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RECORD RACK

Coldplay, Offspring resurface strongly

June 17, 2008|Richard Cromelin; Ann Powers; Jeff Weiss

The Offspring

"Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace" (Columbia) * * *

YOU EXPECT a band to show some new twists when it returns from a four-year absence, and in its first album since 2003, the Offspring obliges. "Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace" (released today) has plenty of brisk, sharp rock, both punk and beyond, but there are also atmospheric interludes and moments of folkish, emo-like reflection.

The veteran Orange County band also has a new producer, Bob Rock, who's moved over from the Metallica account and so might be held responsible for the ominous, metal-tinged ballad "A Lot Like Me."

Of course, the Offspring has never stayed snugly in the punk cubicle it initially was assigned. Such hits as "Come Out and Play," "Self Esteem" and "Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)" bristled with hooks and twitches and dynamics foreign to the punk playbook, and the band's knack for the catchy resulted in refrains that stuck like schoolyard taunts and lifted like stadium chants.

"Rise and Fall" works best when it emphasizes those features. "Let's Hear It for Rock Bottom," "Stuff Is Messed Up," "You're Gonna Go Far, Kid" and "Nothingtown" are the prime vehicles for the Offspring's engaging dynamism, while the band (joined by guest drummer Josh Freese for the second straight album) is flashing an increasing pop-anthem quality that brings it close to Cheap Trick's hallowed ground.

"Hammerhead," in which images of a soldier's battlefield maneuvers bleed into a scenario of a campus shooting spree, is the strongest lyric on an album that gives more time than usual to personal introspection. There are also expressions of frustration and discontent in the tradition of the Offspring's legacy of well-observed social commentary, but the absence of its satirical, semi-novelty edge leaves things a little sober.

The album tends to sag in the middle, and as for those gentler moments, well, one for two isn't bad ("Kristi, Are You Doing Okay?" is OK). The Offspring has earned the chance to stretch, but when it comes to this band and sentimental soft-rock, you gotta keep 'em separated.

-- Richard Cromelin

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A sleek product that's pretty great

Coldplay

"Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends" (Capitol) * * *

HAVE YOU ever picked up a self-help book from the display table in a big-box bookstore and opened it to find a phrase that exactly applied to your life? The most pedestrian insight can sometimes hit surprisingly hard.

Banality might not elevate the intellect, but it helps in a tired, over-wired culture. We're all so distracted that we need to be reminded of the obvious, again and again. This helps explain the popularity of Coldplay, a group that disgusts sophisticates, although (or because) 10 million or so people seem to prefer its music to Radiohead's.

Artsy aspirations intensify the aha moments offered by Coldplay's chief deep thinker, Chris Martin, and his band -- never more so than on its fourth studio album and official leap toward greatness.

I want to believe that "Viva" is Brian Eno’s little trick on Coldplay. The well-meaning rockers wanted to improve their game, so they brought in the producer who's given growth hormones to everyone from David Byrne to U2 to Microsoft. (Did you know that Eno designed the start-up sound for Windows 95?)

Eno let the lovely Londoners believe they were making classic art-rock, when in fact his intention was to make a shiny new product. Product as art, that is: Eno has always muddied the distinction between the two, wearing the mask of a "non-musician" to better avoid traditionalist traps and coining the term "ambient" to refer to music that has impact even while you're ignoring it.

That kind of music, which shares many qualities with Coldplay's current offering, also has been called "mood" or "background" or even "advertising jingle." But Eno, who values the effect of creative work over its makers' original intent, wouldn't go for such prejudicial terms. The sleekly non-specific quality of "Viva" -- it's full of evocations without settling on any one reference point -- lends power to Martin's lyrics, making them seem more like common wisdom than cliches.

You can just see Coldplay and Eno in the studio, the musicians happily borrowing ideas from avant-popsters like My Bloody Valentine and Arcade Fire, and Eno, smiling, making it all sound like what you hear in a really great car commercial.

The album starts with an instrumental (Martin, possibly joking, told MTV.com that the band meant to "do a great ring tone"), and when Martin's words do come, they're beefed up or buried within extremely canny arrangements that nod toward electronica, Latin and Celtic folk traditions, and the edge of modern classical music that intersects with film scoring.

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