Americana was a huge commercial success, debuting at number six on the Billboard 200 with around 175,000 copies sold in its first week and peaking at number two for two nonconsecutive weeks, spending 22 weeks nonconsecutive in the top 10, becoming the Offspring's highest ever chart position. It is the band's second best selling album to their 1994 breakout Smash. Americana has sold more than 15 million copies worldwide with over 9 million copies certified, while going 5x platinum in the United States for 5 million copies shipped. The album contains the hit singles "Pretty Fly (for a White Guy)", "Why Don't You Get a Job?" and "The Kids Aren't Alright" being the band's 3 biggest hits to date all crossing over from mainstream rock and alt-rock radio to Top 40 pop radio stations and sharing the similar success to the singles from Smash. "She's Got Issues" was the last single from the album and it only received some moderate success and it was not as popular or successful as its 3 prior hit singles making the song an unsuccessful finish for the album. The singles (except "She's Got Issues") can also be heard on the band's Greatest Hits compilation. The Compact Disc version of the album also featured, "The Meaning Of Life" music video from the 1997 album,"Ixnay On the Hombre" playable on DVD ROM. Americana was nominated for the 1999 MTVEurope Music Awards for Best Album, but lost to Boyzone's By Request. The Offspring supported the album with a worldwide tour and appeared at the infamous Woodstock 1999, where their performance was broadcast live on pay-per-view television. It is also the last Offspring album to contain a hidden track.
After the unexpected success of Smash (1994), The Offspring were signed to Columbia Records in 1996, releasing the fourth studio album Ixnay on the Hombre (1997) to moderate success. Although Ixnay on the Hombre was not as well received as Smash, it managed simultaneous gold and platinum certification in the United States in April 1997. After touring in support of Ixnay on the Hombre, The Offspring began writing new material for their next album. Frontman Dexter Holland told Rolling Stone in August 1998 that, "I wanted to write a record that wasn't a radical departure from what we've done before. I feel like we have managed to change stuff up from Ignition to Smash to Ixnay. We're in a place where we more or less set the boundaries where we can do a lot of stuff without having to stretch it out farther ... and do a swing song or something." Recording took place from July to September 1998 at Eldorado Recording Studios with producer Dave Jerden, who also produced Ixnay on the Hombre. On the album's direction, Holland told Guitar World, "The idea wasn't to reinvent the wheel. We expanded our horizons on our last record and that's okay, but I don't feel like you have to be a completely different band on every record."
One of the songs, "Pay the Man", was actually recorded during the making of Ixnay on the Hombre, but was left out because it sounded too different from anything else the band had currently made, in a dark, psychedelic rock/heavy metal sound, comparable to stoner rock. The structure of the song more resembles progressive rock (having no repetitive sections, and no continuous musical theme). Holland also contributed the song "Too Much Drama" to The Vandals' album Hitler Bad, Vandals Good, which was released five months before Americana. The chorus melody is reused on this album on the song "Walla Walla."
Americana contains themes of unhappy American lifestyles. Speaking of the album shortly after its release, Holland explained, "The songs on Americana aren't condemnations, they're short stories about the state of things and what we see going on around us. We want to expose the darker side of our culture. It may look like an episode of Happy Days out there in America, but it feels more like Twin Peaks."
Americana was released on November 17, 1998 and peaked at number 2 on the Billboard 200 album chart, the highest position the band attained at the time, and so their highest thus far. Shortly after its release, the album was certified gold and then later platinum.
The album received positive reviews, Michael Gallucci of Allmusic described the album as a "raucous ride through America as seen through the eyes of a weary, but still optimistic, young kid". Gallucci praised the music as "a hearty combination of poppy punk" and a "blend of salsa and alterna-rock sounds", stating the band's music was taking a different direction. The album received a rating of three out of five stars, while "Pretty Fly (for a White Guy)", "Why Don't You Get a Job?", "The Kids Aren't Alright" and "She's Got Issues" earned The Offspring its heaviest airplay on MTV and radio stations to date.
The album's cover art, illustrated by Frank Kozik, features a blonde boy with an orthopedic boot seated on a swing holding a sand flea with a tentacle reaching out to him. On the back cover either the flea or the unseen tentacle creature appears to have eaten the boy, as only the boot remains on the swing. Pictures in the booklet are also illustrations for the songs (the tentacle of the cover also reappears in some of these pictures) and these pictures are also used on the single covers. In the booklet of the album, where the lyrics to "Pay the Man" are, there is an image that is extremely similar to a design of a poster for the No Control tour, featuring Bad Religion. Considering both pieces of art are by Kozik, it is likely that The Offspring requested this piece of art to be used in the booklet. The typeface used for the band's logo on the album cover, Friz Quadrata bold, has also been used by Bad Religion.
Liner notes show that all songs are written by The Offspring.
"Pay the Man" ends at 8:08, followed by the hidden track "Pretty Fly (Reprise)" at 9:16. The track is a mariachi reprise of the song "Pretty Fly (for a White Guy)" that lasts for only a minute. The online download release of Americana has "Pay the Man" as track 13 and "Pretty Fly (Reprise)" separately, with the reprise of "Pretty Fly (for a White Guy)" as track 14.
The main drum riff on "Pay the Man" is the same drum riff found on the title track of Smash during the acoustic version of "Come Out and Play".