What Happened to You?
An Exploration by Pete Crigler
When I was getting ready to enter high school, the Offspring were one of the most popular bands around. Everyone around me loved them and they were almost worshipped as one of the best rock bands we'd ever heard. But by the time we had graduated high school and even more so by the time we had all finished college, the band was nothing more than an afterthought. Nowadays, they're not even a band that crosses my radar very much except for certain songs that I still enjoy. How did this happen?
In 1994, when the Offspring released Smash, myself and a lot of my friends were really just discovering music. We all watched MTV and were discovering Pearl Jam, Chili Peppers, Green Day and the Offspring. When I say the videos for "Come Out and Play," "Self Esteem" and "Gotta Get Away" were everywhere constantly, I mean constantly. You couldn't escape the Offspring or Green Day or Nirvana videos in 1994. I instantly gravitated towards Green Day and became an immediate fan. The Offspring on the other hand, I liked "Come Out and Play" and "Gotta Get Away" but wasn't hooked right away.
As we grew into our musical tastes, bands like 311, Cake and others entered our orbit and allowed us to discover other sorts of music that we liked. By this time, Green Day was embedded with us and the Offspring had released Ixnay on the Hombre, an album that I ignored back in 1997 and I've continued to ignore today. The singles "All I Want" and "I Choose" were good but the big hit "Gone Away," was a power ballad that I never liked. Dexter Holland's vocals were just so irritating that it's a song that I've never cared for regardless of how much airplay it got.
Ixnay was a bit of a dud and as a result, the band had to think fast- if they didn't, then Green Day and Rancid, among others, would completely overtake them and they wouldn't be popular anymore. Back to the drawing board they went and, in the fall of 1998, they released Americana, an album I still feel is one of their best. Thanks to songs like "Pretty Fly for a White Guy," "Why Don't You Get A Job?" and "The Kids Aren't Alright," the album sold six million copies and the band were thrust back into the spotlight. It was during this time that me and all my friends really got heavily into this band again. We couldn't get enough of the album, the artwork, the videos, everything. It was seemingly all we consumed for quite some time.
By the spring of 1999, I was discovering Nirvana and during this time, I started hearing about bands like Sugar, Violent Femmes and the Smithereens, music that helped form my current musical tastes. But I loved Americana and Smash- they were fun, heavy and raucous. I had cassettes of both albums and particularly on Smash, I wore down "Bad Habit," "Nitro (Youth Energy)" and their kickass cover of the Didjits' "Killboy Powerhead." Where most of my friends were going crazy for the goofball singles on Americana, I was digging "Pay the Man," "Staring at the Sun" and "No Brakes," the more hard-driving punk tracks. I seem to remember 1999 as the year when I really started discovering the music that would come to define my high school years and made me realize the genres that I really really liked. I didn't know it at the time but the Offspring were not going to be part of that world. I do remember seeing them at Woodstock '99 and being told by one of the VJ's, maybe Kurt Loder, that the band were going to have a hard time getting their sound across to such a massive audience. I remember being puzzled but then I heard Dexter's voice live and I instantly knew. His voice sounded terrible and he couldn't hold notes to save his soul. That performance is now available on YouTube in all its horrific glory and that's when I remember something changed in how I approached this band.
Fall 2000, I had entered high school and the Offspring released Conspiracy of One. The first single, "Original Prankster," a goofy track in line with Americana, featured rapper Redman in a guest role. It was a weird track but I remembered liking it and got the album for Christmas that year. I hated it. It was dull, boring and felt like they were trying to replicate their previous success. It didn't last long in my possession and there's nothing that I can really remember about it now, let alone the album's other singles which weren't huge hits. After "Original Prankster," the band contributed the song "Defy You" to the Orange County movie soundtrack. This was a song I genuinely still like and to me, it's one of the band's last great songs.
