Ixnay on the Hombre
As music-industry success stories go, the Offspring's quick ascent was an anomaly; selling eight and a half million records on an indie label was unheard of until Smash broke in 1994. Adolescent subject matter and a formulaic blend of Orange County punk and Agent Orange-style surf riffs tapped the angst of America's postgrunge high school population--ditto MTV programmers groping for street cred--and sent Smash flying up the charts.
Then, near the end of 1995, things went sour between the Offspring and Epitaph Records, and the band defected to Columbia, accepting a contract for less money and more recordings. Offspring front man Dexter Holland told Rolling Stone, "We'd rather record for a major on our terms and make less money than work with [Epitaph owner, pop punk mogul] Brett Gurewitz."
Ixnay on the Hombre is the Offspring's first time at bat in the big leagues. But the usual question of whether the band sold out by signing with a major is, in this case, totally moot. Punk purists wrote off the Offspring a long time ago. The band's label, Epitaph Records, was already the object of scorn for its aggressive "major label style" marketing studies and legions of media promotions drones. (Q: How many Epitaph employees does it take to change a light bulb? A: Six. One to screw in the bulb and five to tell you how punk rock it is.) The more units of Smash that sold, the more punk connoisseurs held the Offspring in disdain.
The real question with this album is, can Ixnay push the same (pre) teen emotion buttons with such precision, and score the same MTV rotation as Smash songs like "Come Out and Play" and "Self-Esteem"?
For Ixnay's opening track, the Offspring enlists veteran rant master Jello Biafra, as if to say, "Sellouts? I don't see Jello Biafra hanging out with you." Then again, Jello got his kneecaps knocked off by a bunch of gutter punks yelling "sellout" three years ago, so his cachet is in question. Either way, Biafra spooges out a smart-ass spoken-word piece called "Disclaimer," which proclaims the "realness" of the album's subject matter behind the thin guise of a parental advisory warning. Sad.
The following two tracks, "The Meaning of Life" and "Mota," can be easily recognized from a distance as typical Offspring by their manic riffs and Holland's high-pitched "whoa-yeah" vocal stylings. Unfortunately, they lack the humor and juvenile disaffection that defined the hit songs on Smash. "Mota" even preaches the pitfalls of smokin' weed ("Your memory's gone and so is your life, mota boy"). Lame.
Next the band veers away from its usual formula, but quickly spins out and crashes. "Me & My Old Lady" sounds like any of the surplus Jane's Addiction knockoffs currently polluting FM radio. Except it's the Offspring, so it's even worse. "Cool to Hate" shamelessly targets the disaffected suburban teen vote with plain-brown-wrapper SoCal punk. Ho-hum.
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The album remains unremarkable until the first single, "All I Want," arrives at the midpoint. This is the song Offspring fans have waited for. From the opening screams forward, the band tries its hardest to conjure the energy of California punk forefathers like Bad Religion (circa 1989, not the mid-'90s harmonizing MTV flotsam) and Agent Orange. It's the only decent song on the album. "Way Down the Line" is almost exciting, but the band loses its focus in a faltering attempt to shape the tune into anthemic power-rock.
Ixnay on the Hombre really gets crappy after "Way Down," as the Offspring frantically picks up and puts down a series of premolded sounds. "Don't Pick It Up" is a pathetic Operation Ivy rip-off; "Amazed" could be a track off the new Bush album; and the last track, "Change the World," is pure '80s metal. Ixnay probably won't produce many new Offspring fans, and the band's waffling between so many alterna-hit formulas should lose it quite a few.
Unfortunately, judging by the massive MTV and radio play "Gone Away" has garnered, we're condemned to suffer the drip-torture of at least two more Ixnay singles. Oh, well. This too shall pass.