"Ixnay on the hombre"

Sharps and Flats is a daily music review.

Published March 10, 1997 8:00PM (EST)

to hear the purists tell it, the Offspring hammered the last nail in punk's dingy coffin. After all, punk is supposed to be about rebellion, and it doesn't sound terribly rebellious when somebody's kid brother is humming it, much less when about 9 million kid brothers are humming it. So now that the band has signed to a major label following the success of their third album, "Smash," the cry of "sellout punks" comes easily -- but also somewhat unfairly. The sellout claim is only a half-truth (their former label, Epitaph, wasn't exactly a basement-run outfit), but more importantly, the band's music doesn't really sound much like punk -- streamlined Mvtorhead is closer to the truth, and if that sounds like a great idea, you certainly won't hear a better band doing it. But Lemmy Lite isn't really much to aspire to, and on "Ixnay on the Hombre" the Offspring do little to transcend it.

To its credit, Dave Jerden's clean production job does lend some weight to the speedy grind -- tunes like "All I Want" and "The Meaning of Life" are tight and blaze forth with a crisp guitar sound. After about three or four of them, though, one starts wishing they'd diversify some; drummer Ron Welty sounds loathe to play anything besides a basic hard-core forcebeat (which he slows down for the sensitive ones), and you can hear those soccer-chant choruses coming a mile away. When they do make an attempt at something different, they need crib sheets, and they need them badly: "Amazed" cops its melody from "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," while "Don't Pick it Up" and "Me & My Old Lady" weakly ape ska and Jane's Addiction, respectively.

Dexter Holland is a strong and capable enough singer, but you wouldn't catch the irony of his songs unless you were reading along with the lyric sheet. Utterly incapable of investing any emotion in his voice, it's shocking when on the death meditation "Gone Away," he musters up the appropriate amount of weariness and rage. He rarely strives for such complexity, though. More often, the Offspring's tunes are content to package shopworn truths as grand revelations (smoking pot makes you lazy; hipsters can be irritating; teenage pregnancy is a damn shame). He's Kenny Loggins in a Germs T-shirt.

Ironically enough, "Ixnay"'s brightest and most incisive moment is one they had little to do with. Opening the album, punk semi-legend Jello Biafra does a guest intro "Disclaimer," railing against censorship laws in his trademark carnival-barker-with-the-flu voice. It's caustic. It's sharp. It's witty. Too bad it's not on a record by a band with similar sensibilities.

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis is a regular contributor to Salon.

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