Currently, I have 2522 CD’s, tapes and vinyls in my collection, plus probably about 30-40 DVD’s and VHS tapes (the latter two I have not listed yet so I don’t know the exact amount). And, believe it or not, there is one album which is responsible for all of this, one album which unleashed the music fan in me at a young age. It was the fourth grade, spring time, and The Offspring had hit the big time with a string of hits lifted from their breakthrough album, album no. 3 in their discography, Smash. Come Out And Play, along with Self Esteem were shown weekly on the TV and received a fair amount of airplay, and some of the other boys in my class were into The Offspring as well, so in a rather lame attempt to “fit in” I bugged my mum until she conceded into buying me the album on tape. We didn’t have CD player then, and our local record store didn’t sell vinyls at all as far as I can recall. This was the mid-90’s, years before the resurrection of vinyl, so I probably remember things correctly.
Well, as fate would have it, I fucking loved the album. It took me a while to discover that the band had two other albums (remember, this was before the Internet, and my grasp of English was very basic, so I wouldn’t have been able to decipher Wikipedia very well anyhow), but eventually I got my hands on their first and second albums on tape. The fad had blown over, though, and most of my friends had moved on to other things, so I remember actually being ridiculed a bit for still being into The Offspring when it wasn’t that popular anymore. Oh well, that’s kids for ya, eh… most of those guys grew up to be nice fellows, and I grew up to be… well, whatever it is I am. But whatever it is that I am, I still dig The Offsprings’ first three albums. I sorta forgot to check out their newer material because Heavy Metal came and swept me away. But had I checked out something else, like maybe Coolio’s Gangstas Paradise which also was a hit at roughly the same time, I might not have turned out to be the same kind of obsessed nut I am.
But Smash. Really, you can’t over-estimate the significance of this one album for me. It was the right kind of music at the right moment in time. It was obviously melodic and easily accessible, but at the same time hard and angry enough to feel just a bit dangerous, and with lyrics that a pre-teen with rudimentary skills in English could dig (I’m looking at you, Bad Habit), but also songs with enough of complex words for that same kid to dig up an old dictionary his mum had and decipher the meaning behind those lyrics (words learned: genocide, suicide), and enough of a message for that same kid to be captivated. I actually wore out that first tape, although that was probably also due to a crappy tape player, and the owner of the record store gave me a second copy for free.
It’s hard to believe it’s over 20 years since that day. Divide 2522 with 20, and the figure is a bit over 126 albums acquired per year. Not including albums I’ve sold or traded away during that time, which can be counted in hundreds, not tens.
The album kicks off with Nitro (I think the tape didn’t have the spoken word intro), one of the harder tracks on the album; the great thing about Smash is that although it’s obviously a somewhat polished album, it’s still not purely a Pop Punk album, like Green Day’s Dookie, which was a hit at the same time, was. The Offspring were never the most philosophical social commentators in their lyrics, they’re not exactly Crass in level of depth, nor did they ever reach Oi Polloi levels of ideology, but Nitro is a prime example of the lyrics being more than just relationships, fun and shallow personal issues. Deep it is not, but at least they want to express something.
Bad Habit, already mentioned, takes a more light-hearted approach, and was probably my first favourite of the album thanks to the line “You stupid dumb shit god damn motherfucker”. Yeah, it’s easy to impress a pre-teen. It’s a nice song though, and again far from the hyper-melodic Pop Punk of some contemporaries, though also clearly apart from “real” Punk. The album balances between the radio friendly pop sensibility of tracks such as the hits Self Esteem and Ska-influenced Whatever Happened To You? (a track I still can barely stand), and the harder edge of Nitro, So Alone, Smash and Genocide; Come Out And Play is perhaps an unlikely hit song, teetering somewhere between the pop gloss and a slightly harder edge, and with gang/school violence related lyrics that I reminisce were seen as a bit provocative. Perhaps it’s this balance between the poppy and the edgy that made the song and album hits, aided by the melodic, poppy, stuck-in-your-head, fun Self Esteem. The album is easygoing enough to be easy to digest, but contains just the right amount of more thoughtful lyrics to engage kids.
Musically, The Offspring manage a solid outing with, as already established, the right amount of mainstream and radio friendly melodic sensibility combined with the right amount of Punk edge and confrontational attitude; where their debut was more Punk, and their second was maybe the softest of the three first albums, Smash finds a fine balance between the two. My favourite is still the debut, but I can see why it is Smash that became – forgive the pun – the smash hit. It’s hard for me to pick out standout tracks because there are so many and only Whatever Happened To You? is obviously a weak track, but already mentioned tracks So Alone, Nitro and Gotta Get Away are perhaps my the pick of the litter. Perhaps, considering where my musical interests evolved, it’s not so surprising it’s mostly the harder songs that rank higher with me.
This was a time when radio airplay still mattered, in Finland moreso than music videos or MTV, since there were only a few shows that showed music videos and MTV was only available via satellite or cable, which were not things you found in every household, and with this combination The Offspring managed to stand out. I don’t recall Green Day standing out as much or being perceived as being quite as “credible” as The Offspring, at least among my circle of friends both in and outside of school; in fact, I reminisce we kind of looked down on Green Day for being a bit wussy in comparison to The Offspring. The third band who were apparently making waves in the mainstream back then, Rancid, didn’t even really register on our radars. As an aside, we used to wonder if the lines “Dog eat dog/every day/on our fellow man we prey” were some sort of reference to the band Dog Eat Dog… obviously, our knowledge of English expressions was rather lacking.
Smash is probably not going to go down in the annals of Punk Rock as a milestone classic record, but it’s also more than a mere footnote to be mentioned alongside And Out Come The Wolves… or whatever album is perceived as the brightest example of the mainstream Punk resurgence of the mid-90’s. And for me, personally, it’s an album whose importance really cannot be surpassed. Funny thing, though: it took me many years until I got more into Punk, and then it was via The Misfits and Ramones and some RAC bands rather than The Offspring.