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Green Day Album Names In Essays

Who’s the American idiot being referred to? Well, as that curtain slowly rose, we heard the familiar voice of George W. Bush break through a haze of television chatter: “Either you are with us, or with the terrorists.” That kind of talk could bring out the heedless rebel in any kid, particularly one who is already feeling itchy at the lack of prospects in his dreary suburban burg.

But while “American Idiot” is nominally a portrait of youthful malaise of a particular era — the album dates from 2004, the midpoint of the Bush years, and the show is set in “the recent past” — its depiction of the crisis of post-adolescence is essentially timeless. Teenagers eager for their lives to begin, desperate to slough off their old selves and escape boredom through pure sensation, will probably always be making the same kinds of mistakes, taking the same wrong turns on the road to self-discovery.

“American Idiot” is a true rock opera, almost exclusively using the music of Green Day and the lyrics of its kohl-eyed frontman, Billie Joe Armstrong, to tell its story. (The score comprises the whole of the title album as well as several songs from the band’s most recent release, “21st Century Breakdown.”) The book, by Mr. Armstrong and Mr. Mayer, consists only of a series of brief, snarky dispatches sent home by the central character, Johnny, played with squirmy intensity by the immensely gifted John Gallagher Jr. (“Spring Awakening,” “Rabbit Hole”).

“I held up my local convenience store to get a bus ticket,” Johnny says with a smirk as he and a pal head out of town.

“Actually I stole the money from my mom’s dresser.”


“Actually she lent me the cash.”

Such is the sheepish fate of a would-be rebel today. But at least Johnny and his buddy Tunny (Stark Sands) do manage to escape deadly suburbia for the lively city, bringing along just their guitars and the anomie and apathy that are the bread and butter of teenage attitudinizing the world over. (“I don’t care if you don’t care,” a telling lyric, could be their motto.)

The friend they meant to bring along, Will (Michael Esper), was forced to stay home when he discovered that his girlfriend (Mary Faber) was pregnant. Lost and lonely, and far from ready for the responsibilities of fatherhood, he sinks into the couch, beer in one hand and bong in the other, as his friends set off for adventure.

Beneath the swagger of indifference, of course, are anxiety, fear and insecurity, which Mr. Gallagher, Mr. Esper and Mr. Sands transmit with aching clarity in the show’s more reflective songs, like the hit “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” or the lilting anthem “Are We the Waiting.” The city turns out to be just a bigger version of the place Johnny and Tunny left behind, a “land of make believe that don’t believe in me.” The boys discover that while a fractious 21st-century America may not offer any easy paths to fulfillment, the deeper problem is that they don’t know how to believe in themselves.

Johnny strolls the lonely streets with his guitar, vaguely yearning for love and achievement. He eventually hooks up with a girl (a vivid Rebecca Naomi Jones) but falls more powerfully under the spell of an androgynous goth drug pusher, St. Jimmy, played with mesmerizing vitality and piercing vocalism by Tony Vincent. Tunny mostly stays in bed, clicker affixed to his right hand, dangerously susceptible to a pageant of propaganda about military heroism on the tube, set to the song “Favorite Son.” By the time the song’s over, he’s enlisted and off to Iraq.

In both plotting and its emotional palette, “American Idiot” is drawn in brash, primary-colored strokes, maybe too crudely for those looking for specifics of character rather than cultural archetypes. But operas — rock or classical — often trade in archetypes, and the actors flesh out their characters’ journeys through their heartfelt interpretations of the songs, with the help of Mr. Mayer’s poetic direction and the restless, convulsive choreography of Steven Hoggett (“Black Watch”), which exults in both the grace and the awkwardness of energy-generating young metabolisms.

Line by line, a skeptic could fault Mr. Armstrong’s lyrics for their occasional glibness or grandiosity. That’s to be expected, too: rock music exploits heightened emotion and truisms that can fit neatly into a memorable chorus. The songs are precisely as articulate — and inarticulate — as the characters are, reflecting the moment in youth when many of us feel that pop music has more to say about us than we have to say for ourselves. (And, really, have you ever worked your way through a canonical Italian opera libretto, line by line?)

