Cool is Colleen Green’s first album in six years (a 2019 cover project of blink-182’s Dude Ranch notwithstanding), and it didn’t impress me on the first listen. It was a little too cutesy, annoyingly singsongy, and surprisingly slow-paced for a musician who wears her punk influences on her sleeve. After a couple more spins, though, Green’s songwriting skill had won me over. Her hooks had burrowed into my brain, and I had the songs going through my head without having to listen to them.
The record’s most apparent punk influences come from the cover photo, which shows Green wearing jeans, a leather jacket, and sunglasses in classic Ramones style, and from its second track, “I Wanna Be a Dog”. The song is a charming guitar-pop track, with cooing background “Ooo” vocals and bright, easygoing guitar chords. Green sings about how much easier her life would be if she was canine, but the chanted chorus acknowledges the debt to the Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog”, following the same rhythm and cadence as Iggy Pop’s vocals on that song. Green’s lyrics layer sweetness where the Stooges were covered in scuzz. Lines like “‘Cause I’m still communicating from my tail end / I don’t really see the difference” cheekily connect her life with a dog’s, and it’s a fun track.
While the songs on Cool are outwardly melodic, Green isn’t always interested in following traditional verse-chorus-verse pop song structure. “You Don’t Exist” begins with a simple bass line, is joined by equally simple drums, and eventually a distorted guitar playing the song’s melody. Green doesn’t start singing for nearly 90 seconds, but her lyrics make an impact when she does. “If I had a million followers / Then maybe they would say, ‘CG so popular’ / The more and more I see the more I call bullshit / You know that nothing matters when you don’t exist.” It’s a good set of lines, so much so that the song has no other lyrics other than a chorus that repeats “You don’t exist.” Green fills the rest of the four minutes with simple guitar solos and wordless backing vocals, and the song completely works.
“Natural Chorus” also twists the guitar-pop form. It establishes a simple drums, bass, and synth groove and sits on it for a full 100 seconds before Green sings, “Your voice / Has got a natural chorus / The sound effect in my ear / Nothing has ever happened before us / The only thing I can hear / Is like ‘Oh oh oh oh.'” When it hits the “Oh-oh”, a chunky guitar comes in to double the vocal melody, and then it returns to the central groove for the rest of the song before exiting on a second chorus.
When she does write in a traditional structure, Green is willing to go all-in. “It’s Nice to Be Nice” has verses and a chorus, and she layers the lead vocals and backing harmonies for maximum catchiness. “How Much Should You Love a Husband?” has verses posing hypothetical questions from unnamed friends: “How much fun is it to be dating a comedian?”, “How does it feel to be going out with a lawyer?” The song bops along on a buzzing bass and chiming guitar but focuses on Green’s singing.
“I Believe in Love”, at just over the 4:30 mark, is the album’s longest song and its only real ballad. It follows the traditional song structure, and it’s the one case on the album where my initial impression lingered. The melody and lyrics here aren’t enough to make up for the song’s draggy tempo, and it’s kind of a slog to get through.
Cool‘s most distinctive song is probably “Highway”, which is a real outlier. Green seems to have created an unusually creepy (for her) guitar riff and built a song around it. It has a simple bass and drums accompaniment that keeps the focus right on the riff. Green chooses to whisper-rap her lyrics, complaining about a significant other taking the highway while she prefers the back roads. There are some singing backing vocals, but Green commits to her spoken style for the entire song. It’s weird and cool and a nice change of pace. I did get concerned for the narrator, though, when she twice demands that her significant other “Pull over at the shoulder let me out.” Colleen, you shouldn’t be walking down the highway. That’s even more dangerous!
This is a fun album that fans of pop music and guitar rock will both be able to get into. Green’s hooks are immediate and memorable and her guitar lines are interesting and a bit unusual. Her big melodies often disguise the more interesting aspects of her songwriting, which is probably why it took a few listens for these songs to really click with me. The six-year break hasn’t dulled Green’s musical skills at all and Cool is a record worth hearing.