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Saturday, February 1, 2014

Album of the Week: Green Day - "Dookie" (20th Anniversary)

Rating: 7.7/10

On this day twenty years ago, the history of 'punk' music changed forever. That's because on that day Green Day's major-label debut, Dookie, was released, and would go on to become a massive commercial success. Riding on the strength of four hit singles and a famous, wild, widely-televised performance at Woodstock '94, it climbed up to #2 on the US charts and launching Green Day's lengthy career as rock radio mainstays. The public viewed it as the first mainstream breakthrough for a 'punk' artist, though members of the subculture swore that Green Day were anything but. While the group certainly had punk roots, as seen in their early outputs, Dookie was a polished and dare I say safe record. While this may sound a bit ridiculous considering the subject matters and crude lyrics featured on the album, the overall sound was not nearly as extreme as that of other DIY-rock. There's still a rebellious spirit to be observed here, pretty much a necessary characteristic of anything 'punk,' but the instrumentation is a little less unruly.

While some punk fans hate Dookie for perhaps being mislabeled and misrepresenting what punk culture is, others dislike the doors it opened for other pseudo-punk bands to hit the airwaves. Following the success of Dookie, bands like The Offspring, No Doubt, and Sublime all started having hit songs, all marketed as being some variation of punk. The blink-182 happened, emo happened, and the Vans Warped Tour happened, and people began declaring that 'punk is dead.' Despite a mid/late-2000's revival populated by groups like Rise Against and Against Me!, and an ongoing resurgence among indie crowds thanks to artists such as Ty Segall, Cloud Nothings, and F***ed Up, many feel that the punk scene will never return to what it once was. And some trace it all back to Dookie. So, needless to say, Green Day's breakout album was and still is a divisive one.

Of course, none of this makes Dookie a bad album by any measure. It certainly didn't sell 20 million copies without the help of some brilliant songwriting. Specifically, the four singles I mentioned earlier are golden, each one remaining in heavy rotation on alternative and rock radio throughout the country. "Longview" became famous for its sleazy bass riff, galloping drum beat, and Billie Joe Armstrong's disaffected vocal. "When I Come Around" contains an excellent guitar riff and is a great example of Green Day's songwriting abilities. "Well, I heard it all before/so don't knock down my door/I'm a loser and a user/so I don't need no accuser to try and slag me down/because I know you're right," Armstrong mumbles over Mike Dirnt's jumpy bass playing.

Green Day's energetic apathy is perhaps best represented by the other two smash hits off Dookie: the resourceful "Welcome to Paradise" and the committedly schizophrenic "Basket Case." The former takes a strong verse and molds it into a fantastic chorus, with Dirnt's backing vocals making the difference. The ambitious instrumental break works wonders, and gives a new appreciation for the band's musicianship. The latter is a three-minute burst of vitality and introspective self-loathing. "Am I just paranoid, or am I just stoned?" asks Armstrong, having already labeled himself "neurotic to the bone" and "one of those melodramatic fools," all within the first 45 seconds of the track. Along with the chorus-opening "sometimes I give myself the creeps," these lyrics are some of the most identifiable from not only Green Day's catalog but also all of mid-'90's rock. Tre Cool's spirited drums and Armstrong's Idol-like sneer make this song what it is, and what it is is a great piece of rock music.

The bulk of the album is made up of short, simpler tracks that tend to meld together, which is why Dookie falls short of being a 'classic' in my book. Probably the only truly great Green Day record besides American Idiot, Dookie was a rare case of a new band who already knew who they were, and where they were headed, and twenty years later, the hits still hold up.

Key Tracks: "Longview," "Welcome to Paradise," "Basket Case," "When I Come Around"

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