Whilst ‘Gone Away’ feels like a strange, but not bad, hybrid of Behind Blue Eyes and Mad World (I swear I can hear sampling in there), ‘Lullaby’ is a literal sample of the previous tracks, all weaved together in a jarring, less good dreamscape.
The album was never going to be totally cohesive, it’s punk. But it’s still a solid rock effort with a politically charged soul – despite a few missteps.
Author: Steve, Chiswick store