[28 February 2010]
Sound Affects Editor
Green Day has a knack for kicking off records in a riveting fashion, but the band often has a problem wrapping them up as strongly. For album closers, the trio typically opts for an unremarkable rocker (“Walking Contradiction”, “Prosthetic Head”) or a decent understated number that lacks the punch and passion of preceding tracks (“Macy’s Day Parade”, “Whatshername”). And the less said about the ghastly AOR sheen of “See the Light” from last year’s 21st Century Breakdown, the better. Consequently, “F.O.D.”—the final listed track on Dookie—stands as the band’s best official album closer by virtue of the process of elimination more than for being a great tune.
Green Day aims to conclude its third full-length record in climactic fashion, building from understated verses and choruses (featuring only Billie Joe Armstrong’s voice and an acoustic guitar) to an anthemic crash of amplifiers and drum rolls as Armstrong profanely explains the meaning behind the song’s acronym title. It doesn’t quite work, though. The main reason is because the acoustic preamble is meant to set listeners up for the sudden sucker punch of the full band onslaught, but it’s severely undermined by the fact that Armstrong plays his acoustic guitar exactly as he would an electric—strumming power chords aggressively with a precise rhythmic thrust (it must be noted though that this does provide listeners with a glimpse of Armstrong’s rhythm guitar prowess shorn of amplifier distortion). Really, the only major difference in tone between the two parts of the song is that one half is noisier than the other.
Lyrically, “F.O.D” is a sampler of ideas Armstrong has expressed more effectively elsewhere on Dookie. We have a narrator who holds a grudge against an unspecified other (and is thoroughly disgusted by them), and boy does he relish the prospect of that person getting what’s coming to them. The well-worn subject matter would be forgivable if the execution was above-average. But for every decent set of phrases like “Let’s nuke the bridge we torched 2,000 times before / This time we’ll blast it all to hell”, there are lyrical clunkers like the lines “When it’s all said and done / It’s real and it’s been fun / But was it all real fun”, an attempt to play on words that just falls flat. And then once the band and the distorted electric guitar join the fray, Armstrong opts for his brattiest putdowns (“You’re just / A fuck / I can’t explain it because I think you suck”) shorn of any trace of his standard wit. Despite its visceral charm, one can’t help but feel that the band is trying too hard at playing dumb in this section for the sake of selling the overarching joke.
Flawed yet still enjoyable, “F.O.D.” is a decent enough song, but it can’t really stand on its own. It’s hard to imagine anyone listening to the track outside of its proper place in the Dookie tracklisting order. It also can’t truly rely on its status as the closing number of Dookie to argue for its worth, as it’s not actually the last track on the record.
When the sound of drumsticks hitting the floor subsides at the end of “F.O.D.”, your first instinct might be to just turn off the stereo. But hold on for a moment. Let the album continue to play, and in a little over a minute you’ll catch the first strains of an acoustic guitar. Yep, Dookie contains one of those little treasures of the CD age: the unlisted bonus track.
The song is called “All by Myself”, a brief little ditty written and performed by Green Day’s spazzy drummer Tre Cool. The entirety of the song is Cool plucking arpeggiated notes based on the high strings of his acoustic as he sings about sneaking into someone’s room while they are away. The lyrics are very slight, but Cool milks them for all they’re worth through his puckish delivery, all the while suggesting that the song is about masturbation (and if you’ve seen some of his live versions of the tune, his lyrical ad libs do more than merely suggest). It’s a juvenile joke (even a bit idiotic), but it’s amusingly effective—even Cool has to stifle a chuckle when he gets to the second verse—because it doesn’t overreach itself in its execution like its “F.O.D.” does, and it completely lacks the snide, off-putting tone that colors that track. Although certainly not among Green Day’s songbook elite, “All by Myself” acts as an effective contrast with “F.O.D.”, and in part due to that fact it works surprisingly well as a conclusion for the album. And if you like that track, Dookie co-producer Rob Cavallo has issued assurances that Cool has more like it stockpiled.
It may seem strange that the off-kilter coda “All by Myself” ends up acting as a more satisfying album closer than the more conventional anthem inclinations of “F.O.D.”, the official concluding number. But that sort of irreverent nose-thumbing suits the nature of Dookie—a bratty, unassuming adrenaline rush of a record that happens to be one of the best albums of the last 20 years—quite well.