Rubbers Full of Soul

As catchy as they are nonstop from song #1 (39/Smooth's "At the Library," still the best song ever written by a 17-year-old) through song #68 (Nimrod's "Prosthetic Head"), Green Day's first five albums were not easy listens (i.e., stuff you could hum to washing dishes, as a friend of mine used to do daily in 1970 to my fave-o American rock album ever, Cosmo's Factory). The first two are fueled by the punk rock Gilman Street aesthetic (and a whole lotta speed, i.e., the drug); the middle two have a waaaaaay-over-the-top wall-of-guitars sound used to good effect. And 1997's Nimrodprobably would sound all over the place to anyone not versed in what came before (that is, the first 50 songs).

Or to put it another way, Green Day's "cutest" album (1992's Kerplunk), most "rock" album (1990's 39/Smooth), crankiest album (1995's Insomniac), most eclectic album (1997's Nimrod), and most muddled album though it sold a zillion copies anyway (1994's Dookie) are all just slightly, um, idiosyncratic.

Their new album, Warning, is a whole nother kettle of fish. While being almost as adorable as hardcore-fan-fave Kerplunk(just like the street buzz had promised), it also resonates through my cerebrum and on my stereo not unlike . . . well, what I've always dug about Buddy Holly and Bobby Fuller (who're pretty much the same artist, '57 vs. '66) is how their feel is kinda lightweight and unassuming—they made "minor" records—yet their listening pleasure becomes immense over the years and decades. After a dozen-plus hearings, I definitely will testify that this new Green Day has got that vibe. Boy, does it sound different from all their previous work (tho the lighter parts of Nimroddefinitely foreshadow it)—it has exactly 0% to do with even Gilman Street pop-punk, except for one solitary track, "Deadbeat," that's their old '90-'92 type of tune.

The album's darn spooky good (and I notice Rolling Stone had some postpunk postmodern son-of-R.E.M. poetry major review it, jeez, where dothese mooks come from?), 36 minutes (with the CD program skipping the one lame cut) that may wind up one of my all-time five favorite non-heavy-metal non-punk-rock American rock-band albums (counting Holly and the Crickets as a "band," and Beach Boys, Creedence, Bobby Fuller Four, the '71 Flamin Groovies I've always sworn by, and . . . um, I don't know if I recall anything that good in the brief 29 years since).

With their power-trio attack equal parts Ramones (ramalama) and Grand Funk (chugga chugga, let's rock), Green Day have always sounded like a "rock" band (with buzzier haircuts) in the best sense anyway, as straight- forward as Chuck Holly or Jerry Lee Berry or, hell, Mark Farner and, yep, Johnny Ramone. For all you boneheads who confused Green Day with the Buzzcocks (not even close) instead of Eater (three big chords, a lot closer) or Grand Funk (way closer, if you threw in Buddy Holly and Keith Moon as replacements for Mark and Don), here's a geography lesson: Contra Costa County's west-end refinery section does not equal London, U.K. And speaking of recent Cali punk—how about those wacky, genuinely funny videos like "Nice Guys Finish Last," "Pretty Fly (for a White Guy)," and even the ones by nefarious Calis-come-lately Blink-182? Isn't that exactly what the '77 Ramones or Dickies or Weirdos would've blown up with nationwide, given the chance? Making people laugh (and rocking at the same time)?

Unfortunately, none of those older bands ever got a chance to make a great sixth album. (Hey ho let's go: The Ramones' fifth album, End of the Century, was some of the worst crap they ever did; Green Day's fifth, Nimrod, was hands-down some of their beststuff.) Green Day did get a chance, though, and what do you know? Five songs on Warning (out of 12) are flat-out perfect. "Warning" opens the album with a loping, rocking groove riff that's a hella rewrite (unintended or not) of the Kinks' classic "Picture Book." "Real simple riff," you say, yep, but why has NO OTHER BAND stumbled across it in 30 years? I'm not saying Billie Joe's as great a songwriter as Ray Davies, mind you . . . just working somewhere in the same Brill Building.

"Church on Sunday," three tunes in, blows up Buddy Holly in Technicolor. Hooks fly around like 21st-century rocket ships, and an exploding guitar bridge makes me wanna go back to 1966 and join the Who Fan Club all over again. Heard from a different angle, this song might be the best Elvis Costello hard-pop tune ever (tho his dork glasses were no match for Buddy's).

Jumping forward almost to the end, "Minority" is the catchiest, cutest single Green Day has ever issued. Not many millionaires can write a good antiauthority song, but this is one. Damnedest thing is, it's like a playground marching chant, with more '66 mod-rock power riffs punching up the background. Three times a day, the melody and words pop into my head without my even knowing they're there, I find myself smiling, and only then do I realize: "Oh jeez, it's that damn Green Day song playing in my skull again!"

I'll tell you exactly what song the single reminds me of: "Plastic Man" by the Kinks (#31 U.K., 1969). Just the vibe and feel, the half-goofy/half-serious authority rant where it's hard to tell which is which (G or S), the writer's intentions not at all clear or transparent. Tho the Green Day tune is obviously sincere, there's deliberately stupid stuff in the lyric too: "one nation under dog," that kinda shit. A fuck-off lyric coupled with jolly happy humming music—if Neil Young's ever written anything half as clever, hey Neil, send me a postcard, huh?

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