Friday, June 20, 2003

Jumping the shark: the thrilling conclusion

Okay, now I remember what I was talking about.

See, the whole "jump the shark" thing came to me because I found an old cassette tape in one of my desk drawers (of course, not the tape I was looking for, but whatever). It was a tape I'd found in a rental car back at my old job, and it was just a mix tape someone had made of a bunch of songs they liked.

It had Red Hot Chili Peppers, Harvey Danger (who remembers them? come on, don't be shy), and some other stuff, not all of it good. But on side two, there were three songs from the Offspring. Specifically, from their album Americana.

Now, I liked the Offspring. They were a loud, brash, punk band from California. Their first two albums, Ignition and a self-titled release, but didn't come to prominence until their third album, Smash, in...1994? That sounds about right.

The album featured a little ditty called "Come Out and Play (Keep 'em Seperated)" that instantly became a huge hit. I mean, when the song came out, you could not get away from it. It was everywhere. The next single, "Self Esteem," was a huge hit as well. The songs were loud, with a taste of punk flavoring, but featured killer pop hooks -- the Eastern-style bass line of "Come Out and Play" and the "la la la la" chorus of "Self Esteem" embedded themselves in your brain and would simply not go away.

I got Smash as a Christmas gift well after its release. While the remainder of the album wasn't as adorned with pop hooks, it's still awesome, and Smash is listed on my 100 Favorite Albums of All Time list (which I'll post here someday if I feel like it).

One of the cool things about the album was its sense of humor. The record opens with a deep-voice narrator telling you that it's "time to relax" with "a glass of wine, your favorite easy chair, and -- of course -- this compact disc playing on your home stereo....Music soothes even the savage beast." And then the drums kick in and the guitars scream into the punk anthem "Nitro." It's hilarious.

A few years later, the Offspring returned. Now signed to a major label (Sony/Columbia...doesn't get much more major than that), they released Ixnay on the Hombre. Now, Ixnay is a good album. Very good, in fact. But there were some warning signs -- "shark bait," if you will.

For one, the humor which had been lightly sprinkled throughout Smash was dealt in much heavier doses this time around. Some of it was very funny -- after the last song ended, the CD continued to play in silence. Thus, the listener waited for the hidden track, only to hear, after about ten minutes, Larry "Bud" Mellman (from the Letterman show) yelling, "Maybe you guys should try heavy metal! Kiss my ass!!" and then the CD ended. That is funny. But some of the other tries -- a song called "Don't Pick It Up," for example, with tired Saturday Night Live references and insipid lyrics -- were not.

Plus, the second single was a track called "Gone Away," and is your typical ode-to-a-lost-loved-one power ballad. Now, there's wrong with these songs in and of themselves. But it was so radically different -- so commercial-sounding, so bred for radio -- that it just smelled like trouble.

And trouble arrived in 1998 with Americana. Suddenly, the comedy became the main focus of the band's material, as evidenced by the first single, "Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)." Sure, it's funny the first time, but it gets old really fast -- "Oh, see, he's white, and he's trying to be black. Ha ha ha! Aren't white people FUNNY? Ha ha ha!" There are some good songs on Americana -- some very good ones. But the focus was on the jokes, and none of them were very funny (oh, a parody of "Feelings" all about hate instead of love, aren't we the comic geniuses). <>Americana sent the Offspring hurtling right over the shark.

Their next album, Conspiracy of One, was more comedy, but it still wasn't funny, and this time, none of the songs were good. Too bad.

Well, Smash still kicks ass.

Oh, and if you see my dad
Tell him I slit his throat in this dream I had

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