In any case the music is thrilling: charged with urgency, rich in memorable melody and propulsive rhythms that sometimes evolve midsong. The orchestrations by Tom Kitt (the composer of “Next to Normal”) move from lean and mean to lush, befitting the tone of each number. Even if you are unfamiliar with Green Day’s music, you are more likely to emerge from this show humming one of the guitar riffs than you are to find a tune from “The Addams Family” tickling your memory.

But the emotion charge that the show generates is as memorable as the music. “American Idiot” jolts you right back to the dizzying roller coaster of young adulthood, that turbulent time when ecstasy and misery almost seem interchangeable states, flip sides of the coin of exaltation. It captures with a piercing intensity that moment in life when everything seems possible, and nothing seems worth doing, or maybe it’s the other way around.


Music by Green Day; lyrics by Billie Joe Armstrong; book by Mr. Armstrong and Michael Mayer; directed by Mr. Mayer; choreography by Steven Hoggett; musical supervision, arrangements and orchestrations by Tom Kitt; sets by Christine Jones; costumes by Andrea Lauer; lighting by Kevin Adams; sound by Brian Ronan; video and projections by Darrel Maloney; technical supervision by Hudson Theatrical Associates; music coordinator, Michael Keller; music director, Carmel Dean; associate choreographer, Lorin Latarro; associate director, Johanna McKean. Presented by Tom Hulce and Ira Pittelman, Ruth and Stephen Hendel, Vivek J. Tiwary and Gary Kaplan, Aged in Wood and Burnt Umber, Scott M. Delman, Latitude Link, HOP Theatricals and Jeffrey Finn, Larry Welk, Bensinger Filerman and Maellenberg Taylor, Allan S. Gordon and Élan V. McAllister and Berkeley Repertory Theater, in association with Awaken Entertainment and John Pinckard and John Domo. At the St. James Theater, 246 West 44th Street, Manhattan; (212) 239-6200. Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes.

WITH: John Gallagher Jr. (Johnny), Stark Sands (Tunny), Michael Esper (Will), Rebecca Naomi Jones (Whatshername), Christina Sajous (the Extraordinary Girl), Mary Faber (Heather) and Tony Vincent (St. Jimmy).

American Idiot

St. James Theater

246 W. 44th St.

Midtown West


CategoryBroadway, Musical

CastVan Hughes as Johnny, David Larsen as Tunny, Justin Guarini as Will, Rebecca Naomi Jones as Whatshername, Libby Winters as The Extraordinary Girl, Jeanna de Waal as Heather, P.J. Griffith as St. Jimmy (3/15-3/20), Billie Joe Armstrong as St. Jimmy (begins 4/5), Davey Havok as St. Jimmy (3/21-3/31), Joshua Henry as Favorite Son

PreviewMarch 24, 2010

OpenedApril 20, 2010

Closing Date April 24, 2011

This information was last updated:

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Welcome to Dissected, where we disassemble a band’s catalog, a director’s filmography, or some other critical pop-culture collection in the abstract. It’s exact science by way of a few beers. This time, we break down a pop punk catalog that changed rock ‘n’ roll forever. 

Thirty years ago, two 14-year-old smart-asses named Billie Joe Armstrong and Mike Dirnt decided to play music together in and around Berkeley, California. Alongside drummer John “Al Sobrante” Kiffmeyer, the three formed Sweet Children, causing all sorts of ruckus within the surrounding DIY punk scene, enough to catch the eyes and ears of Larry Livermore, who immediately signed them to Lookout! Records. It was here that the story of Green Day truly started, and through multiple EPs, two full-length efforts, and one Tré Cool, the Bay Area brethren would land a major record deal and change the rock ‘n’ roll landscape.

(Read: Green Day’s Top 20 Songs)

When you think about how far Green Day have come, it’s almost like watching a movie. Or rather, a series of films with one blockbuster sequel after the next, only some of the follow-ups are better than the others for reasons that shouldn’t make any sense at all. They’re one of the few rock acts to not only survive the ’90s but conquer the aughts, finding second and third lives like they’re Selina Kyle or Dorian Grey. In some respects, it seems like every time they return with a new album they’re connecting with an even younger fan base than last time, but of course, that’s simply us older fans getting older.

