But the intimate, highly melodic falsetto of the next song, "I Miss You Baby," lets you know that his suffering is no joke. "Come On in My Kitchen" arrives not merely as a rehashed famous oldie, but as a thematically apt coda for the album--a final, futile call for a lost lover's return. While he voices the well-known refrain--"you better come in my kitchen, because it's going to be raining outdoors"--Lucas' slide bar emits descending, water-streak shivers that indicate the rain is falling not outdoors, but in his grieving soul.
Lucas' songs of romantic woe are sandwiched around a mid-album digression into topical songwriting. On the bouncing "Blues Man From L.A.," complete with tuba work by Bonnie Raitt's old sidekick, Freebo, Lucas stakes a claim to blues authenticity and proves himself by showing his ability to cast an observant, ironic eye on street-level surroundings:
\o7 Drunks laughing at the junkies
Rockheads laughing at the whores
Homeless psychos screaming at the sky
Tellin' God they can't take no more. \f7 With "Change Change," Lucas uses one of the most deeply rooted styles available, country blues, to express modern feelings of anomie and stressed-out overload. "My Home Is a Burnin' " gives a trenchant, darkly surging account of the L.A. riot and its still-combustible aftermath:
\o7 My home it is a burnin'
My town it is ablaze
And this anger's not like smoke
It's not gonna up and blow away. \f7 In one of the album's characteristically spare band arrangements, ex-James Harman Band drummer Stephen Hodges keeps up a steady, ominous tap-tap-tapping on a drum rim, so that the song itself seems to sit atop a ticking time bomb, just like the city it envisions.
When a musician puts so much raw ability to such good use, there's only one thing to say: He's ready.
(Robert Lucas plays acoustic shows Tuesday at the Heritage Brewing Co. in Dana Point and Dec. 26 at Diedrich's in Tustin. He also plays at the Heritage on Dec. 31 with his electric band, Luke and the Locomotives).
\o7 Audioquest, PO Box 3060, San Clemente, Calif., 92647.\f7
** 1/2 The Offspring "Ignition" \o7 Epitaph\f7
You needn't run a blood test to ascertain the parentage of these Offspring. With guitars buzzing in furious but harmonized riffs, chorus vocals mounting anthem-like behind lead singer Bryan Holland, and lyrics about tough sledding through the post-teen-age wasteland, there are distinct echoes of an important Orange County punk-rock forebear, the Adolescents. (Like the Offspring's 1990 debut album, this one is produced by Thom Wilson, who worked on early-'80s recordings by the Ads and T.S.O.L.).
Holland's throaty, full-bodied singing has real character that gives the Offspring's best songs more dimension than typical snarling-punker fare. With a consistently hard-revving instrumental attack behind him, the Offspring have no trouble reaching ignition on their best songs. Most of the highlights come in the first half of the 12-track disc. After that, with melodic punch seemingly spent, sameness sets in and the Offspring begins to lose its special edge. The result, in songs such as "Burn it Up," "L.A.P.D." and "Nothing From Something," is standard-issue fast, \o7 Angst\f7 -filled punk rock.
On "Dirty Magic," the album's standout cut, the Offspring slow the pace as Holland kicks in balefully with a half-wounded, half-disgusted emotional tone that recalls Nirvana's Kurt Cobain. It's a song about an obsessive, unhealthy love-hate romance. On "Session," a good, loosely played yowl-along stomper, the obsession is purely sexual. Not being the sort of band that can indulge in animal pleasures without a good deal of worry and reflection, the Offspring wonder whether those lustful but loveless "sessions" are what they really want. On "Get It Right," the Offspring invoke the original mixed-up kid, Holden Caulfield, as they confess their own youthful alienation and confusion: "Still can't get it right . . . I swear I never will."
The world doesn't need any more self-righteous rock bands, and these songs of self-doubt buy the Offspring room to harp on perceived wrongs without coming off as callow cranks. "Take It Like a Man" expresses a typical theme of suburban punk rock, lashing out at the devil's bargain that affluence presents: Conform, and you'll be comfortable and secure. "We Are One" is a Jeremiad against arrogance that might apply to superpower brinkmanship or ecological neglect:
\o7 We are one, we are free
We are headed for obscurity
We are one, we are weak
We are gonna make ourselves extinct." \f7 Even here, the sarcasm is tempered by anguish.