REVIEW: Green Day, Nimrod (Reprise)

-Eric Hsu

Let me be one of the many who are rushing to congratulate Green Day on trying to vary their multi-platinum sound. In this day and age, Puff Daddy can score multiple Top 10’s by tweaking old No. 1 hits, and record companies are desparately squeezing grunge and punk and alternamodern rock for all they can until they can turn electronica into the nextbigthing. In these decadent times, any stab at originality seems like a good thing.

But let’s not get carried away here. Green Day broke the bank with Dookie and a well-crafted trademark sound, but there just isn’t much more gas in that old engine as far as sales go, what with their followup Insomniac selling noticebly worse. This isn’t a case of Warner begging the group not to change their formula. Quite the opposite: they know the band needs to branch out because they’re running out of youngsters to sell punk identities to.

The trick is to change the sound in a way that doesn’t make apparent the economic rationality behind the move and keeps their mythical “credibility”. Tough, but what Green Day does is keep their distinctive sound: multitrack Marshall stack guitars, tight fit drumming, punchy basic bass with the occasional scale for variety. They still play well and the singing is unmistakably Billie Joe: snotty and surprisingly tuneful. This retention of the Green Day sound will stave off superficial criticism of “selling out” (again?!) their sound.

They’ve added a few new instruments and mate a number of genres with the old Green Day sound: horns on the vaudeville ode to drag “King For A Day”, violin on the crunchy rockabilly chords of “Hitchin’ a Ride” including a very upset sounding violin solo (incidentally, the chords are similar to “Brain Stew”, the Led Zeppelin genre dabbling on Insomniac), “Take Back” seems to be a poke in the eye of speed metal with Billie Joe working up an inhuman amount of phlegm for the occasion. And of course there is “Last Ride In” which is a peaceful surf instrumental.

So let’s give them credit for stretching their sound and boundaries. On the other hand, those songs still sound like Green Day covering other music and not an actual advance on their music. The songs that I find really striking are “Haushinka” and “Uptight” because they actually move into new territory of texture and mood that isn’t in quotes. The former explodes out of a forgettable song “Jinx” and has a lovely ringing verse to go with its catchy and punchy chorus. It’s the fruition of the excellent sonic experiment “Panic Song” on Insomniac. The latter has an undistinguished chorus but a killer verse with a lovely melody to go with their version of the groove from “1979” by the Smashing Pumpkins.

And is it just me or are Billie Joe’s melodies becoming more beautiful with time? There is a certain familiarity to them, but with the addition of some old fashioned diminished chords, they seem reinvigorated. “Redundant” is an awkward meeting of a sweet love song you can imagine Frank Sinatra singing (“Cause I love you’s not enough, I’m lost for words”) and the typical GD distorted guitar downstrokes. But the melody suits the mood of the song even if the band seems… well, redundant. And “Walking Alone” is another sad love song where the sensitive melody and lonely harmonica are accompanied to no great effect by the usual flood of crunchy downstrokes.

The point is that music should be set instrumentally in the way that suits the lyrical and musical matter. So for songs like “Platypus (I Hate You)” and “The Grouch” (“I was a young boy that had big plans. Now I’m just another shitty old man”), the propulsive drive of the chugging guitars and bounding bass/drum engine reinforce the power of the music, and “Haushinka” and “Uptight” prove you don’t always need to turn down to convey subtler emotions. But Billie Joe’s lyrics are actually becoming reflective and the songs are actually becoming songs and not just sarcastic snarls. “Redundant” and “Walking Alone” are the songs that I hope Billie Joe will play acoustically someday (Green Day Unplugged?) and people will marvel that such beautiful songs lurked underneath the CD tracks.

It feels like Green Day is at a crossroads here. Billie Joe’s music seems to be maturing and outgrowing the artificial (market) boundaries of pop-punk. Nimrod feels like a summation and a question. “Another turning point… it’s something unpredictable but in the end is right. I hope you had the time of your life,” goes “Good Riddance”, a plaintive acoustic guitar song complete with strings, closing this chapter of their music. Their genre experiments reach for something new and occasionally they show flashes of matching and harnessing their powerful playing to the benefit of the overall music.

The final song “Prosthetic Head” is state of the art Green Day music with all their strengths on display: catchy simple chords, good melody sung well, shifting into a galloping and powerful chorus that empties out into long held harmonies, sniping and contemptuous insult words. It puts the sonic tricks they’re known for all into one package, like the blazing explosive finale of a fireworks display. I can’t wait to see what’s coming next.