Sound — 7
Five years have passed since we've had a new studio album from The Offspring, and the punk outfit has returned to deliver Rise And Fall, Rage And Grace with producer Bob Rock in tow. One could argue that the man behind Metallica's self-titled CD (otherwise known as the Black Album) and St. Anger had a major part in the new record, particularly considering there are a few tracks that are essentially ballads and bear no resemblance to past Offspring material. At the same time, the band might just be, for lack of a better word, maturing. Don't get me wrong, there are still plenty of high-energy punk offerings on Rise And Fall, Rage And Grace, but things do tend to trudge along a little too much when the band attempts to show it's sensitive side or just rehash what we've heard plenty of bands do before. The first half of the album is definitely promising, leading off with the infectiously fun and catchy Half-Truism. There is a big emphasis on melody and energy, and it should be mentioned that the hardest-working session player in rock, Josh Freese, is the featured drummer on the record. Trust In You is one of the fastest offerings on the album, and at times it's a bit reminiscent to Bad Religion's sound. For the first single, the made the wise decision in selecting Hammerhead, which features the most unusual arrangement on the record. The Offspring could have easily picked a benign, familiar punk tune, but Hammerhead stands out for it's building percussion, the unusual transition about 2/3 through the song, and the fact that it feels like about three songs in one. The band proves they aren't just going through the motions with Hammerhead, and it's one of the biggest highlights of Rise And Fall, Rage And Grace. Some problems arise with Kristy, Are You Doing Okay, which although has an important message (sexual abuse and molestation), is musically dull. The Offspring chose acoustics to start it all off, and it makes a big impression in the first minute of the track. But as more layers are added (strings and some sort of chiming), everything comes way too close to sounding like every other pop ballad on the radio. The other outright ballad, Fix You, fairs a bit better musically and feels more heartfelt. Vocalist Dexter Holland even adds in a Bono-like cry at the end, but even with the added passion the ballad doesn't come close to the originality heard on some of the punk tracks. The usual humor we've received with past Offspring albums is lacking on Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace, and that may be the biggest letdown of all. The band has put together material that should fare really well at high-energy concert, however. If you're able, try to get your hands on the Japanese bonus track O.C. Life, which deserved a place on the standard album version. It has more of an edge than all of the other tracks put together, and it definitely leans more towards true punk than just pop punk. When you hear a song like O.C. Life, you know The Offspring has plenty of life still in them.
Lyrics — 7
At first listen, there aren't any songs that seem as quirky as Self-Esteem or Pretty Fly (For A White Guy), but they do make things a little bit off-color in You're Gonna Go Far, Kid. Holland sings, And as you step back into line; You march up to their feet; Now dance, f--ker, dance; Man, he never had a chance. It's actually one of the most memorable choruses musically and lyrically, even if you don't usually care for expletive-filled choruses. While the sensitive side of the band is still a bit lackluster musically, kudos to The Offspring for tackling subjects like sexual abuse in Kristy, Are You Doing Okay. The ballad Fix You is a pretty emotional venture for the band as well, with lyrics such as I wish I could fix you; And make you how I want you; I wish I could fix you; And I wish you could fix me. They truly aren't the most interesting lyrics, but it probably isn't the easiest thing for a punk band to lay raw emotions on the line.
Overall Impression — 7
Rise And Fall, Rage And Grace is full of ups and downs, and at times you might wish a little more could have been done in the 5 years that The Offspring had to write the album. With songs like Hammerhead and Stuff Is Messed Up (which actually delves into a bluesier sound), the band proves why they deserve the spotlight. But in between the key tracks are a few rather dull offerings that just feel like any other pop punk track or ballad on the radio. The Offspring might have been trying to play it safe (or perhaps Bob Rock had a hand in it) for those tracks, but after more than 20 years together (they originally formed in 1984 if you can believe it), they shouldn't have to cater to the latest pop punk trends.