(Watch: Masterpiece Reviews – Green Day’s Dookie)

Now they’re back with another — their 12th studio album, Revolution Radio — which once again promises another twist on their blockbuster brand of pop punk. Will this be their last? Or will they enjoy another commercial and critical smash? One that will carry them through the following year and beyond until we’re asking these same questions again with a 13th entry? It’s way too early to answer these questions, but that doesn’t mean we can’t look into the past and dissect the 11 albums that brought them to this point. Well, that’s exactly what we did, so enjoy the read, and please save the mud for the end.

–Michael Roffman


11-09. ¡Uno!, ¡Dos!, ¡Tré! Trilogy (2012)

Runtime: 41:44, 39:21, and 46:35

Brain Stew (Recording): After composing and relentlessly touring two separate rock operas — American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown — it seems as if Green Day were itching to abandon structure in favor of reckless ambition. “We are at the most prolific and creative time in our lives,” Billy Joe Armstrong proclaimed in early 2012. “This is the best music we’ve ever written, and the songs just keep coming.” It probably felt good, being able to write without the restriction of a theme or story. The result was three individual LPs, each focusing on a different style.

The first, ¡Uno!, centers around the kind of pop-punk that made them famous. The second, ¡Dos!, is a nod to Foxboro Hot Tubs, the band’s dirty, garage-centric side project. And Armstrong described the third, ¡Tré!, as “epic” and a “mixed bag,” stating that it would mainly consist of stadium anthems with classic rock influences.

In many ways, the trilogy resonates as an attempt to encompass the breadth of Green Day’s evolution. In doing so, however, the band overreached: the albums are overlong and packed with filler. Furthermore, Armstrong checked into rehab for alcohol addiction in the midst of the trilogy’s staggered release schedule. Viral footage, taken during an onstage meltdown at the iHeartRadio Music Festival, showed a man who seemed exhausted and unhinged. The trilogy’s excess seems to have extended into the lives of the band.

Paper Lanterns (Album Artwork): There was an elegance to the artwork of American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown, a simplicity that broadcasted themes of rebellion and community, respectively. ¡Uno!, ¡Dos!, and ¡Tré! aren’t nearly so sophisticated, with black-and-white headshots of the band members, each with X’d out eyes, shoddily slapped on a vortex of neon. It’s sloppy and playful, a way to let listeners know that there was nothing so lofty as a rock opera on this trio of discs.

Kill the DJ (Reception): Mixed reviews greeted each of the albums, though they mostly skewed positive, if only because the stakes were fairly low. Rolling Stone praised each album, while publications like The A.V. Club and Alternative Press grew more and more weary with each passing record.

Having a Blast (Best Live Cut): Easy. ¡Uno!’s “Let Yourself Go” is pure brat-pop candy, combining a breakneck pace with playfully rebellious lyrics that teens could memorize after a single listen. The opening riffs never fail to ignite rapturous applause, and live performances often find Armstrong riffing on the song’s melodies, inviting the audience to shout along as they bounce off the ceiling.

Longview (Most Memorable Video): The music video for ¡Dos!’s “Stray Heart” makes the song’s premise hilariously literal. In it, an alt-hunk buys Green Day vinyls for the alt-babes in his life, all of whom stare at him with doe eyes until they realize there’s a giant hole in his chest. Turns out his heart has absconded and is out banging ladies and smoking cigarettes. It’s funny, playful, and a perfect pairing with the jaunty, lighthearted track.

Song of the Century (Most Enduring Track): No track off this trilogy could be considered essential Green Day, though “Oh Love”, an early single off ¡Uno!, seems to be in steady rotation at their live shows, and its triumphant, sing-along chorus is a fine example of the pleasures of latter-day Green Day.

In the End (Final Analysis): There are good songs here — “X-Kid”, “Oh Love”, “Stray Heart” — but they’re buried in not just filler, but also experimental tracks that should never have left the demo stage. Despite being a single, “Kill the DJ” is embarrassing, a confused attempt at mainstream radio pop. And while a collaboration with Mystic Knights of the Cobra’s Lady Cobra is intriguing, ¡Dos!’s “Nightlife” is as jarring as it is instantly forgettable. Ambition is a wonderful thing, but this trilogy feels more like a purge than a cohesive artistic statement, a chance for Armstrong, Dirnt, and Cool to do everything they weren’t able to while penning their rock operas.

