This was always going to be a difficult record to make. Offspring have a strange legion of fans ranging from Orange County punk rockers remembering their sun-kissed punk beginnings, to the 'hey-look-its-those-pretty-fly-guys' fans who would be amazed to learn that this record is their seventh. Their last few records have been hit and miss, and 'Splinter' is no exception.
Originally titled 'Chinese Democracy (You Snooze, You Lose) as a 'fuck you' to Axl Rose who had been planning this title for his long awaited (11 years and counting) next record, the band eventually opted to drop this title for 'Splinter'. Noodles (guitarist) claimed on their site that the reasoning for this was not impending legal action from Rose's lawyers, but the fact that "After an exhaustive marketing study we've discovered that our fans only want Offspring records with one-word titles.". BULL.
Other problems faced include main axeman Noodles breaking a finger, delaying the recording process, and the minor issue of the band's 15 year drummer, Ron Welty, quitting the band to focus on his side project. Drum duties on 'Splinter' have been handled by Vandals/A Perfect Circle drummer, Josh Freese, and live, the band are touring with the cooly-monikered Atom Willard.
I came to this record hoping it would reassure me as an old Offspring fan. Preferring their older albums (ironically, the ones with multiple word titles) to the newer stuff, I was happy to hear quotes from singer Dexter Holland saying this record would be more like 'Smash' era Offspring. However, having lived with this record for a few weeks, I can safely say it isn't like Smash.
Beginning with opener 'Neocon', this record immediately reminded me of AFI's 'Miseria Cantare' and 'Strength Through Wounding', right down to the drumbeat-led rythmn, the chanted vocals (which incidentally were recorded in the UK at the Reading Festival, by the entire crowd). It's an opener I can't take seriously due to it's AFI similarities, but works well as an introduction to the record, showing how 'Splinter' is more of a re-hash of other, better ideas, as opposed to brand new ones.
The first 'real' track, 'The Noose', is a lite-metal/rock/dare-i-say punk track, with all the staples of an Offspring song; fast drumbeats, tons of harmonized 'whoaaa-ohhh-oh' backing vocals, and typical 'punk chords'. The song is catchy but predictable. If you're a pretty undemanding music fan who appreciates a good song but doesn't see past the unoriginality factor.
Next comes 'Long Way Home', showcasing for the first time Josh Freese's talents. This song contains what is probably my favourite 'punk' drum fill ever (check it out, .46 seconds in). However, even cool 8 bar drum fills can't save this song from descending into typical Offspring fare. It's a good tune, yeah, a real singalong, but then, so is every other Offspring song. After a few of these, you start to wonder if the band will pull something else out of their asses, for a change.
And then, they do. New single 'Hit That' begins normally enough, then cuts to a genuinely catchy synth keyboard line reminiscent of hip-hop, and even featuring programmed drums. I guess this track could be labelled as the 'Original Prankster' of 'Splinter', but it's a fun song that will probably do pretty well commercially, if not just for that keyboard line.
'Race Against Myself'. More of the same. Slowed down, could-be-Nickelback straight up rock. The band fool around with vocal effects and shit, but it doesn't do much to detract from the blandness of the track.
'(Can't Get My Head) Around You' begins with vocals that, even to the untrained ear, simply can't be Dexter (if they are, I think I need to give my Offspring back catalogue a listen again) and then cuts to a slice of their trademark punk/metal with a nice wah-wah solo courtesy of Noodles.
'The Worst Hangover Ever'. Anyone familiar already with this record has probably read with bated breath, waiting for this track to be mentioned. Oh jesus. To quote the song, "make it stop please, make it stop..". The tune is an ill advised ska song, beginning with some weirdly annoying words spoken by Dexter ("ballroom scene with the fire underneath / gonna eat you all alive / gonna bring you to your knees") and then a sneaky DJ scratch blasts from the speakers, making this reviewer curse with shock and revulsion. The lyrics are 'comedy' stylings about a terrible night of drinking, ending with the punchline of "i may not ever drink again.. at least not til next weekend". If you like this, i hate you. If Offspring release this, I'm burning their CDs.
'Never Gonna Find Me' is a fairly decent tune, one I can genuinely say I enjoyed. Fast, catchy, hook-laden and starting with a Bad Religion-esque 'whoa' chorus, it kicked me in the ass straight away.
'Lightning Rod' is another good tune, better lyrics, time changes, and a chorus that just keeps getting bigger, not to mention a rockin' breakdown. This track restored my faith in the band slightly.
'Spare Me The Details' is a track similar to the Offspring stalwart, 'Why Don't You Get A Job'. Acoustic, cheesy but honest, this track even features a spectacular 3 note piano accompaniment that made me check the liner notes for mentions of Andrew W.K. Imagine if someone bought Simon and Garfunkel some distortion pedals and a few shots, and this could be the result.
'Da Hui', a short fuk'n punk anthem dedicated to the hawaiian surfers who are like a race unto themselves, clocks in at a cool 1:42, the closest song to 'punk' on 'Splinter'. Lyrically lacking, but fuck, who cares, it's a fast paced Offspring tune complete with their trademark egyptian/eastern style guitar riffs (think 'Come Out And Play') that I like a lot.
Last on the record is the hilarious 'When You're In Prison'. When this track began, and I heard 30's style crackles and pops, and weird string music and strange vocals reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin and black and white movies, I assumed this would be one of those hip new song intros that begin with movie clips. I was wrong. The song features a weird guy's voice telling you "don't be no-one's bitch/it's bad for you" or "don't pick up the soap" and other witty tidbits. My hopes that eventually this farce would end and a kickass punk song would start were faded when after 2 minutes of this shit, not a guitar was to be heard. The song ends without any change, leaving me confused and only amused at the song's shittiness. If it was meant as a joke, someone should have told the band it stopped being funny 10 seconds in, let alone two and a half minutes.
So what's my overall opinion? This record is an Offspring record. A little short. Some shitty songs. Some decent songs. Some filler. Some weird single. It's a nice formula they have down, and the majority of their fans will eat this up unquestioningly. Others, however, will sit down and wonder when the band are going to write a better record. Finally, a few, like this reviewer, will conclude that that probably isn't going to happen again. Sorry guys.