Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Rant #9: "Do You Have The Time, A Green Day Retrospective"
When I asked you all last week to refer me to some music, follower Janis! took it one step further - she asked that I compare Green Day's discography. (At least that is how I'm interpreting her note). So here it goes. My thoughts on one of the most popular bands in the 90's and 00's.
Green Day started off in 1990 very humbly with 39/Smooth. Now - I don't want to give the impression I dislike this album, because I don't. I think every band has to have a beginning, and this showed that Green Day maybe wasn't ready to hit it big. It's probably more of a reflection on the production quality of the album than their actual talent. But even lyrically, this record doesn't have anything that makes you sit back and want more. Now, you'll notice a theme might be people saying Green Day's music all sounds the same - well that is most evident here. Bottom line, this just didn't have anything great about it to give it staying power. 10 basic tracks that if you look back on them now, would only wet your appetite for some real, solid Green Day.
1992 then brought us to Kerplunk. The lack of great production still lingers a little bit with this album, but you can tell it's getting better. I think if you look back in hindsight, you'd think Kerplunk and 39 were the 'experiments' leading up to hitting it big. That is also somewhat evident by the track 'Welcome To Paradise' here and then on the next record. Some pretty drastic arrangement changes if you sit and listen closely. All changes (in my opinion) for the better. I think Kerplunk really identifies with Green Day's signature sound though. Even right now you can go back to this album and know, with certainty it is Green Day. This record might also be a little silly in spots, which was a nice change of pace back in the day. Kind of pointing that out is their outrageous cover of The Who - which is fun, not necessarily good. You compare that to super serious, super political current Green Day, and I long for the past. This album is solid..not their best - but solid. And truly a lead in to what is about to come next...
SLAM BANG POW! 1994's Green Day is all over the media and right in your ear with Dookie. I've said it before, and I'll say it again right now, one of the best albums of all time. Top to bottom, start to finish - just great. All those production quality issues are gone, vocals are polished - the sound seems to be perfected. Alternative rock meets punk rock meets garage band combined into one amazing sound. A sound that in 1994, was not only needed, but incredibly unique. I truly believe that MTV helped make Green Day with the video for 'Basket Case'. That turned a whole generation of young people on to them that for the most part, all still love them today. You can't name a track on this album that isn't good. They're all flat out, on fire. 'Pulling Teeth' really slows it up in the middle and makes you tap your toes. The hits are all the hits, and would still be hits today. Putting in the 'All By Myself' bonus after F.O.D. was something every kid looked forward to and waited for if their cd player didn't have a seek function. Everyone loves this album and yet it doesn't seem to get the recognition it deserves. Sure, it's not IV, Dark Side or Unplugged in New York (Nirvana) but it's right there.
Devotees didn't have to wait very long for the next installment, a small album called Insomniac. I'll fully admit, I loved Dookie so much I ran out and picked this up right away. I remember pulling the insert out, and it unfolded into a nice sized poster. I put that up immediately, and tossed the album on. My 12 year old mind seemed to comprehend that something was different. Did I like it? Did I hate it? I couldn't decide. I think this record is maybe a little harder top to bottom - but still typical Green Day. Light hearted and fun, fast guitars and clean vocals. A few nice sing along tracks as well with 'Stuck With Me', 'Geek Stink Breath' and 'Walking Contradiction'. If you think back really hard, they combined 'Brain Stew' and 'Jaded' into one really long video and track for the radio. That heavy riff always got me going - not even sure why. It's simple and kind of plain - but even to this day, I adore it. I think this album gets some unfair criticism. You can say sure, it's not as good as Dookie. Who cares? If you make a phenomenal record, you can't always expect the follow up to be as outstanding. This is very good in it's own right. Probably my second favorite Green Day album. If you disagree, listen to it again. I'm guessing you'll be pleasantly surprised by how pleasing it is to your Green ears.