Randall Colburn


08. 1,039/ Smoothed Out Slappy Hours (1991)

Runtime: 56:15

Brain Stew: This one’s a little tricky. Technically, Green Day’s debut is 1,039/Smooth, a 10-track LP — from “At the Library” to “The Judge’s Daughter” — that was released in 1990 on black-and-green vinyl to modest success for Lookout! Records. A year later, however, the indie label reissued the album, only it was bundled with their earlier EPs, 1989’s 1,000 Hours and 1990’s Smooth, and retitled 1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours.  Each work was produced by Green Day and producer Andy Ernst, who would go on to produce a who’s who of fledgling indie punk rockers, from Rancid to Screeching Weasel to AFI.

The entire collection is rough, sounding like it was recorded on a four-track that rattled around on a wooden floor the entire time, but that’s also what makes it so special. Armstrong’s vocals feel so far off that you have to really hone in to hear them properly. In fact, if it weren’t for the sheets of lyrics, you wouldn’t even know what he was singing about. But that’s the case for any budding punk band, and to add to the punk rock cliches, they even had another drummer during this era: John Kiffmeyer, whose last work with the trio would be the elusive Sweet Children EP. Shortly after, he’d head out to college. Oops.

Paper Lanterns: The cover artwork is just as scrappy as the production, slapping together a bunch of articulated scribbling over a stark, black-and-white photo of a vixen looming amid a sunny graveyard. It’s a little eerie, admittedly, but most of that has to do with the glowing tree branches sprawled out in the background. Chris Appelgren was responsible for the drawings, and it’s his work that would shape other punk outfits like Screeching Weasel, The Queers, The Donnas, and Ted Leo and the Pharmacists. He would go on to run the Lookout! label in 1997 when founder Larry Livermore and partner Patrick Hynes opted to retire from the business. His last work with Green Day would be the controversial cover artwork for 1992’s Kerplunk.

Kill the DJ: Robert Christgau dropped a bomb on this sucker, and the overall reception was only slightly better. Still, Lookout! managed to push 3,000 copies in the album’s first year, a pitiful number by major label standards but hardly small potatoes for an indie. Which is why they were so keen on keeping them around for a follow-up. Over the years, however, 1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours has since been reassessed by many critics, who have found much to love in the crunchy sounds, mostly due to what followed after. As Pitchfork’s Jess Harvell wrote, “If they had broken up after 1,039, they’d be remembered — if at all — as perhaps the slightly less emo cousin to early Jawbreaker, or maybe the musically less accomplished Crimpshrine.”

Having a Blast: Looking back, there are only three cuts off this album that continue to get regular play on the big stage: “Going to Pasalaqua”, “Paper Lanterns”, and their cover of Operation Ivy’s “Knowledge”. We’ll talk about their spirited cover in a bit and gush about how “Pasalaqua” is their most enduring track shortly after, which leaves “Paper Lanterns”. While not a particularly heavy cut, Armstrong does get to wax poetic on this one, talking of disparate friends bound by unaccepting love, wondering aloud: “To this day, I’m asking why I still think about you.” Look, it doesn’t matter if you grew up with Dookie or American Idiot, the themes of this song have likely haunted your Live Journal or Tumblr page over the years. Reason being, we’ve all grown too close to friends just as we’ve all similarly grown too far apart. So, why not sing and dance about it?

Operation Ivy: Paul Westerberg and his Replacements weren’t the only band that influenced Armstrong. For decades, he’s cited Operation Ivy for providing him with the fundamentals for building his own brand of pop punk, and he’s bowed to their wisdom too many times to count. It all started when they became labelmates on Lookout!, and Green Day decided to pay homage to Tim Armstrong’s outfit by covering “Knowledge” for their second EP, 1990’s Slappy. They went further than that, though, including the cover in their setlists for years and years, until it eventually became a pseudo Punk Rock 101 for youngsters who came to any Green Day show. This writer can’t tell you how many times he’s seen Armstrong invite an exasperated kid on stage to play the song, only to let him keep the guitar immediately after. Sure, it sounds like a sponsorship deal with Guitar Center, but it’s cute.

