Though he wouldn't call Americana a concept album, Offspring vocalist/guitarist Dexter Holland says the metal-influenced punk band's new record is loaded with reflections on what he calls "the '90s version of American culture."
"I like that each song is just sort-of a snapshot of what's going on today," the 32-year-old frontman said recently. "There was kind-of this theme there already, so we just decided to go with it."
The 13-song assault of enthusiastic, high-velocity punk tunes recalls the spirit of such singles as "Come Out and Play" and "Self Esteem" (RealAudio excerpt), from the band's breakthrough album, Smash.
Americana, due Tuesday on Columbia Records, is a follow-up to the band's 1997 effort, Ixnay on the Hombre, which met with criticism for its highly produced sound and more-hard-rock-than-punk approach. But Americana -- produced, like Ixnay, by Dave Jerden -- marks a return to the irreverent punk style that first endeared Offspring to the mainstream in 1994.
The full-fisted but radio-friendly "The Kids Aren't Alright" (RealAudio excerpt) ponders an abysmal vista of shattered dreams and the proverbial teenage wasteland. Holland said he was inspired to write the song after driving through his hometown of Garden Grove, Calif., and remembering what happened to the kids he grew up with, who lived in those houses.
One had a nervous breakdown; another died in a car accident; another got hooked on crack and burned down his house, Holland said. "It just kind-of got me thinking about how, visualizing life when you are a kid, it seems like you have this sort-of bright future," he explained. "But it doesn't turn out that way. The neighborhood may seem like 'Happy Days' on the outside, but on the inside it's more like 'Twin Peaks.' "
Asked about "Pretty Fly (for A White Guy)" (RealAudio excerpt), the first single >from the album, Holland laughed.
The track opens with a sample lifted from Def Leppard's 1983 hit "Rock of Ages," features Holland singing in a quasi-rap style a la early Beastie Boys, and includes "Give it to me, baby" homegirl-backup vocals.
The song's "got a lot going on," he admitted.
But the frontman added that "Pretty Fly" -- which features the transitions "uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco, seis " -- was primary inspired by the Southern California soul-rock band War.
"I wanted to do a song that was kind-of like 'Low Rider' with heavy guitars," Holland said, referring to War's 1975 number celebrating L.A.'s Latin culture.
"I really like that Latino sound -- bands like Santana and War and all that. Living in L.A., you're constantly exposed to Latin and Hispanic culture, and I wanted to bring that influence into our music," he added.
"Right from the outgo, from that tongue-in-cheek Def Leppard sample, everyone knew it was cocky, it was ironic, it was funny -- and it got people to be a lot more accepting, from note one," Sky Daniels, of the trade-newspaper Radio & Records, said of "Pretty Fly."
Daniels welcomes Offspring's return to form.
"Smash really had a straight, edgy, Orange County kind of feel to it, but the last record had a much more studio feel, which a lot of people openly rejected," he said. "This record, while certainly well-produced, has a little of that cockiness and swagger."
Offspring was formed in Orange County, Calif., 12 years ago when Holland hooked up with guitarist Kevin "Noodles" Wasserman, bassist Greg K. (Kriesel) and drummer Ron Welty.
At the time, none of the members knew how to play their instruments, but that quickly changed. The foursome put out three independent releases -- their 1989 self-titled debut, 1992's Ignition, and 1994's Smash -- before signing with Columbia and releasing Ixnay in 1997.
Holland, who waited until the last month in the studio to pen Americana's lyrics, had finished the words to three songs -- "Pretty Fly," "The Kids Aren't Alright" and "Why Don't You Get a Job?" -- when he recognized a common theme running through them.
"It seemed to fit into this idea of Americana, which has all these nice, glossy connotations of Norman Rockwell and white-picket fences. But today's American culture is much more about every kid having a tattoo and a nipple piercing and a sports utility vehicle ... It's a much different reality than it was before."
"Why Don't You Get a Job" and "She's Got Issues" (RealAudio excerpt) are both talk-show inspired, with the title of the latter stemming from what Holland called the "typical psychobabble" inherent in trash TV.
The album also includes a sardonic-punk version of Morris Albert's 1977 tune "Feelings." Holland insisted that the song lent itself to an angry interpretation: "It's almost appropriate for this time. In the '70s, it was perfect to make it about love, and all happy and ex-hippie and all that stuff. Now, it seems appropriate to make it fast and aggressive and angry, and talk about feelings of hate and stuff. I just don't know if kids will know the song and get the joke."
Offspring kicked off their North American tour in support of Americana in Phoenix Nov. 15.