Entertainers don’t often change course mid-stride. Well, at least not successfully.
Jose Altuve isn’t all of a sudden going to become a .250 hitter who rakes in 50 homers a year. James Harden isn’t going to become a defensive stopper. Imagine Dragons aren't all of a sudden going to become tolerable.
The point is this – find something you’re good at, and stick with it. This brings us to the Offspring, one of the more noteworthy alternative rock acts of the past 25 years and a band that is no stranger to Houston. Dexter Holland and company will again hit the area when they, along with 311 and Gym Class Heroes, play Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in The Woodlands on Sunday night.
The Offspring certainly weren’t the best of their era, not when compared to the likes of Green Day and Foo Fighters, who still sell out arenas to this day. They weren’t quite as commercially catchy as Third Eye Blind and Everclear. And they didn’t have the artistic aspirations of fellow '90s bands like Soundgarden and Pearl Jam.
Yet, the Offspring did something few bands of their era accomplished. They changed course at the height of their commercial powers. And it worked.
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The Offspring started putting out music in the late '80s, but audiences didn’t really start paying attention en masse until the mid-'90s, when singles like “Come Out and Play,” “Self-Esteem” and “Gotta Get Away” made radio waves and propelled the band’s third record, Smash, to multi-platinum status. These tracks were tailor-made for '90s radio, in that they were catchy, didn’t overstay their welcome and featured just enough sarcasm and humor to differentiate the Offspring from the humorless grunge and post-grunge of the time that saturated rock radio.
The Offspring’s follow-up (and major label debut) Ixnay on the Hombre didn’t stray too far from Smash’s blueprint. The songs were just punk enough to maintain some credibility, but more than pop enough to garner significant radio play. That includes “Gone Away” — for my money the best Offspring single ever released to radio.
Yep, the Offspring were riding high in the late '90s. They had Platinum plaques stacked upon Platinum plaques. Why not return to the studio and record Smash, Volume 3? Well, to hear Holland tell it, that was kinda the plan when the band set about recording the album that would make them full-fledged pop stars – Americana.
“I wanted to write a record that wasn't a radical departure from what we've done before,” Holland told Rolling Stone in August 1998, three months before Americana hit shelves. “I feel like we have managed to change stuff up from Ignition to Smash to Ixnay. We're in a place where we more or less set the boundaries where we can do a lot of stuff without having to stretch it out farther.”
Holland is right, in that Americana the album doesn’t differ all that much from its predecessors. However, it differs considerably in terms of the singles that helped move that album. Call it the Eminem corollary, whereupon a pop artist releases catchy, almost novelty singles that bear little resemblance to the album from which they were born. Marshall Mathers did this to perfection on his first three major label studio records with tracks like “My Name Is,” “The Real Slim Shady” and “Without Me,” and the Offspring followed suit with tracks like “Pretty Fly (for a White Guy),” “Why Don’t You Get a Job?” and “She’s Got Issues.”
All are great tracks, but there’s a certain novelty about each. “Pretty Fly” is self-explanatory, and the accompanying music video drives that point home. Same for “Why Don’t You Get a Job?” Hell, anyone who’s dated a crazy person can relate to the comical nightmare that is “She’s Got Issues.” Point being, the Offspring – from a front-facing perspective – changed course for Americana.
The result? Americana peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Top 200 and eventually moved more than 10 million copies to this day. “Pretty Fly” and “Why Don’t You Get a Job?” were not only rock radio smashes; they also made a dent on the pop radio charts. More importantly, those songs live on as a mix of comedic nostalgia.
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The Offspring stayed at the comedic well with subsequent singles. Future albums featured tracks like “Original Prankster” before the Offspring got a bit more serious with 2008’s Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace – the band’s best and most poignant album.
Fortunately, the Offspring’s catalog is so deep at this point, those in attendance Sunday night will no doubt enjoy fun and serious fare alike. It will recall a time when rock radio made rock stars, when bands could be funny while maintaining credibility, when albums were actually things.
And it will recall a time when a little band from Garden Grove, California changed things up, just enough to keep things fresh. The Offspring altered course mid-prime. Two decades later, they’re still reaping the rewards.
The Offspring, 311 and Gym Class Heroes are scheduled for 7 p.m. on Sunday, August 5 at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in The Woodlands, 2005 Lake Robbins. For information, call 281-364-3010 or visit woodlandscenter.org. $27.50-$85, plus fees.