Two years later, Nimrod spews into the music landscape. One of my friends picked this up right away. I didn't have to look past track 1 to know that this was going to be different. 'Nice Guys' was like everything I hated in 1997. I was even more jaded on pop music back then versus me now. This whole thing started out as a pop record and you could have convinced me it wasn't even Green Day. If not for the signature Billy Joel voice, I'd have believed it. What happened to that fast paced guitar? What happened to the harder tracks? You get through 15 tracks of mediocrity and then slap to the face. Here comes 'Good Riddance'. And then it hits you...wow, what a change of pace. Green Day has a sensitive side? This punk band can put out a ballad that will forever change music? I was stunned. Happily stunned. Don't get me wrong, a couple of those tracks in the first 15 are fairly good, but nothing compares to Riddance. It's just on a new level. All in all, the album was a let down - but you could see that if that one song could be SO huge, it was going to happen again. Fans just knew that Green Day would start to rock out with these slower, more meaningful tracks.
Flash forward another 3 years. Fans were yearning for another Green Day record. Then Warning drops. Is it too early in the review to tell you this is my least favorite album by them? I guess not. This album in short, isn't good. The issue of Nimrod went a little more to the pop side - which wasn't overly bad, because it was almost a Green Day version of pop. Tolerable. Then with 'Good Riddance' I thought the next album would be a pop/ballad/punk hybrid. Pretty exciting right? Warning ended up being a pop-festival of average-ness. 'Warning', 'Waiting' and 'Minority' were all just radio hits. They aren't good songs, and to this day I skip them everytime my iPod tries to make me listen. Nuts to that! I enjoy 'Macy's Day Parade' and maybe 'Misery' off this and that's about it. All in all - the album was weak. Sales reflected that too. Worst selling worldwide album for them ever (after the conversion to a major label). Fans spoke. They didn't want this poppy Green Day. I certainly didn't anyway. I was heading into college and all of my tastes were getting more sophisticated. I just wish Green Day was following suit. Regression is always unfortunate.
2004 comes around and here comes American Idiot. It had been so long (11 years) since I rushed out to pick up a Green Day record, I was pretty ambivalent to this one. I heard the tracks on the radio and thought, they didn't really change. They're still poppy and this is nonsense. Well, I was somewhat wrong. This album is less poppy, and more political. This album sparked a big change for Green Day - they started to become a more activist punk rock band. That isn't necessarily my cup of tea, but I get it. What a crazy leap though. A poppy record to a political album in a few years. While this is no where near as good as 90's Green Day, it's got some staying power. The reintroduction of a couple more power ballads was nice. That's probably what got this record so high in sales too. Top to bottom, still not a great album, but it was getting better. It seemed like as a band, they were going to turn the corner onto a new phase, and I think it's safe to say they have. It's almost like this was a 39/Smooth reprise in terms of experimenting with yet another new sound. And yeah, they had a couple misses on this album, but it was just a set up for what the future holds.
The longest release hiatus came for fans when they waited 5 long years for 21st Century Breakdown. I think it's fair to state that most fans by this point, wanted perfection. Another Dookie if you will. To show you the change in time spans, if you wanted 39, you went out and bought the tape. Dookie, you went and picked up the cd. Warning, you downloaded it illegally. And then with 21st Century, you picked it up on newly DRM free iTunes and sent it to everyone who wanted it. That's how I got this, and at first blush - was NOT impressed. But then I kept going. I kept giving it chances. One after another. And it started growing on me. I'd find myself singing songs in my head well after putting the album down for the day. Could it be? Could Green Day finally have gotten it right again? I'm not sure I can really answer that question, but I can say they're getting closer. From a new sound standpoint, this is rock solid. It's got the poppy tracks, it's got the solid punk ballads and it's got that signature Green Day sound of old. In terms of turning the corner as artists, I think they've done it. And they've done it fairly successfully. They've reinvented themselves without really pissing anyone off - which is a nice feat. Would I classify this as one of the best album ever? Of course not. It's it really good, oh heck yes it is. Does it make me more excited for a subsequent album from them? Sure. I have faith that now I'd actually want to pick up the next one - instead of being indifferent. Green Day is back on my radar, thanks to this record. It's not a STP like rebirth, but it's a nice one nonetheless.
Albums In My Favorite Order:
4. 21st Century Breakdown
6. American Idiot
1. Dookie - 18 Million Worldwide
2. American Idiot - 14 Million Worldwide
3. Insomniac - 5.5 Million Worldwide
4. Nimrod - 5 Million Worldwide
5. 21st Century Breakdown - 3.6 Million Worldwide
6. Warning - 3 Million Worldwide
7. Kerplunk - 2 Million Worldwide
8. 39/Smooth - 1 Million Worldwide
Green Day fans unite - let me know what you think. Happy Thursday!