Green Day - Warning
or better or worse, we here at Stylus, in all of our autocratic consumer-crit greed, are slaves to timeliness. A record over six months old is often discarded, deemed too old for publication, a relic in the internet age. That's why each week at Stylus, one writer takes a look at an album with the benefit of time. Whether it has been unjustly ignored, unfairly lauded, or misunderstood in some fundamental way, we aim with On Second Thought to provide a fresh look at albums that need it.
Ode to Billie-Joe
In 2004 Green Day attempted to change the course of American electoral history with a two-pronged political attack: the release of their incendiary single “George W Bush Is A Stupid”, and the adoption of the far-right-enraging dress code of short-sleeved shirts with ties (Sipowicz was the original punk rocker). They failed. Miserably. However, Billie Joe, Tre Cool, and the other one needn’t be disheartened. They’ve already changed one country beyond recognition. Specifically the UK. Specifically the UK’s pop charts. Because, and hear me out on this one, Green Day’s 2000 album Warning has been the most influential album on the British pop landscape since 1996 (Spice, naturally).
Influence is a funny thing, as a lifetime spent watching Las Vegas stage hypnosis revues will no doubt bear out. Influence when stated tends to be a lie. Indeed, any band who claim to have been listening to, say, Ultramagnetic MCs, Neu and Edith Piaf during the recording of their album will invariably put out an opus than, when listened to, seems to indicate that the studio CD player was pumping out nothing but The Stands. The more musically observant of you though can read between the lines and pinpoint the band that was playing when the latest bunch of pop-hopefuls decided to pick up their guitars. And for the two biggest bands in the UK at the moment, and indeed for the past few years, Busted and McFly, Green Day’s influence looms large, like a drunken, abusive father.
The signs are obvious. Busted may have began their career by trying to piggyback onto a post-Take Off Your Pants And Jacket brand of snigger-pop, but by the time that the second album rolled around, they’d given up all pretence that they were actually having fun, and instead we got the pained (and painful to listen to) mopefests of “Who’s David?” and “3AM”. Adult music for adolescents, which could well be Green Day’s mission statement. And whilst McFly come across like a surf-guitar take on Status Quo at times, you can see that their hearts are in Oakland, “Obviously” in particular delivering those bizzarely yelped vocals that The Day have called their own for the past 15 years. So McFly and Busted killed the traditional British boyband, which had the knock-on effect of meaning that there were less multi-million selling artists around, which had the knock-on effect of plummeting the UK singles chart to its lowest sales figures ever. Want to know whose fault it is Ja Rule can get a number one single? We’ve found your candidates.
But don’t hate: congratulate. Received wisdom has it that Green Day have released one album worth a damn in their entire career, and then immediately jumped headlong into mediocrity. Rubbish. Whilst Dookie was the most fun you could have had pissing on grunge’s corpse, 1997’s Nimrod was one of the best sounds of a band growing up (the tension between the puerility of “King for A Day”, the ranting of “F.O.D.”, and the post-rock instrumental numbers still makes little to no sense even today). With Warning we finally gave them the right to vote and a novelty key with “21” engraved on it. Adulthood had finally descended on the three. There’s even a photo of them on the album cover for the first time, receding hairlines and expanding chinlines worn almost as a badge of pride. “Everybody loves a joke, but no one likes a fool” was the pull-quote must reviews focussed on. Playtime was over.
Beyond all of the cultural significance though, Warning really is a great album. Compare it to Blink 182’s recent self-titled offering. Whilst Blink 182 obviously suffer from a tension between the drummer and the rest of the band (resulting in that quite hysterically non-fitting drum solo in “I Miss You”), the only tensions in Green Day are within the members individual heads. They put down the Ramones LPs, and instead decided to focus on the two bands usually acknowledged as the finest ever to come from the UK: The Beatles and The Levellers.
Of course the single sounded like The Levellers. But any attempt to wrest that sound away from snakebite drinking crusties and instead offer it up as a sacrifice to the newly burgeoning sk8 movement has to be one to be celebrated. “Minority” is a beautifully petulant last rant of childhood, simultaneously ridiculous and affirming, and maybe their last extended middle finger to those who’d claim that they aren’t punk. They never were. Alternative’s not dead.
What else do they do? Beating Blink 182 at their game of the time? “Blood, Sex, and Booze” comes from a time when the Bloodhound Gang were still an ongoing concern, and samples a roadie being whipped by a dominatrix. Can we just pause here to mention how great a drummer Tre Cool actually is? Every single song bounds out of the speakers to you. He’s not actually playing anything that interesting, but as most adolescents know, if you want somebody to listen to you, you’ve got to shout over and over again.
Social commentary? Susan Sontag’s got shit on these guys, as they decided that Gianni Versace’s murder by an AIDS ridden serial killer is a good topic for a song, and not just that, but a song with a punning title. Yes, “Fashion Victim” has a harmonica, and the line “do the anorex-a-go-go”. Green Day: helping victims of body dysmorphia since 1990.
Want a rewrite of “Walk On The Wild Side” with an accordion in it? Of course you do. “Misery” shoots game in the form of story rap as we get taken on a journey involving drug deals gone wrong, men battered to death with baseball bats, and lesbian lovers. The observant amongst you may have noticed that the topics touched upon here (vengeful lesbians, S&M;, anorexic fashion victims) have also been the founding stones of various Belle and Sebastian tracks (“She’s Losing It”, “The State I Am In”, “String Bean Jean”). Are Green Day the pop-punk Belle and Sebastian? There’s an argument to be made. Despite the fact that they are both obviously “bands”, there’s always the sense that they revolve entirely around the frontman, and any attempt to delegate out of him will end in catastrophe. There’s also how they seemed to be bored with their genre-medium, but simultaneously knowledgeable that any attempt to boundary-hop will end with them falling on their face. And, of course, they’re both bands that to love you have to appreciate the inherent ridiculousness of them: be it overly twee or overly adolescent. The bands themselves do. They play up to it. Take “Church On Sunday”. This man is in his mid 30s, and yet he’s still singing like he’s stuck for something to do when high school finishes. Maybe he could form a band, capture people’s hearts, make a difference to the world. Stranger things have happened…
By: Dom Passantino
Published on: 2004-12-07