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Punk With Spunk

The Offspring Does It Once More With 'Feelings'

The Offspring's new "Americana" album owes much of its current success - it's No. 2 on Billboard's album charts - to an element that's all too often missing in today's pop market - humor. The band's lightheartedness is most evident in the hit radio track and accompanying video, "Pretty Fly (for a White Guy)," but it also informs several other original tracks on "Americana" (Columbia), as well as that album's only cover, Morris Albert's '70s chestnut "Feelings."

Only the Offspring aren't particularly interested in that lugubrious ballad's insipid explorations of love. Instead, they turn it into a blistering punk rave-up with new lyrics that gleefully explore hate ("feelings . . . like I never liked you/ feelings . . . like I want to kill you/ live in my heart . . ."). And singer Dexter Holland is as convincing on this alternative version as any lounge lizard ever was in delivering the original.

The supercharged Orange County quartet has long mixed its punk-metal inclinations with pop instincts and with "Pretty Fly (for a White Guy)," they simply expand their palette to include rap. Built on a crunching Def Leppard hook and propelled by Holland's nasal rap, the song is a hilarious send-up of clueless suburban mall rats aspiring to hip-hop coolness but ineptly handling their appropriations of rap moves, speech and fashions.

The band's bratty humor also shows up in "She's Got Issues," where Holland is hardly Mr. Sensitive curtly dismissing a new girlfriend's emotional baggage, and "Walla Walla," in which Holland insists his peers shoulder responsibility for their own lives and shows absolutely no sympathy for a reckless, now-prison-bound friend (the song's coda is "Have a nice life!"). And on "Why Don't You Get a Job?," an atypical acoustic track whose lilting melody echoes the Beatles' "Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da," Holland hilariously castigates slackers who let their partners carry the financial weight.

Such lighter moments are balanced by hard snapshots of suburban life in the '90s, which is not all that different from the angst-drenched view espoused by hard-core punk bands like Black Flag and X in the '80s. The opening track, "Have You Ever," is an amphetamine-fueled portrait of social dislocation ("Have you ever walked through a room/ but it was more like the room passed around you/ like there was a leash around your neck that pulled you through?"). "End of the Line" rails with frustration and unsympathetic anger at a friend's suicide, while "The Kids Aren't Alright" traces the "fragile lies and shattered dreams" of those trapped in small towns. It's familiar territory, but bracingly explored.

By Richard Harrington, from Washington Post - January 13, 1999