Green Day news! The Californian pop-punk trio, once best known for writing songs about masturbating during that brief window in which mom popped out to the shops, now more likely to be found penning politically-inclined and concept-heavy punk-rock operas, have announced not one but three new albums.
‘¡Uno!’, ‘¡Dos!’ and ‘¡Tré!’ (is this literally a three-album joke to shoehorn in the drummer’s name?) are apparently all linked conceptually, and will appear at what are roughly three-month intervals, with the first due for release this September. Perhaps an appropriate time, then, to have a shuffle through their back catalogue and have a subjective stab at sorting them from worst to best. [cracks knuckles] Let’s go.
Will any man stand up and claim this to be his favourite Green Day album? ‘Warning’ caught the group stranded somewhere awkward between the breakout success that followed ‘Dookie’ and their commercial rebirth on ‘American Idiot’. The addition of acoustic and folk elements turns out to be the band’s undoing, Billy Joe reaching for a mandolin and, on ‘Hold On’, unleashing a particularly awful bit of harmonica. It isn’t without its moments – the title track and the dominatrix-inspired ‘Blood, Sex And Booze’ stand up – and there are seeds of the political engagement of ‘American Idiot’ in ‘Minority’, although it’s a shame they have to sound so much like the Levellers while they’re at it.
739/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours
The ‘before they were famous’ record, this collection of early recordings suggests that many of Green Day’s hallmarks – Armstrong’s nasal vocals, Buzzcocks-style punk guitar, and Mike Dirnt’s dexterous, limber bass – were present and correct right from day one. The song ‘Green Day’, the tale of Armstrong’s budding romance with Lady Marijuana, is certainly worth revisiting. Tre Cool is yet to make it to the drum stool, though, and while initial drummer John Kiffmeyer is no slouch exactly, it’s clear this is a band yet to entirely gel.
621st Century Breakdown
Yeah, sorry – it’s not you, it’s me, etc etc. But c’mon, this is basically Green Day repeating the (successful) formula of ‘American Idiot’, except this time they hit each of its flaws double-hard. It’s more stadium-rock than punk-rock (therefore worse), it’s at least 15 minutes too long, and the story – something about a couple named Christian and Gloria, living through the dark reign of George W Bush – is pretty much impossible to follow. For all that, there are some great moments – “I’m not fucking around!” on ‘Horseshoes And Handgrenades’, the headbang chug of ‘East Jesus Nowhere’ – but as a complete work, best taken in small doses.
A band in transition, still – their first full-length with Tre Cool, their last on an indie label (Berkeley, CA’s Lookout! Records). And yeah, there’s the sensation, with the benefit of hindsight, that ‘Kerplunk’ is basically a test-run for ‘Dookie’ (they even re-recorded one of its tracks, ‘Welcome To Paradise’, for their major label debut). But are there songs out there that better articulate the sensation of being a bored, horny, stoned, spotty teenager living in suburban California in the 1990s than ‘Who Wrote Holden Caulfield’ and ‘Christy Road’? If so can you point me to them?
‘American Idiot’ is a manful attempt at reinvention, and one must salute Green Day’s attempt to a) reawaken the protest song in a slacker-punks gone Broadway style and b) shift a mean 14 million records in the process. While political, ‘American Idiot’ is more than just a tirade against George W and his cronies – rather, it’s a critique of American society itself, the state of “subliminal mind-fuck America” that brainwashes its youth and lionises stupidity and blind patriotism as ultimate virtues. In places, overblown, but coming from a band whose main preoccupations were wanking and getting stoned, quite the achievement.
On their longest album to date – notwithstanding the initial collection of odds and sods on ‘1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours’ – Green Day made the dreaded decision to show there had always been an expansive side to their music. Usually a path to career suicide, their “experimental” album is broadly successful. For a start, there’s the global hit ‘Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)’ where Billie Joe switches tone from snotty to contemplative, getting caustic with the acoustic. Then there’s drag queen mini-epic ‘King For A Day’ with blasting horns getting all oompah over ska-punk. Weird but compulsive enough for ‘Nimrod’ to move five million units.
That difficult fourth album. After the major label breakthrough with third album ‘Dookie’, Green Day were left with the stark choice: to spread their wings or consolidate. The latter was the sensible option and ‘Insomniac’ is its predecessor’s unruly little brother, 33 breakneck minutes of trademark tight pop-punk. Nothing leaps out quite like earlier single ‘Basket Case’, but in the addictive judder of methamphetamine anthem ‘Geek Stink Breath’ and Black Sabbath-like advance of ‘Brain Stew’ there’s the odd diamond to be found in the sturdy rock.
Green Day’s first serious success – and first album with the major bucks of Reprise behind them – was the kickstarter for the American punk revival scene, and singlehandedly allowed Sum 41 and Blink-182 to enjoy long careers. But don’t hold that against it. ‘Dookie’ is relentlessly excellent, whether celebrating their new-found adolescent freedom on the re-recorded ‘Welcome To Paradise’, finding a bit of groove in ‘When I Come Around’ or satirising Armstrong’s anxiety disorders with sweet harmonies on enduring favourite ‘Basket Case’. Sixteen million worldwide sales to date suggest it was all worth it.
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