By Jena Ardell
By Brian McManus
By Chaz Kangas
By Sound of the City
By Peter Gerstenzang
By Katherine Turman
By Chris Kornelis
By Brian McManus
And the very best thing about "Minority": the blatting harmonica that pops up several times. Now THERE is the great lost rock cliché: We're definitely not talking the likes of Blues Traveler here. Well-known songs using harmonica usually break down to (1) r&b/blues harp (99%) or (2) folk-rock harmonica (the other 1%), i.e., the "happy harp" type à la Bruce Channel's "Hey! Baby" (#1 U.S., early 1962) and "Love Me Do"/"Thank You Girl" Beatles (i.e., before they'd heard Dylan). Anyway, the harp blatting in "Minority" is just a crack-up. Works musically, too.
(John Cougar interlude: I bet the reason harp is the only Rolling Stones component not to show up big-time on American Fool and Uh-Huhis cuz he was personally harp-phobic as a mental backlash against his doofus youth, i.e., those old '60s high school photos of him wearing a Dylan harp and acoustic Gibson, to impress the "sensitive" girls, I believethe ones ready for something slightly heavier than Donovan. Logically, there should be harp all over those two albums, to go with the maracas and tambourines and handclaps, but there's almost none. Freud would probably see Cougar's later accordion phase as "symbolic harp compensation.")
Back three tracks on Warning, "Hold On" is the companion marching-chant of the set, again with more jaunty Bruce Channel/John Lennon harmonica squawking. Reference point? Kinda like that dippy Proclaimers hit. But good.
Closing the album, "Macy's Day Parade" is genuinely pretty, like "It's Only Love" on side two of the Beatles' best American set . . . Nimrod's "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)" (which, in truth, was just a little too jerky-rhythm "folkie") was barely a practice run. If pull-the-pretty-song for a single holds true again, this one is very possibly a hit.
The other seven songs? Well, Green Day bails us out with "Misery" halfway through, a skip-it-it-sucks oddity (sorta like the Doors playing "Alabama Song" meets "Unknown Soldier" sideways . . . nah, even worse); otherwise I'd be juggling "perfect album" and "best record of the year" sound bites like Alfred E. Neuman stuck on a college lecture circuit looking for a way out. But the rest is off the hook compared not just to today's uno-dimensional "rock bands" (code around here for: "start runnin' or I start shootin' "), but to the other five Green Day albums and 20 million plus in worldwide sales that came before. Even those usually annoying Cheap Trick "I Want You to Want Me" rhythms (on "Jackass" and "Blood, Sex and Booze") work to neat, punchy effect.
Important footnote: Shelving the old Green Day wall of guitars (Dookieand Insomniac) in favor of the youngest (and best) Pete Townshend mod-clanky buzz opens up the band's sound dramatically; it's airy and spacious, lots of room for the vocals. The whole thing breathes with neat ambiences.
The other nifty new wrinkle is the rockin' with light guitars (acoustic and/or electric) thing. Everybody in the world says they've heard Rubber Soul; but no band has ever got it RIGHT. Kick me hard for heresy, but that effortless state of grace (that the four Fabs had from "I'm a Loser" through the last note of Rubber Soul) echoes all over the place here. All the taut 1966 Who/Creation/Byrds moves, razor-sharp guitars bouncing off exploding drum parts ("Fashion Victim," "Waiting," and "Castaway" on Warning), you figure there's been a few bands for sure who've gotten that down. But Rubber Soul, nada. (Except, as nitpickers will point out, side two of the second Raspberries album, which is too lightweight on the instruments to be anything except an approximate homage. And unless you count what might be the greatest Beatles song since 1965: Hanson's summer 2000 hit "If Only," which would have been the best track on Rubber Soul, closing either side.)
Translated to real life, the simple story is that Green Day spent over six straight months, 1999-2000, in an Oakland practice room, learning and rehearsing the usual ton of new material. So they had the songs memorized thrice over like the rest of us could hum Cyndi's "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" if you threw a $10 bill on the table. And hey, I noticed in a short somewhere (maybe in Rolling Stone) a Billie Joe quote pegging the sound on Warning to Springsteen's two-LP Riverset. Since that's the only electric Springsteen I ever thought was worth the time to listen to (and its follow-up ditto in the folkie damage-art category), I might be Green Day's ground-zero fan base . . .