Rediscovering: The Offspring’s Smash

Just like the Beck Rediscovering happened while I was in way too damn good of a mood for that album, this is a big, punky thrashfest that happens on the day I’ve been having horrific stomach problems! So no jumping around, least not intentionally, though this is certainly good music for it–and we sure are on a roll here with the good ones.

The Offspring's Smash

Let’s talk Smash–ironically the Offspring’s most successful album.

My previous experience, if any

The Offspring! If you’ve ever played Crazy Taxi or you’ve heard that affably irritating song “Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)”, you know ’em, you love ’em. I got this one new, actually, given that it’s a remastered copy (I’ll come back to that), and I was really looking forward to it because I get “Genocide” stuck in my head every two months or so.

The history lesson

Smash is effectively the sister album to Dookie, the album that sprung Green Day and pop punk in general onto the masses. One brings the sneer, the other brings the crunch, and both had huge singles when they each came out in 1994. The big thing is that Green Day already had the backing of Warner for Dookie; The Offspring were still on Epitaph, a rather prominent indie label that was not equipped for this thing to sell 11 million copies worldwide. To date, it’s still the best selling indie album of all time. Does it deserve that title?


So before we get to the music, I gotta address the narrator. This album starts, ends, and is occasionally punctuated by this incredibly sultry narrator–the joke is that this guy with a golden throat talking about how it’s time to relax and how music soothes the savage beast happens to be attached to a loud, aggressive, chunky punk record. It’s a good gag. It’s too bad I can’t find his name anywhere online; I’d be curious who actually does the voice.

There’s not a ton of gloss to the production here, but it’s not lo-fi either. The drums have just that bit of texture and thickness to them, the bass is only in there just enough to remind you it exists (usually at the starts of songs, like “Gotta Get Away”), and the guitars are meaty, almost metallic, compared to your typical wimpy pop punk tone, largely happy to play rhythm and chug along. It’s the sound of cheap time at a good studio–a bit like the Offspring had to make use of during the recording of Smash.

The stretch between “Bad Habit” and “Self Esteem” (so the first eight songs or so) is pure brilliance. All of the album’s most notable moments come when the group slows down the tempo, at least for a bit. “Bad Habit”‘s power comes from careening from empty stage bass and vocals to falling apart at any minute. “Come Out and Play” slinks with that oh-so-controversial snake-charmer guitar refrain, adding just the right amount of wonk to another well-written (yet kinda routine) pop punker.

Like a lot of albums, actually, when it dips into pure genre exercises (punk, in this case, speed and aggression), it starts to lose its effectiveness. I heard a story where these guys had two or three songs left to go on the very last night of recording, all of which are tucked into the ass end of the album. It kinda shows. Not to say there aren’t still catchy choruses (I quite like the “I’m not a trendy asshole” on the title cut), not to say things turn strictly static (surprise ska on “Whatever Happened to You?”!)–but yeah, it just doesn’t cut as sharp as the first half. That first half, though–woof. That’s what great punk albums are made of.

The thing that strikes me the most about Smash is that it’s a very lyrically heavy record with as upbeat a sound as you can get for punk. If I were to tell you the song topics–genocide, road rage, relationship abuse, gang violence, pressure and paranoia–you’d expect this to be the single most maudlin record on earth, and yet it isn’t. “Genocide” is ridiculously catchy, and a lot of that comes down to Dexter Holland’s manic bark; he almost sounds way too happy to be singing about preying on his fellow man, or about getting used by a girl, or about dudes in gang colors murdering one another.

That said, Smash isn’t really a celebratory record. There’s attempts to strike up youth discontent throughout, like the “we are the ones living under the gun” on “Nitro” and “I’m not the one who made the world what it is today” on “Not the One”, but these are easily ignored because the overall sound is just so poppy, so brash, and the pacing so brisk. (It doesn’t help that the Offspring were three albums in and all in their late 20s when Smash was released. Not exactly youth spokesmen.)

It’s like speeding through a bad part of town really fast. You catch glimpses of kids carrying guns and abject disillusionment with life, but you’re too busy going really fast to see anything up close.

If you like your riffs loud and chugging, Smash is a good time performed with a ton of energy. It’s really no surprise this thing took off; a good third of the album is pop punk classics, even if it doesn’t sustain that momentum. I know it made me smile first time I heard it again after a long while.

Are you keeping it?

Yes! For now.

I mentioned it earlier, but I happen to own the 2008 remastered edition of Smash, and I’d really like to replace it with an original 1994 issue. This one has some horrible whispering artifacts on “Something to Believe In” especially because of the loudness war dynamic range compression nonsense they of course applied to it. Punk rock or not, I like it to breathe as much as it can, and this doesn’t really cut it. Good album though.

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