Billie Joe Armstrong was a young boy that had big plans. Now, he’s just a dirty, 42-year-old man. Somehow, the lead singer of Green Day, the band that taught you the basics of punk, turned 42 years old this week. Next you’ll tell me punks are having heart attacks on stage…oh, wait. Anyway, we’re obviously big fans of Green Day on UPROXX, so I decided to rank all (well, most) of the band’s albums, from worst to best.
Not Ranked: Shenanigans, International Superhits!, Bullet in a Bible, or Stop Drop and Roll!!! (sort of).
9. 21st Century Breakdown
Green Day had just resurrected their floundering career with the massive American Idiot. So what did they do next? GO EVEN BIGGER. Too big. Whereas both 21st Century Breakdown and Idiot are political rock operas, the latter sounded fresh, even original, with occasional bursts of humor breaking through the sincerity; the former was the rejected ideas that belong on a B-sides album. No one song grabs your attention like “Holiday” — the title track and “21 Guns” are fatigued sequels to “American Idiot” and “Wake Me Up When September Ends.” The same enthusiasm just isn’t there the second time around.
Perhaps it’s unfair to rank ¡Uno!, ¡Dos!, and ¡Tré! together, but they would have gone one after the other if they had been listed separately, with ¡Uno! the best and ¡Tré! the worst. That’s a shame, too, because there’s actually a lot to like here: the “back to basics” tracks, like the lively “Let Yourself Go” and lovely “Lazy Bones,” are as catchy as anything Green Day’s ever recorded, but they’re dragged down by an obscene amount of filler and an embarrassing attempt at a cross-genre hit with “Nightlife,” featuring Lady Cobra. The three-album epic is like Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: one would have sufficed.
7. American Idiot
American Idiot is a tough album to rank. As 57 minutes of pop, it’s a masterpiece, accomplishing everything one would want in a high-selling album: it’s split evenly between anthemic rockers and power ballads; safely dangerous, with a demographic spanning Hot Topic punks to minivan moms; and most of all, sounds much smarter than it is. That’s not a knock — it’s hard to make a well-reasoned political point in a three-minute song on the Madden soundtrack — but American Idiot came along at just the right time, when the jaded St. Jimmys of the world needed a message, no matter how simplified, on the radio to relate to. It’s an anti-George Bush album that Al Gore’s great-great-great-grandsons will still listen to. That being said, looked at through the arc of Green Day’s career, it’s not their finest work. Billie Joe Armstrong stopped writing as himself; he began writing for everyone, his frustration more cinematic than confessional, which is why American Idiot sounds less like unleashed rage than a, well, musical. You can’t mosh on Broadway.
6. 1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours
Green Day are masters at picking the perfect side ones, track ones. “Nice Guys Finish Last,” “American Idiot,” “Burnout,” “Warning,” they all set the standard for the rest of the album to come (it’s no wonder 21st Century Breakdown begins with nearly a minute of radio static). But my favorite has to be “At the Library,” which, confession time, might be my favorite Green Day song. Dookie is the band’s breakthrough, but certain songs on 1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours, a collection of their first album 39/Smooth and two extended plays Slappy and 1,000 Hours, are as fun and spunky as their Reprise Records debut, including “Disappearing Boy” and “Paper Lanterns” and especially “Going to Pasalaqua.” Green Day sounded, well, green, and more nervous than vehement, but there’s nothing to be ashamed of here. Not all bands, especially bands made up of horny teens, can say the same about their debuts.
The obligatory “album that’s probably ranked too high because it means something personal to the guy who put together the list” entry. Warning came out in 2000, three LONG years after Nimrod made this idiot feel much cooler than he actually was. For many, it was considered a dud, too mature, too boring, too not punk. But I loved it — it sounded adult, and when you’re 13, you want people to know you’re more SOPHISTICATED than your age otherwise implies. I played the sh*t out of Warning, partially because I was a snob who made himself reject childish pop-punk in favor of “artistic growth” (I was the worst), but mostly because it’s a damn great album. Green Day spent time carefully fleshing out the songs, focusing less on attitude and more on craftsmanship. But not too carefully: there’s a wildness to would-be hit “Church on Sunday” and “Castaway” that’s delightful. Warning might be Green Day’s most infectiously fun album (even the five-minute-long “Misery” is a mysterious blast). It’s a shame it hasn’t gotten the reevaluation it deserves.
Remember that scene in The Lion King where, during “Hakuna Matata,” Simba grows up from a young runt to an awkward teen to full-grown beast? Well, Kerplunk is the awkward teen, more self-assured than 1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours but not nearly as well-formed as Dookie. “2,000 Lights Year Away” is another stunning album opener, and “Christie Road” and “Who Wrote Holden Caulfield?” remain fan favorites, but Green Day wasn’t quite ready for primetime yet. There’s a repetitive shagginess to Kerplunk that would later be ironed out, and Billie Joe Armstrong and Mike Dirnt were still learning how to play with the spark plug known as Tre Cool. It wouldn’t take them long to figure it out, though.
Dookie was already covered on the album’s 20th anniversary, but I’ll add one note. This is my favorite sentence on Wikipedia, “The album touched upon various experiences of the band members and included subjects like anxiety and panic attacks, masturbation, sexual orientation, boredom, mass murder, divorce, hobos, and ex-girlfriends.” Been there.
I used to spend hours staring at the Nimrod album cover. I don’t know why it fascinated me so, with the word “nimrod” plastered over the faces of anonymous white people like a vicious parody of BuzzFeed’s LOL, just that it did. Only years later did I begin to understand its meaning: Nimrod is Green Day’s angriest, saddest, most confused album, filled with tales of suicide (“Uptight”) and misplaced sexuality (“King for a Day”). But it isn’t SO depressing that there’s not room for humor, either. The “nimrod” label was a visualization of this: a passionate reminder that not everyone is clean-cut, filtered through an angsty goof with green hair. People are scattered, redundant, and filled with hate. Nimrod manages to convey all that, AND MORE.
If Dookie is Nevermind, the polished major label debut of a beloved punk band, than Insomniac is In Utero, a darker, more mature album that rocks just a little harder than its predecessor. It’s also their best work. The melodies are more interesting; the lyrics, refreshingly ugly in their honesty (“I must insist on being a pessimist”); and Mike Dirnt and Tré Cool never sounded so demanding to push their way to the front of the mix. Only two of the fourteen songs are longer than three minutes, but nothing about Insomniac is slight or rushed — it’s a well paced album that chugs and rips better than anything Green Day’s ever done.
Save for “J.A.R.” on the Angus soundtrack. That song kicks ass.
I want more like this!
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