Poor Green Day. There are a lot of so-called punks out there who are going to cry “sell out” no matter what the band does. Living up to everyone’s definition of a “punk” band is virtually impossible, but Green Day are at a special disadvantage by now. With major-label platinum albums under their belts, boasting a singer who is a married father with a well-fed physique, Green Day can hardly pretend they are lean and hungry youths anymore.
On Warning, their first album in three years, they’ve dropped the charade altogether and bravely embraced the pop bent that has always been a part of their sound. From the opening bars of the title track, it is obvious that this is not the Green Day that most listeners expect. Instead of opening with an adrenaline-pumped rocker, Green Day begin their first album of the new millennium with a sober, mid-tempo pop song. Its melodic, mellow bass line sounds like the Kinks’ “Picture Book,” and for the first time, Green Day display a Ray Davies-like fascination with the tricks of the trade, worrying more about songcraft, arrangement, and production than volume.
This shouldn’t come as a total surprise to those who have been paying attention. After all, Green Day’s last album, Nimrod, often strayed from the three-minute-rocker formula, most notably on the hit ballad “Time of Your Life.” Green Day push the envelope even further on Warning, incorporating strings, harmonica, and saxophone into their sound. They slip up every now and then — the music-hall ditty “Misery” is overly kitschy and the wailing sax on “Jackass” seems forced — but most of Warning sounds surprisingly organic.
As the lyricist on all but one track, Billie Joe Armstrong displays a fair amount of tenderness and vulnerability, such as when he sings in “Hold On”: “When you lost all hope and excuses / And the cheapskates and the losers / Nothing’s left to cling to / You got to hold on to yourself.” On “Waiting,” he nearly drowns in dewy-eyed optimism: “I’ve been waiting a lifetime / For this moment to come / I’m destined for anything at all.”
Of course, this is still Green Day and Billie Joe is still Billie Joe, no matter how many kids he has. There is still plenty of smart-ass rebelliousness in this music, as evidenced when Billie Joe rails against authority in “Warning,” conformity in “Minority,” and materialism in “Fashion Victim.” There’s even a little S&M thrown into “Blood, Sex and Booze” for good measure.
Old fans who would have enjoyed such messages in the past might not like them packaged with such clean music, but they’d be missing the point. Real old school punks know that punk is about following your own path, and that’s just what Green Day are doing.