Song of the Century: It only takes one shattered heart to know that the Big L is a tight pair of Bad Idea Jeans. That’s ultimately the conceit of “Going to Pasalacqua”, which finds Armstrong staring into the deep end at the diving board, debating mercilessly about whether or not he should plunge into another relationship. He has his reasons, above all being that he just can’t live without her. If you can’t relate to that feeling, then you need to get out of the house more, or maybe you’ve just been lucky with relationships. For the not so lucky, this gritty pebble is something to keep in the back pocket forever, or at least until it’s needed. In other words, it’ll never, ever, ever get old.

In the End: Even at this early stage in their career, it was obvious that Green Day were an enviable cut above the punk rock wonder that was coming out of California in the late ’80s. Armstrong was singing with his bleeding, pulpy heart in his hands, unabashedly frank in his admissions of love, depression, and angst, and that was pretty revelatory stuff. As Lookout!’s Larry Livermore once told Rob Harvilla, “I knew within 30 seconds of the first time I saw them that they had the potential to be great.” It’s not that complicated, though; Green Day have always capitalized on simple things like melody and hooks, recalling the likes of other hitmakers like Jan and Dean or The Everly Brothers. That talent is obvious from the get-go of 1,039, from the opening tracks (“At the Library”, “I Was There”) to the bundled fare down the tracklist (“1,000 Hours”, “The One I Want”). Altogether, it’s a jumbled, slightly aggravated mess, but there’s a naïve innocence at hand that’s undeniably alluring.

–Michael Roffman


07. 21st Century Breakdown (2009)

Runtime: 69:16

Brain Stew: After the global phenomenon of 2004’s American Idiot, everyone understood that it would take some time before Green Day followed up with another record. Besides, they were keeping themselves busy, touring the world, releasing live albums, and squeezing literally every drop out of their beloved rock opera. Around 2006, however, Billie Joe Armstrong started demoing tracks for their eighth studio effort, working heavily on the piano and leaning lyrically on then-creeping feelings of being a middle-age punk rocker. Eventually, he and the band conceptualized around 45 songs in their Oakland rehearsal space before setting out across four studios in California with veteran producer Butch Vig.

Once again, Vig struck gold — especially considering the album would win Best Rock Album at the 52nd Grammy Awards — and it’s his production that separated 21st Century Breakdown from its blockbuster predecessor. As is the case with anything the Garbage drummer touches, it’s abrasive yet ultimately sleek. There’s an amplified polish to this rock opera that spotlights the variety of sounds at hand — see: the Middle Eastern vibes in “Peacemaker” or the waltz-y theatrics of “¿Viva la Gloria? (Little Girl)” — without feeling so gaudy. Perhaps stressed over expectations, Armstrong kept his sprawling lyrics close to the chest, waiting late in the process to finally unveil them to Vig and the band. Whatever dude, it worked.

Paper Lanterns: Armstrong wasn’t the only one straddled with high expectations. The album artwork for American Idiot was a large part of what made the album resonate so much with fans across the world. Similar to Pink Floyd’s The Wall, the visual components became intertwined with the music — think about how many times you saw that bleeding heart grenade in the mid-aughts — and when it came time for the follow-up, that task was handed off again to artist Chris Bilheimer. This time around, Bilheimer drew influence from renowned street artist Sixten, whose graffitied couple became the album’s thematic guise. At the time, some argued it was too similar to Banksy’s artwork for Blur’s Think Thank, and they weren’t exactly wrong. In all fairness, the artwork was a bit too similar to American Idiot and likely why a few cynics wrote off the album as a double-dip.

Kill the DJ: But those who scoffed were mostly in the minority, to borrow a title from the Oakland trio. 21st Century Breakdown arrived to a warm reception, with only a few notable voices such as Robert Christgau, Slant, and Pitchfork rebuking the album. (It should be noted that Pitchfork also gave American Idiot a forgettable 7.2, which was actually reasonable then for that era of the publication, but still: context.) This writer wrote in his B+ review, “21st Century Breakdown doesn’t have the surprises and left-field advantage that saved American Idiot, but it’s one hell of an album that should satisfy even the worst of the pessimists.” As for its commercial success, the record opened at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, selling 215,000 copies in the first week, and held that spot for another three weeks. It’s since sold millions of copies worldwide — not American Idiot numbers, but numbers nonetheless.

