Green Day: “Dookie” (1994)

Green_Day_-_Dookie_coverI still don’t think I understand what punk music is. I missed the boat on that one a long time ago and never really got the chance to hop back on. I know that there was a scene in Chicago, but I was either too young or too restricted by the tyranny of distance to every really get into that scene. A lot of my friends listened to big name punk records (NOFX, Rancid, etc.) that I also listened to, but I never really dug deep into the genre.

Still, when I listen to Green Day’s major label debut Dookie now, I can say with 95 percent certainty that this is not really punk rock. They may have looked edgy in their punk attire with punk haircuts back in 1994, but I don’t hear any punk there. This is the pop treatment of punk that makes Sum 41 look hard.

I adored this record when it came out. It was the first CD I bought with my own money, and as I recall it had the explicit sticker on it as well, which made it even more badass. The punchy guitars and hooks really hold up well on a relisten, but the songs have a bit of a monochromatic feeling now. The chords and arrangement are all pretty similar, and there’s not much in terms of solo work to speak of. The “solos” as they are serve the perfunctory purpose of just bridging that time between the second and third verse without really expressing anything. No one needs a minute long guitar solo, but even short songs deserve about eight bars worth of solo work; economical solos that deliver the punch and then get the hell out of there are really refreshing (think Tokyo Police Club or, more recently, Parquet Courts).

Tracks like “When I Come Around” or “In The End” really just allow Dirnt’s bass playing to come to the front of the mix while Armstrong tosses in a few guitar flourishes; that’s not really a solo. Maybe this is just endemic in punk music, but I keep waiting for a guitar explosion and it never comes. The chords and melodies are great, but sometimes it’s hard to tell where one track ends and the other begins because the arrangements are so similar.

Also, I’m not really of the camp that you have to elocute like a proper gentleman when singing in a rock band, but Armstrong’s delivery on some of the tracks sounds like he never closes his mouth the whole time. Don’t even ask me to explain his slightly British vowel pronunciations, especially the ‘I’ which sounds more like ‘auI’ (maybe he’s a Shakespeare fan?). The recording, which supposedly was done several times to perfect the sound according to Wikipedia, sounds great on some tracks, but the guitars come across as tinny on other tracks like “Chump” for instance (perhaps there was some cross breeding of tapes?).

Some tracks still rock hard. “She” is the best song on the album: its arrangement is tight, and the guitar sounds are big and bold. I’m not sure if Armstrong is using some kind of vocal doubling tool, but his voice sounds big and pairs with backing vocals nicely. “Pulling Teeth” sounds like the fab four even if it is slightly overproduced. The sound that this three-piece band generates is really full given the time period, which I think is a complement. If you ignore the stigma of what punk is “supposed to be” then you can really appreciate the highlights of this album. If you want a harder edge, this album only hints at it, mostly on “F.O.D.” which one may call the last proper track on the album (the hidden track is more of an embarrassment than anything).

I know four years after I heard this album I got into the Violent Femmes and I asked myself “what the hell was that Green Day shit I was listening to?” Green Day shot themselves in the collective foot with later albums until trying to break away from the fart joke that had become their career by churning out American Idiot (2004), a potent (if sometimes lyrically challenged) attack on society that one feels actually said what they were thinking for ten years but didn’t have the balls to say. Since then, as with many of the bands I’ve profiled here, we know that they have been relegated to the laughing stocks yet again with a pointless Broadway musical and subsequent bombastic, then subpar efforts.