- The Washington Times - Monday, December 15, 2003

The Offspring

Splinter

Columbia Records

If a band is active for more than 10 years, what level of maturation should we demand of it? Something comparable to adolescence budding into adulthood? If so, why is the Offspring still making records?

With “Splinter,” the Offspring, those Orange County surf-metalheads who have sold 32 million more records than your favorite unsigned band, are no closer to proving they can be trusted with the family car. And, no, the evening curfew may not be relaxed.

In fact, the Offspring, down to three core members — guitarist and lead singer Dexter Holland, bassist Greg K. and guitarist Noodles — should be grounded.

What is “Splinter”?

“Splinter” is waking up to a construction crew outside your bedroom window. “Splinter” is living directly below the flight path of the Concorde. “Splinter” is the sound a building makes when it’s demolished.

Musically speaking, the Offspring’s seventh album is a half-hour of strapping, tough-guy guitar riffs and double-bass-drum thuds that wish they were on a Black Flag LP but couldn’t find their way out of a bag of bakery sweets.

That’s the Offspring’s central defect: The band wants to rage against the machine and amuse you at the same time. It wants to be cool and edgy, like those goth punks who live on the wrong side of the tracks, and then show up on your doorstep for a movie date with your daughter.

Produced by the reputable Brendan O’Brien (Pearl Jam, Bruce Springsteen), who shouldn’t have needed this work, “Splinter” opens mysteriously with a one-minute overture called “Neocon.”

The Offspring has hinted at rightward leanings in its politics in the past, as it does again here. The song “Hit That,” for example, is serious about indiscriminate sex and teenage pregnancy.

But what to make of “Neocon”?

Having picked up the shorthand for so-called neoconservatives, the boys of Offspring use the term here in a weird prelude of loud marching boots that calls to mind something like a neo-Nazi biker rally.

Then they proceed to a chant: “We are strong / We are right / We won’t be pushed aside / We’ll go on / We will fight / We will not compromise / We will never lose to you.”

Are we to take this literally, or is the Offspring being sarcastic? Probably the latter, because the next song, “The Noose,” screams some nonsense about “our visions of glory have spiraled down the drain” and “the tracers from yesteryear are burning in the dust” — oh, whatever.

The three lads come off their horse with ribald outbursts such as “Spare Me the Details” (about a cuckolding), “When You’re in Prison” (about male-on-male rape, ha-ha), “Da Hui” (about a tribe of Hawaiian surfers) and “The Worst Hangover Ever” (about, well … the worst hangover ever).

For a few breathers, the Offspring guys cool their faux-furious heels. “Hangover” is a reggae-fied strut better left to Sugar Ray, while “Prison” is a stylized trad-pop re-creation — complete with the crackling sounds of an old phonograph.

Occasionally Mr. Holland is asked to sing. Josh Groban will not be losing any gigs as a result.

“Splinter’s” cover art, designed by Mr. Holland, shows a Roman sculpture with its head blowing apart. You can’t say it doesn’t warn you: The men-children of the Offspring have been let into the museum — and they don’t intend to keep their hands off the artifacts.


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