The “First Listen Comparison” tag is for a series of albums that I had previously never heard (in their entirety) compared with one another after only a single listen.
Green Day’s a pretty big band and they’re one that’s always had a little bit of disdain from me. While I had a bit of a weak spot for “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life),” it got overplayed to the point that I couldn’t bear it. They were big in the mid-nineties and then faded away a bit. In 2004, they shot back into the limelight with the hugely successful American Idiot and an entirely overhauled look.
The reason that I decided to listen to these two albums as the first for this series is that my annoyance at Green Day has always been fueled by their image and marketing–I mostly missed them in the mid-nineties and thus have almost exclusively been exposed to the American Idiot-era band–and their music has only ever been second to that. I didn’t like any of the singles from American Idiot and only really had “Good Riddance” and “Basket Case” to go off in regards to their old stuff, which I’d always heard was much better.
So I decided to go back and listen to one of their old albums. Dookie always sat on the list of their old stuff and given that I knew “Basket Case,” I decided to go for that as a representation of their older sound. It bears noting that Dookie is not the best representation of their more punk-roots debut and sophomore albums, but it is the biggest album of the early era. Their major label debut and their shot into the mainstream.
American Idiot was their shot back into the mainstream after fading out. Full of grand marketing ploys and controversial political statements, it certainly made no humble attempt for attention, but it was also supposed to be the sign of a more mature band. A concept album is grandiose in and of itself and making your protagonist “Jesus of Suburbia” is no subtle way of going about such a concept.
So where do they end up?
The end result of my opinion is no surprise, but the journey there is interesting.
Green Day’s a band I always knew about, but had never taken the time to meet. Pop punk isn’t usually my area of listening, so I was definitely a little out of my comfort zone, but I was surprised by Green Day’s immediate easy listenability. They make no demands for abstract thought, and you need only enjoy three power chords to enjoy their music, but then that’s all you needed to enjoy the Ramones, too.
Dookie is typical pop-punk. A 40 minute album made up songs averaging around 3 minutes. More rooted in punk than pop, the album contains virtually no additional instruments save that of the typical power trio. All electric save closer “F.O.D.” the album’s definitely meant to played loud and danced to to furiously. Green Day simply don’t take themselves too seriously on Dookie and it shows in a surprisingly fun record.
I only listened through the album once before writing this, as the name of the series suggests, so I mostly have only my brief notes to go back to, which read as follows:
“Chump:’ end into “Longview”
“Welcome to Paradise” harmonies
Tracks 3-7 essentially
beginning of “F.O.D” acoustic?
These notes essentially are a quick look at what I liked most immediately about Dookie. “Basket Case” is no surprise, as it was the album’s biggest single and a song I had already known. I really liked the ending of “Chump,” which served as the first break in the distortion guitar and gave highlight to the drumming and basswork. A few similar moments were sprinkled in with other songs and I really enjoyed those parts. The album also has a run of great tracks that all play off each and its this sequence of five songs that give the album its strength. These five songs are also unsurprisingly the singles.
So what makes Dookie enjoyable?
It’s mostly just catchy. I normally don’t give a whole lot of credence to a song simply based on catchiness, but given that I’ve only heard the album once and the pop-punk genre as a whole relies heavily on that particular musical factor, catchiness is important. It’s a little stupid and vain, but it’s fun and light. Now, this might be a pretty bad thing for a punk fan and I imagine the band got a lot of crap from the heavy-duty undergrounders for Dookie, but I can’t see those three guys in that picture doing anything other than laughing it off.
And maybe flipping the bird.
Green Day | Basket Case [download]
So, 10 years and 3 albums after Dookie, Green Day overhaul themselves in a much more “emo” image and adopt political awareness. Given my lack of awareness of the 3 albums between Dookie and American Idiot, I can’t comment well on an evolution in the band’s sound. “Good Riddance” comes from that middle era and features production touches that are prevalent in American Idiot, but I can’t say whether that particular song was an anomaly in their continuity or an actual said.
That said, American Idiot didn’t surprise me as much as I had hoped it would. I listened to it and Dookie back-to-back and after the surprise Dookie gave me, I genuinely hoped for something similar to find its way into their 2004 overhaul album. The album features some production touches, like piano and string arrangements, as well as overlays for solos, that are definitely jarring after the singular sound of Dookie. I didn’t expect the same light charm that pulled me towards Dookie, but I did hope for some grand ideas and something from left field.
This wasn’t so much the case. The only stand-out song on the album that I genuinely enjoyed was “Holiday,” though I can’t particularly say why. Maybe it was just catchy enough to bring it out above the rest–and even that song was hurt by a bridge mocking Governor Schwarzenegger. While the grand suites “Jesus of Suburbia” and “Homecoming” had some good moments that displayed a potential for a certain evolution of sound, they were brief and wrapped in a lot of dullness. Perhaps the most outright surprising thing was that “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” was vastly improved by its context within the album and while it still strikes me as a lame attempt to get back to the success of “Good Riddance,” it made more sense following Holiday and flowed in a way that helped me get over the whole overplayed-to-hell thing.
“Wake Me Up When September Ends” still, thankfully, sucks regardless of its context.
Green Day | Holiday [download]
So then what’s the difference really between Dookie and American Idiot? There are a lot of different factors to be sure, but I think the big one was the sense of seriousness. American Idiot seemed full of these grand ideas, but they were ill-formed and poorly executed. Criticisms of government and political ideas are an excellent subject for songs, but deriding the other side as ignorant rednecks only makes yourself look like a generalizing asshole.
This seriousness also pours into a sense of whininess that Dookie lacked entirely. AI‘s ballads are so overly melodramatic that they become jokes of themselves. Funnily enough, Armstrong actually makes fun of his melodramatics in “Basket Case” nearly 10 years before. The first line is, “Do you have the time to listen to me whine?” and ten years later, he is still whining. Except somewhere along the way, he lost his sense of humor.
I’d be interested to see the goofballs of ’94 come back and write a song about the pundits of ’04.