Then the years continued rolling, I got into metal a lot more and still devoured as much grunge as I could get my adolescent hands on. The Offspring, meanwhile, went into a holding pattern and didn't release anything until the fall of 2003. When Splinter was released that December, preceded by the single "Hit That," I could not have had less interest. This song is one of the worst I've heard period. It tries to be hip-hop like "Original Prankster" but to the worst degree. I never even bothered checking out the album and it seems not many other people did either. It flatlined and after one more single, the better than average "(Can't Get My) Head Around You," it pretty much disappeared. Then Green Day released American Idiot.
By the time the latter album came out, I was a freshman in college and loved just about every minute of it. It was one of the most important records of my college years and I still have fond memories of it. With that record, the Offspring were pretty much erased from the collective consciousness of the mainstream. With the exception of a few singles, the band were essentially relegated to the oldies file on alternative radio. They did manage to pick up some new fans at mainstream rock radio, who, needing to find something new to play after Van Halen and Creed got old started playing Offspring like they were a hot new band. But I had moved on and never really looked back.
Over the next few years, I really got into thrash and hardcore and had no time for the Offspring at all. I still listened to the punk songs I had always liked and discovered some early 2000's soundtrack covers that were decent. But by the time they released 2008's Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace, I couldn't have cared less at all. I cared even less after I heard the album's big singles "Kristy, Are You Doing Okay?" and "You're Gonna Go Far, Kid." These songs were bland, basic and generic and nothing at all close to what had made Offspring exciting and interesting in the first place. Another record that I never bothered to deal with. All my friends had moved on as well and were all pursuing different musical tastes that didn't include the Offspring.
Reactions to Rise and Fall were very mixed but "You're Gonna Go Far, Kid" spent something like eight weeks atop the modern rock charts. I guess radio didn't have anything new or exciting to play at the time. That made the album slightly more successful than Splinter but the band's momentum was rapidly shrinking. Waiting four plus years between records certainly didn't help. Certain bands like Pearl Jam, Chili Peppers, Green Day, Radiohead and others can go more than the traditional two years between records and their fans are OK with it. Bands like Offspring and the Goo Goo Dolls don't have that luxury and the extended wait between discs soon left fans disappointed and moving on to something better.
By the time 2012's Days Go By finally arrived, there wasn't any reason for me to ever listen to this band seriously again. Hearing the title track on the radio bored me and the second single, "Cruising California (Bumpin' in My Trunk)," gave me serious thought that this band had completely lost their mind, not to mention the plot. The album was a huge dud and the band disappeared once again. Meanwhile, Green Day released three albums in the space of four months and while they weren't their best by a long mile, they were still better than anything the Offspring had been able to come up with.
Around this time, the band, which I feel was just Dexter and guitarist Noodles making all the decisions at this point, sold their extensive catalogue for $35 million, which they probably overpaid for, but that's not my area. Subsequently, the band returned to the road and continued playing shows. Shockingly, they then announced that longtime original bassist Greg K had been dismissed and replaced by Todd Morse from H20, who'd been touring as a rhythm guitarist for years. It has been speculated that Greg was let go after he launched a suit against Dexter and Noodles for financial impropriety and cutting him out of certain monetary things. It was quite a shock and showed a bit of the inner workings of the band.
The Offspring in 2017
Which brings us to 2020; Green Day are still popular, even scoring a number one rock hit with "Oh Yeah!" one of their most critically derided songs. What Offspring songs do you hear on the radio? "Come Out and Play," "Self Esteem," "Gotta Get Away," "Gone Away" and "The Kids Aren't Alright." Maybe occasionally you'll hear "Why Don't You Get a Job" and "Pretty Fly" but not too often. If anything, "Self Esteem" seems to have become the band's most popular track, being played on rock, metal and pop stations seemingly constantly. But no one talks about them, no one raves about them like they still do Weezer (for some ungodly reason), Green Day or even 311. It's confounding as to how a band that was so huge and such a part of some of our childhoods have become relegated to the backs of our minds but when they release boring album after boring album, over time, I think that's bound to happen.
What will history say about a band like the Offspring? Will they be as respected (or mocked) as Green Day or even a lesser band such as 311 or Weezer? We have yet to know but one thing is for sure, their catalogue sure doesn't hold up as well as other giants of '90's punk like Rancid or even Guttermouth.
Also see writer Peter Crigler's blog
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