God, how the time flies. Sometime between getting into a mudfight with a crowd of rowdy Gen X-ers at Woodstock 1994 and unleashing three albums in quick succession this year, Green Day became an institution. In its two-decade career, the punk trio has moved from the indie label ranks to rock radio playlists and Grammy Award ballots, in the process assembling a robust discography that should be the envy of any long-running rock band, under- or overground. Still, not every full-length endeavor has been fruitful for the group. For every blockbuster or fan-favorite, there are the uneven experiments and the holding patterns that linger around in the back of your CD collection, seldom heard save for a few choice tracks.
With Green Day’s 11th studio album ¡Tre! due out next week, Sound Affects now takes the time to look back on the band’s previous ten LPs and rank them in ascending order of quality. While not every Green Day full-length is able to pull its weight when put into the greater context of the group’s catalog, those that do belong in any serious discussion concerning the essential recordings of modern punk.
¡Uno! was an inauspicious start to Green Day’s 2012 LP trilogy. Still coming off the large-scale theatrics of 21st Century Breakdown, the band has trouble connecting on a more immediate level—which is highly unfortunate, given that a “back-to-basics” approach was the remit of the record. For the first time the bracing attack feels forced, and the liberal swearing unnecessary and unbecoming. Despite Billie Joe Armstrong’s gusto delivery, large portions of ¡Uno! are unmemorable, and only a few songs reward repeated listens.
How do you follow up an ambitious concept record that not only reignited your career but captured the cultural and political zeitgeist? Try to do it again, it seems. Produced by trusty alt-rock knob-twiddler Butch Vig (Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Garbage) instead of longtime collaborator Rob Cavallo, 21st Century Breakdown is hubris writ large. Here Green Day is fully aware of its newfound status as a bona fide stadium rock act, and over the course of the LP’s mammoth tracklist (further divided into three acts) it ensures that listeners are constantly cognizant of it as well. Unfortunately, the band’s showy gestures, recurring motifs, and solemn stabs at profundity amount to a whole load of substance-less sound and fury. A few decent songs—“The Static Age”, “American Eulogy”—sprinkled here and there are not enough to liven up an album so intent on being American Idiot Part 2 that it loses sight of being enjoyable.
On its very first full-length (repackaged these days with some EPs as 1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours), Green Day is very, well, green. Released by punk indie label Lookout! when Armstrong and bassist Mike Dirnt were still in their teens, 39/Smooth is a tentative freshman offering, from the singing to the songwriting. It’s more punk-pop than pop punk: shorn of the rougher edges they would develop as they grew up, the band members stick mainly to sweet romantic laments supported by bright, tuneful guitars and unmistakably boyish harmonies. Green Day would refine its music as time wore on, but the adolescent naivety of 39/Smooth has its appeal, and “Going to Pasalacqua” stands as one of the band’s true standards.
Warning was an admirable attempt to broaden Green Day’s range that nevertheless has trouble clicking. Relying on an abundance of acoustic guitar for support, Armstrong, Dirnt, and drummer Tre Cool try their hand at Kinks-style pop (the title-track), mid-tempo harmonica ‘n steel-string strummers (“Hold On”), and five-minute story songs recited over a polka beat (“Misery”) with varying results. Yet when songcraft is up to snuff, Warning is as gratifying as the band’s finer moments. First single “Minority” was a welcome diversion during the reign of nu metal, and the criminally underappreciated “Church on Sunday” is full-bore punk passion that should’ve been afforded a shot at the radio airwaves.
¡Uno! was a letdown, but ¡Dos! was a pleasant surprise, the point where Green Day finally found its bearings in the midst of its in-progress three-album project. ¡Dos! takes a while to fully kick in, but once it does, it lives up to the group’s declaration that it’s the party record of the set. The final track “Amy” is the most entrancing closer yet heard on a Green Day album, and though it will likely be overlooked, it’s one of the better songs to come out this year.