After a three year hiatus from their last recorded effort, the Offspring had an opportunity to close out 2003 with a killer album. They could have used the thirty-six months of down time to craft an offering representative of their obvious talents; they could have bestowed a wonderful Christmas gift upon their loyal fans after 2000's pedestrian outing Conspiracy of One; they could have displayed the hard earned credibility that first made them indie label darlings, and later major label players. They could have done all these things and more, but the Offspring blew it and let everyone down in the process
It isn't that Splinter is such a bad disc per se, but more so that it is incredibly unsatisfying. Clocking in at a paltry thirty-two minutes, the dozen tracks run a narrow gambit from serviceable to useless.
Are there glimpses of vintage Offspring? Certainly, as evidenced by the energized mayhem of "Race Sgainst Myself" and "(Can't Get My) Head around You." Dexter Holland's sneering howl underscored by Noodles's big guitar roar harkens back to the glory days of "Come Out and Play". The speed thrash of "Never Gonna Find Me" and "Lightning Rod" revisit a time when the Offspring were hungry young SoCal skate punks. Even the angry machine gun drum fills on "Long Way Home" and the screeching brashness of "Da Hui" are vivid reminders of the band's potential for pop-infused chaos.
But somewhere in the studio the band decided to deviate from the game plan, and go the easy route, loading up Splinter with embarrassing filler. Despite its tribal beat and background crowd chant, is the one minute album intro "Neocon" deserving of Track 1 status? Could Holland and company come up with nothing better than the juvenile "Spare Me the Details" or the utterly idiotic "The Worst Hangover Ever"? And what of the puzzling album closer "When You're in Prison"? Sure the Al Jolson-esque crooner is amusing, belting out silly lyrics about life behind bars. Even the scratchy old phonograph effects are creative, but the song occupies space where a genuinely good new track could have been proudly showcased.
Similarly, the album's single, "Hit That", is a disappointment. Amidst a catchy riff lurks a thoroughly sophomoric theme, one that smacks of lowest common denominator sensibilities.
Chalk it up to indifference, lack of inspiration, or just plain laziness, the band has fallen far short of what could have been with the new release. Ironically, a quick glance at the Offspring's recorded output shows that the failed promise of Splinter fits perfectly amongst a catalogue of inconsistency. While the group has recorded at irregular intervals over the past decade, a truly solid effort has not been made since 1994's brilliant Smash, and that takes into account the modest critical success of 1997's Ixnay on the Hombre and 1998's Americana. A resume of mediocrity might be somewhat more acceptable if balanced by frequency and regularity; however, a new album every two of three years warrants much keener attention to quality.
Naysayers would argue that the band has fooled us over time into believing there was more substance than style to their work; that the Offspring were nothing but an over-hyped flavor of the moment; that Splinter is another tepid release from a group hindered by a reputation for underachievement. There may be some truth to such accusations, but believers will still find something of merit in whatever Holland and his mates offer up.
So then, is Splinter worth the time? For Offspring aficionados it will be, as there is enough quality material to maintain a semblance of faith in their musical heroes. But when compared to many of the new releases by the current wave of bands, the album will be exposed as a half-hearted effort wringed by missed opportunities and wasted potential.
Not a catastrophe, just merely a shame...