Having a Blast: While not a great single, per se, “Know Your Enemy” was an unstoppable blitzkrieg when the band toured behind the album in the summer of 2009. Opening with the track, the crowd would just lose their shit, mostly due to Cool’s rallying percussion further adrenalized by Armstrong’s campaigning lyrics and punchy distortion. It’s repetitive, sure, but that’s sort of what you want out of an opening anthem, and this one burned every fan the right way. Almost immediately, mosh pits would form, and fans would start crowd surfing at every opening — dogs, cats, mass hysteria-type of shit. On a more superficial level, the band just looked fucking cool as hell whenever they played it, and they ate up every lick, every word, and every beat.

Longview: In another move to further distance the album from American Idiot, the band said thanks to director Samuel Bayer for all his hard work — he lensed videos for every hit single off the LP, including their 2005 live album, Bullet in a Bible — and brought back one-time collaborator Marc Webb for three of the album’s five videos. Upon its release, the veteran music video director was a gasp away from unveiling his debut feature film, (500) Days of Summer, which would surface that July. So, he was a hot commodity of sorts, but as fans would later discover with his reboots for Spider-Man, he could also disappoint.

Needless to say, Webb’s videos for 21st Century Breakdown weren’t very memorable and pale in comparison to what Bayer previously delivered, but he had his moments. “21 Guns”, with its sparkling bullets ricocheting around a living room, attempts to spark the cinematic magic that made “Wake Me Up When September Ends” such an MTV hit and succeeds for the most part. If anything, it’s a lot more interesting to watch than the montage of footage that Chris Dugan and M. Douglas Silverstein pieced together for “East Jesus Nowhere” or the performance video that Matthew Cullen devised for “Know Your Enemy”.

Song of the Century: Nearly a decade later, it’s this album’s title track that still speaks loudest to the band’s ironclad ambition. Listening to the five-minute song, which sounds like it could be from The Who or Queen, it’s easy to understand why they’d follow 21st Century Breakdown with a trilogy of records, as they’re always going for the next big hurdle. But, that doesn’t mean it’s an excellent song; the oft-ignored track that both underlines their grandiosity and matches the melodic fervor of their greatest hits is “¡Viva la Gloria!”. What starts out as a piano ballad quickly turns into one of their signature rockers, shaking around with blissful harmonies and enough change-ups to keep things fresh. Granted, the name Gloria will forever be tied to Van Morrison, but you gotta hand it to Armstrong for at least trying. This one’s staying, at least for now.

In the End: Despite the album’s loose narrative involving characters like Christian and Gloria, 21st Century Breakdown feels a little more personal than American Idiot. Much of this has to do with the way Armstrong sings so many songs in the first person and with emotions that can best be described as intimate. It’s also a little more varied, cycling through an array of sounds not too dissimilar from 2000’s cruelly underrated album, Warning. Songs like “Peacemaker”, “Last Night on Earth”, and “Restless Heart Syndrome” are left turns for the outfit, as if they decided to ape the latter half of The Beatles’ career as opposed to the poppier early years. Still, the whole stigma of this being another rehash of American Idiot lingers, and in a perfect world, they might have gone for simplicity before taking another shot at something so conceptual. Today, 21st Century Breakdown feels more like a collection of great songs than a great record, less a statement and more a scrapbook. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

–Michael Roffman


06. Nimrod (1997)

Runtime: 49:09

Brain Stew: Prior to the three-headed slog that is ¡Uno!, ¡Dos!, and ¡Tré!, Green Day’s albums might be viewed as working in pairs. 39/Smooth and Kerplunk are the formative, minor-league albums, Dookie and Insomniac comprise the band’s snotty alt rock heroics, and American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown are the bombastic rock operas of their rebirth. Nimrod, then, could be looked at as a transitional album where the band begins coming of age — a growth spurt that would be even more easily measured on its follow-up, Warning.

