ALBUM REVIEW: The Offspring – ‘Let The Bad Times Roll’

Despite coming up at roughly the same time, The Offspring have arguably never felt closer to Green Day than they do now, as two ‘90s punk veterans who have no idea how to keep up their momentum so far past their prime. Even so though, at least Green Day have maintained an amount of prolificness to back themselves up; The Offspring’s last album was in 2012 with Days Go By, meaning that the latest full indication of their career trajectory was middling radio-rock and, in the impossibly ill-advised single choice Cruising California (Bumpin’ In My Trunk), a slap in the face to anyone expecting this band to pay at least some acknowledgement to their roots. It’s really no wonder that The Offspring barely feel like a presence in modern rock anymore then, having already been demoted to a singles band in recent years, but also having a level of inactivity that implies a band who really aren’t bothered anymore. A new album from The Offspring in 2021 is more a curiosity than something to actively be excited about, but even that might be overselling where Let The Bad Times Roll is actually coming from. Talk of The Offspring’s new album over the last couple of years has felt like a placeholder for release calendars pencilled in out of absolute necessity, as a speculated new release that no one really cared about but was mentioned out of obligation for their residual size. On the eve of it actually coming out then, that nonplussed attitude couldn’t feel more solidly crystallised, as if the general consensus already is that The Offspring are so far gone at this point that there’s isn’t much to really be excited about.

It’s not even like The Offspring themselves are doing much to convince otherwise either, given that the culmination of nearly a decade’s worth of waiting produces so little of an emotional response, positive or negative. It’s probably better than Days Go By on a net level, though that can primarily be attributed to a lack of truly embarrassing lows instead of anything to majorly elevate it. In truth, Let The Bad Times Roll is basically exactly what was expected from this band in 2021, where dredging the well of old ideas that found their audience in the first place just feels like a more tired variation of what was, with the usual Offspring jokes and silly moments throw in accordingly. It’s as clear-cut as an attempt to regain good will can be, but when there’s barely an attempt made to hide that intention, it feels flimsy and structurally weak at the end of the day.

Perhaps the most glaring example of that comes in The Offspring’s vanity around being a punk band, and how the particular course correction on Let The Bad Times Roll is so evidently geared in that direction. There’s clearly an acknowledgment made of the turbulence of modern times, and how the cloud of darkness only seems to descend further and further, which is probably the absolute broadest stroke of social commentary that a punk band can make. And yet, part of why Let The Bad Times Roll refuses to hold any sort of water is the fact that, that’s about as far as The Offspring go. There’s a perceived grasp of modern fury illustrated by the opening pair of This Is Not Utopia and the title track, but as the album unfurls and its ideas become no less pointed or centralised, it’s not in service to anything but itself. There’ll be glancing blows taken at politics and the state of society, but nothing that could really be considered commentary, where The Offspring will generally circle around the idea of struggle in the modern world before diluting it further with a host of comedy tracks and veritable cast-offs. Hassan Chop might be the most outwardly visceral track here, and for as generally unnecessary as its inclusion feels (not to mention riding on the coattails of the Five Finger Death Punch cover), there’s enough baked-in emotion to Gone Away to where its remake can be justified. But they also come after middling, predictable punk tracks like Behind Your Walls and Army Of One, or a shoehorned joke song like We Never Have Sex Anymore, encapsulating the lack of focus on a centra idea that’s plagued The Offspring for years. And when what they’ve got at that centre isn’t all engaging or transgressive to begin with, and mainly acts as a perfectly flat barometer to measure punk’s bare minimum, it’s not going to leave an impression, much less a good one.

If there’s one positive note that can be offered to The Offspring on Let The Bad Times Roll though, it’s that they sound generally sufficient for what they are. Hardly glowing praise, sure, but it’s where the course correction feels most due, where they’ll cast back to their older sounds a bit more readily. To be honest, the appeal there generally comes from the solidity of the sound rather than The Offspring’s particular rendition of it; their straightforward punk sound doesn’t bring the same adventurousness that Green Day often will, but at least This Is Not Utopia or Army Of One will bring the darker, propulsive punk sound back into vision, and the acoustic choppiness on the hook of the title track isn’t awful either. But even then, the same problems will arise, where The Offspring will either cut themselves short from doing more than the sum of their parts, or divert from a workable core with unnecessary fluff. In the latter case, it can be exemplified by the goofy cartoon horns that puff up a rather throwaway pop-rock song in We Never Have Sex Anymore, but The Hall Of The Mountain King equally doesn’t need to be here, nor does the title track reprise on Lullaby. Even Gone Away Requiem, as one of the more tolerable overall compositions on here, doesn’t add much to what already feels like a back half that has no idea what to do with itself. There’s a flightiness to how this album is laid out that really holds it back, in how The Offspring seem to second guess their own abilities to be a punk band at almost every turn. The production isn’t terribly worked, and Dexter Holland’s bold, braying vocal tone is absolutely unmistakable, but throwing in unrelated ideas amongst that isn’t as beneficial or liberating as The Offspring clearly believe it to be. Occasionally it even gets to the point where other bands are seemingly strip-mined for content; Coming For You can sound suspiciously similar to The Black Keys’ Howlin’ For You at points, and the Five Finger Death Punch rendition of Gone Away has almost certainly informed the more dour, downbeat remake here.

But when considering the modern incarnation of The Offspring, none of that seems too surprising. They aren’t a band for whom anyone really puts stock in anymore, and so what’s perceived to be a bold, angry album to fit in a climate where that’s ultimately necessary is an obvious pivot to make. But if this was the album where The Offspring picked up their lost thread, they get there by the skin of their teeth, if that. Let The Bad Times Roll might be a relative improvement compared to what came before, but it still wallows in the same middle of the road that’s never been a good look for this band to indulge in. The fact they barely even stick to the intended theme can be frustrating enough, but when looking at things from the band’s perspective, it does make sense. Within the scene, they’re a spent force now, and returning with a ragtag collection of their older sounds, styles and ideas, to them, might be an easy way to fast track another win. Except it’s kind of the opposite in reality, where a profoundly forgettable album is one of the least affecting releases of the year so far, and The Offspring’s legacy continues to soldier on off the back of longevity, the odd, irregular spike of quality, and nothing more.

4/10

For fans of: Green Day, Anti-Flag, Zebrahead

Words by Luke Nuttall

‘Let The Bad Times Roll’ by The Offspring is released on 16th April on Concord Records.

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