I was initially really excited to be asked to take part in Biff Bam Pop!’s Album of the Week series, but then it dawned on me, what album should I write about? The instalments that preceded mine have been incredibly vulnerable and heartfelt, touching on how the chosen albums got the writers through really crucial harrowing moments in their lives or made them feel seen and affirmed in truly profound ways. I’ve lived a relatively easy life, hence why I’m about as deep as a puddle. So, with all that in mind, should I write about how The Bangles’ third studio album Everything got me through my first real heartbreak? Maybe I should tackle how Lil’ Kim’s Hard Core or Janet Jackson’s The Velvet Rope and how those projects impacted a young me that was becoming increasingly aware of sex and my own sexual orientation. And then hit me: the Offspring. You need to talk about the Offspring.
Of course, as a child of the ’90s, I was already very familiar with a handful of Offspring songs. “Come Out and Play”, “Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)”, “The Kids Aren’t Alright”, “Why Don’t You Get a Job?” and a few others were staples on rock radio up here and on MuchMusic, when it was still Canada’s national music television station. Despite the ubiquity of those hits, I’d say my real introduction to the Garden Grove, California rockers came much later, all the way in the mid-2000s thanks to my uncle Trevor, who I was particularly close to.
Growing up, I was a voracious consumer of music. I still am now. Family members would often try to school me and put me on to artists and albums that I needed to know. From my R&B-obsessed cousins and aunts, to my uncles that played me what they felt to be real hip-hop, to my parents that put up with me blasting house, techno and Eurodance, everyone knew how much I loved music. I was like a sponge and would listen to anything. My uncle Trevor has always been a dyed-in-the-wool rock guy through and through. Whenever I spent time with him and my aunt in Windsor during the summers, I knew I was in store for a healthy dose of prog, punk, nu-metal, classic rock and hard rock. It was during one of those visits in the summer of 2006 when my uncle handed me a CD from his collection and said I needed to have it. That CD was Smash, the 1994 album from the Offspring. I’d never heard a full Offspring album up until that point and upon first listen, my mind was blown.
Smash, the third Offspring album, was released in the spring of 1994 on Epitaph. At that point in time, the Offspring were a band getting ready to elevate to the next level. With grunge starting to wane, in large part due to the rampant commercialization of the sound and Kurt Cobain’s suicide, the stage was set for punk outfits like the Offspring, Rancid, and Green Day to crack the mainstream. Bands that were counter-culture and could give you that emotion and frenetic aggression but with a wicked sense of humor and a major premium placed on having fun. When you go back to the Offspring’s 1992 album Ignition and then listen to Smash, you can hear the progression and the band meeting the moment. Thanks in large part to the band tirelessly working the album and touring for two years, Smash would become the best-selling independent album of all time and resulted in the band signing with Columbia Records.
The crown jewel on Smash is “Self Esteem”, the album’s second single and a major Offspring fan favorite. It’s a bit of a come-down as it directly follows “Come Out and Play”, the infectiously fun and deceptively upbeat track about gang violence and race relations in L.A. Frontman Dexter Holland’s vocals as he sings about an emotionally abusive relationship where the girl takes advantage of the guy because of his lack of self-esteem struck a nerve with me. At 16 years old, I hadn’t been in a relationship like that so couldn’t relate on that level but the raw emotion of the track and the lyrics won me over right away.
After falling in love with Smash, I had to go back and get into the rest of their albums. Smash is the one I revisit the most, but Ixnay on the Hombre and A Piece of Americana both have endless replay value. Despite lineup changes, inner turmoil and a global pandemic, Dexter Holland, guitarist Noodles and bassist Todd Morse are still going strong. The album they released last year Let the Bad Times Roll was less of a victory lap and more of a social commentary piece, tackling the issues facing the world. Critics didn’t receive the project with open arms and it landed on numerous worst albums of 2021 lists, but what’s most important is that the Offspring are still around. And hey, you can always go back and listen to Smash.