The band was dealing with a lot at the time. They were pushing 30 and now had families to think about, playing packed arenas instead of familiar clubs, and feeling the pressure that comes with shifting millions of records. Instead of putting out the third “Green Day” album in four years, the band opted to cancel their European tour and work on a record that represented who they were and where they saw themselves heading. “This is a record we’ve been thinking about for the past six years,” Armstrong explained at the time. “We knew we wanted to change, but we didn’t want to change too much too soon.”  The result is a hodgepodge of standalone songs that keeps one boot in the past while the other treads new musical and thematic territory. It’s a mess, but a brutally honest and frequently beautiful one.

Paper Lanterns: The band went through three art directors before Armstrong landed on Chris Bilheimer, a friend who had designed album art for R.E.M. Armed with only the album title, Nimrod, Bilheimer had the idea to vandalize old photographs using the title, thereby taking away that person’s identity. In some ways, the idea seems to fit an album in which the band were filling in the musical blanks to discover the true face of Green Day going forward.

Kill the DJ: Critics and fans alike followed Green Day on their first major studio detour, the album being certified double platinum in less than three years. Even if the record’s bloated length and lack of cohesiveness could make it a potentially overwhelming and frustrating listen, the sentiment seemed to be that there was something for everyone in this proverbial kitchen sink of an album.

Having a Blast: It may not have quite conquered the world as a single, but the swinging thump of “Hitchin’ a Ride” was a type of sound we’d never quite heard from Green Day before. From the smooth vocals over the bouncing beat to the shouted count-offs to the final, unexpected explosion, it’s a wild ride from start to finish. It has the potential to get even crazier in concert, with Armstrong often addressing the crowd or leading a faux Southern preacher sermon mid-song, all building the tension for that climactic final push. Just remember: The song may fly off the rails, but you need to hang on to that wagon.

Longview: I’m not sure if the visual monotony of “Redundant” is best described as brilliant or aggravating, but the video for Armstrong’s song about a six-foot-deep relationship rut remains replayed and seared into my memory for all time. Still, it’s a smart idea for representing that feeling of being perpetually stuck in relationship patterns that we feel powerless to break free from. Be sure to stick around for the end of the video when Armstrong breaks the cycle by picking up the robed woman’s newspaper. I’m not sure if he’s helped or hurt the situation, but it feels so good to see something new and spontaneous happen for the first time in several minutes.

Song of the Century: I mean, you think you know a band. Then they hit you with the acoustic, string-accented “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” buried at the end of Nimrod. Then you learn that Armstrong wrote the song back in the Lookout! days — Billie Joe, we hardly knew ye. In hindsight, it’s not that surprising that Armstrong tackled this particular tune. After all, so many of his other songs had either shown an anxiousness over aging or a sense of premature nostalgia. For him to write a reflective song on past times, even one that barely registers above a soft conversation, really isn’t out of character. Maybe strangest of all is that Green Day fans who had been with the band since Dookie now found their uninitiated classmates swaying to the song at school dances or their parents singing along to it. It was the first time I think I ever understood what Green Day’s original Gilman Street fans may have felt like when Reprise scooped the band up and shared them with the masses. At the end of the day, you’re either okay with your mother borrowing your Nimrod CD, or you aren’t. I just … didn’t see it coming.

In the End: The band, critics, and fans alike tend to peg Nimrod as the album in which Green Day matured. After four albums of being snotty adolescents, it was time to grow up. Nobody could really deny that musicians nearing 30 deserved to finally leave mom and dad’s basement and look to the future. That meant anything goes on Nimrod, as the band tried to find themselves. The result was an eclectic collection that oscillated between updates on the band’s traditional sound and experiments that saw strings, violins, horns, and harmonica filling in where basic, three-chord guitar rock used to be. Armstrong’s lyrical themes also took a turn towards adulthood: focusing more on maintaining serious relationships (“Redundant”), aging gracefully (“The Grouch”), and appreciating but no longer rose-coloring the past (“Good Riddance”). If Nimrod missteps or comes across as a mess at times, it does so honestly. After all, no matter how old we get, figuring out who we are is never a simple or tidy business.

–Matt Melis


05. Insomniac (1995)

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