Gone are the days of the simplicity of teenage problems. Unfortunately, so is the music we identified with to help see us through. In search of an “adult angst punk rock band.”
By Steve Eyl
Angst. Rebellion. Heartache. Growing up as a teenager in the nineties in the midst of a pop-punk revolution, these were concepts I was very familiar with. The high voices of New Found Glory, the whiny lyrics of the Ataris, the teenage rebellion of Blink-182; these comprised the soundtrack of my youth. But as a 25 year old professional, I struggle to understand how I've matured over the years and the collective genre of music I listened to has not. Don't get me wrong- Panic! At the Disco and Fall Out Boy put out some decent albums that still stir up today's teens. But shouldn't those bands I listened to “back in the day” have matured themselves? What I've found is that when they try to, there are only a few outcomes.
The first very obvious outcome of a pop-punk (punk/pop-punk/emo/indie… insert adjective here) band's attempt to mature with their music is utter failure. The band tries to write deeper lyrics, more difficult guitar melodies, or whatever form of improvement they are trying to seek and it simply sucks. My main reference for this would be the Ataris' most recent album “Welcome the Night.” Of course Kris Roe isn't an angry 16 year old living out of his van anymore, but when he tries to create a sound of a 30-something adult, he loses everything that he has built up in his past. The Ataris were made on heartbreak. Half their songs are about breakups, and should Roe have tried to simply keep doing what he was doing and just mature the sound and lyrics a little bit, he may have succeeded. What ensued was a horrific album that reminded me of a 90's alternative band trying to be a little emo.
Take Reel Big Fish and New Found Glory as well. If you listen to Reel Big Fish's most recent album, “Monkeys for Nothing and the Chimps for Free,” released July 2007, and compare it to “Turn the Radio Off” from 1996, it's basically the same album. ‘I drink, I get wasted, you look hot when I'm drunk'…. we get it.
What happened to my music? Why can I mature but these guys can't? I have found three exceptions to these utter disappointments.
The first is Yellowcard. Yellowcard has remained in tune with their fans and put out several albums, each with its own maturity and change. Hell, they have a violinist in their band- how much farther can you get from a chunky electric guitar than that? The second is Jimmy Eat World. I won't go into their career because if you're a fan, you already know.
The third is The Offspring.
As I pop in the newest Offspring CD this morning, “Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace,” this whole rant just blew up in my head. Wow. I love it. The Offspring debuted in 1989, while their popularity really blew up with their 1994 album “Smash” which included such hits as Self-Esteem, Bad Habit, and Come Out and Play. Over the years their hard sounds and playful lyrics (Pretty Fly For a White Guy, Original Prankster) have given them loads of commercial success and an undying fan base. So as I listened to the new album, I was curious to see whether they would fall into the realm of Blink-182, the Ataris, and the other bands that've lost what they had or if they would retain their collective dignity. What I came to realize is that the Offspring has hit the nail on the head.
What was The Offspring's method for success throughout the years? Well they kept what drew me to them in the first place; strong power chords and background melodies. On top of that Dexter Holland has a voice that is unmistakably difficult to imitate (learned from experience: don't try to karaoke The Offspring). They kept the sound that made them great to begin with, and wrote lyrics that sound like they came from an adult. They sprinkled in a little piano on a few tracks, and came out with a gem. From track one they spout lyrics that make you think-
“If we don't make it alive
Well it's a hell of a good day to die
All our light that shines strong
Only lasts for so long
And it's ashes to ashes again
Should we even try to pretend?
All our light that shines strong
Only lasts for so long”
They sing of a lost love in “Kristy, Are You Doing Okay?” And it's not that same ‘whoa is me' type of love song that I'm all too familiar with – it comes from someone who seems to have a lot of experience in life; more than any of those teen angst punk bands. It sounds great too; it's those “ooohs” and “aaahhhs” in the background that make a song fun to sing along to. It's what kept The Offspring as a hit throughout the years.
All-in-all, I've learned as I've grown up a little bit that people learn from their mistakes. They change. Is there still a little teenage angst inside me? Of course. And it's music like The Offspring's that let me vent that. Congratulations to them for providing a bright light at the end of that dark pop-punk tunnel.