True to their irrepressible nature, The Offspring burst right out of the gate on their 10th studio album with This Is Not Utopia, a chugging indictment of the world’s condition with a manic tapdance on the ride cymbal’s bell. Its chorus lyrics – “The roots, the roots, the roots of America” – are weirdly reminiscent of a classic hit from those other brats of the alt-punk ’90s wheelhouse, Bloodhound Gang: Fire Water Burn (“The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire”).
Vocalist and songwriter Dexter Holland smiles at the analogy, having previously said that “people seem to be ready to embrace bad times rather than try to fix them.” The punk rock stalwarts’ new LP Let The Bad Times Roll does spend a lot of time on the suggestion that the roof is indeed alight, and things are so chaotic that many have thrown up their hands, prepared to let that mother-hee-haw burn. “Yeah, it’s a real sh-tshow!” says guitarist Noodles. “There’s a lot of political stuff, and a lot of social interest of course, and then you throw a pandemic on top of that.” Holland adds, “Well, at least the pandemic – we’re not quite there yet, but hopefully we’re getting to the other side. Then we can focus on the next thing!”
The Californian four-piece have worn their opinions on their sleeves across a near-40-year career, clawing a distinct sound from the lineage of a genre which is historically rooted in subversion. “What we always liked about punk rock was that it wasn’t afraid to point out what’s actually happening in the world,” says Noodles. “There’s some serious shit going on, and we [say]: ‘Hey, this is a problem. Maybe you recognise this as a problem too?’”
Not all tracks have a socio-political bent; you can’t get very far into any Offspring record without smacking face-first into humour, though the ‘Maybe you recognise this?’ inquiry is still there. For example: We Never Have Sex Anymore is less of a straight-up ‘I want to f-ck you’ and much more a realistic, relatable scene in which any sort of passion from your partner – even hatred – is better than the milquetoast treadmill you’re on. It also exemplifies something The Offspring have always done well: using humour within their actual instrumentation. This track, for instance, includes a boppy little clarinet (think When I’m Sixty-Four by The Beatles).
“Thank you for noticing the clarinet track!” laughs Holland. “I remember as a young guy, thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, my girlfriend and I haven’t done it for two weeks. It’s over! Terrible!’” he guffaws. “We Never Have Sex Anymore was a funny thing I knew I could relate to; I felt like, this has got to be a universal thing! No matter what age you are, you’re going to be in a relationship where you’re not being physical the way you used to. That was why we put that dour message with a lighter musical context – to use humour as a coping mechanism.”
Humour is also responsible for the band’s take on classical piece In The Hall Of The Mountain King, originally created by Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg in 1875 and used in various corners of pop culture since. “I think one of the great things about being in a band is that you can… throw in the odd thing here and there and it shows our personality,” Noodles says. “Certainly with punk rock that was the case – the genre we loved. There was all kinds of weird stuff on any given record.” Adds Holland, “This [track] was my little experiment – to take a classical song and put it with a punk beat. I threw it out there and it made me laugh.”
“Just wait ’til we take on Mozart!” says Noodles.
Towards the end of the record we circle back around to one of the band’s – and the ’90s – most enduring tracks. While The Offspring have long performed Gone Away (from 1997’s Ixnay on the Hombre, which reached #2 in Australia) in a live setting as a stripped-back ballad featuring Holland solo on the piano, the group had never made an official recording of this adored version. Here it’s presented in ‘Requiem’, also accompanied by heart-shredding strings.
Holland says he began performing the song in this way because he felt it would make the vocal “more personal and direct”, as well as mixing up the live show and increasing its dynamism. “I didn’t expect we would get that reaction!” he says. “It was immediate, and ever since we started playing it like that, fans have been saying ‘Where can I get a copy of this?’” Noodles remembers his own visceral response to the first time he watched Holland perform it this way. “I was on the side of the stage, going, ‘Oh yeah… this works.’ I remember getting chills, especially when you sang it with Emily [Armstrong of LA trio Dead Sara, with whom The Offspring toured in 2012].”
The band have always been progressive in their views of music formats (famously standing behind peer-to-peer file sharing just a few months after Metallica’s Lars Ulrich launched his case against Napster in 2000), and with the resurgence of vinyl now utterly indisputable, we simply had to ask what they forsee on the horizon of music. Says Noodles, “It’s going to be like a cochlear implant, and everything’ll just get transmitted straight into the chip!” Says Dexter: “’I’m going the other way – I think it’s all going back to 8-track!”
Noodles ponders a second and then adds, “I think after all the sh-t hits the fan, we’re going to be pounding this sh-t out on wooden logs around a fire,” he laughs. “Armageddon! Oh, I just had an idea, because people have been asking, ‘What have you been doing the last several years?’ ‘I’ve been doomsday prepping! Stockpiling, staying in a bunker, learning how to jar, and lighting fires with a stone and flint.'”
Let it be known: we’re ready to hear the wooden log version of Gone Away whenever it appears.
Let The Bad Times Roll by The Offspring is out April 16 on JB-exclusive transparent purple vinyl and CD, via Concord.
Keep up with the latest Australian release dates for music.