Thursday, 27 March 2014

'Dookie': Pop Punk Milestone

by Hope Hopkinson


Following up to the 20th Anniversary of Dookie (Green Day’s third studio album) at the beginning of February, I thought it would only be appropriate to write my first album review on exactly that.

In 1994, Californian punks Green Day hadn’t been what one would call an entirely commercially successful band. With two rather ‘unpolished’ albums (1039/Smoothed out Slappy Hours and Kerplunk!) produced by Bay Area Record label ‘Lookout!’ to their name, they admittedly had relative success in the underground 90s punk scene, but only slight, if any, mainstream recognition. So nobody expected this trio of 20-somethings to come up with a major label, multi-platinum selling album, right? But, you guessed it, that’s what we got; in the form of an angst-ridden teenager, more commonly known as Dookie.

Right off the bat, an immediate difference from the past two records is implicit. The opening track ("Burnout") starts with the surlier and noticeably more polished voice of frontman Billie Joe Armstrong following a barely distinguishable drum intro by snarling, “I declare I don’t care no more! I’m burning up and out, and growing bored, in my smoked up boring room.” It’s the perfect opening line for the now major-label trio - showing that they’ve both matured, with the higher production standard, but also remained true to their roots, being more concerned about smoking weed (hence the name ‘Green Day’) than worrying about their former underground punk circle calling them sell-outs. Musically, it’s what one may refer to as the stereotypical pop punk structure: a two-minute burst of punchy, distorted guitar, but Green Day being Green Day, they managed to take this structure and make it their very own, with Armstrong’s unique vocals and drummer Tré Cool (Birth name: Frank Edwin Wright III)’s energetic fills. Overall, "Burnout" is, in my opinion the perfect introduction to what would be a monumental album, even 20 years on.

The album then features two songs that could be interpreted as ‘filler’ songs. While they would stand out from the catalogues of quite a few of the bands in similar genres, they are strategically placed in Dookie to ‘set the stage’ as such for the string of the album’s best hits that follow, so are mostly overshadowed.  The first of these two songs is the slightly vacant ‘Having a Blast’, a just shy of three-minute package with lyrics full of bile and anger, singing the soliloquy of a suicide bomber with music much more timid in contrast. Despite the rather serious subject matter, Armstrong manages to play it off as if it’s a careless send-off to a past lover, with the refrain “To me, it’s nothing” being repeated numerous times throughout. While not a key piece of the album, it should definitely not be overlooked, both musically and lyrically.

 

The second ‘filler’ song is entitled "Chump", a short and sharp number, with the narrator expressing their hatred towards an unidentified being. Although it’s punchy and likeable in its own right, perhaps its most memorable moment is the guitar swells and drum grooves used to close the song, in a way, laying out the red carpet for Dookie’s first big hit.

The big hit in question is of course, "Longview".


Famed for Mike Dirnt’s irresistibly slow-paced bass line, "Longview" is a song which addresses the problems of young adults with nothing to do with their lives. With lines such as “I got no motivation; where is my motivation? No time for motivation, smoking my inspiration,” the subject matter is still more than relevant to today’s youth. As well as this, another reason why this song was (and still is) so popular is the clever idea of using their respective instruments in such isolation that the parts are showcased in such a way that really sells the distinctive style in which they are played. This all builds up to Armstrong’s driving power chords in the chorus, reaching a climax, reminiscent of the catchiest sort of adolescent rock, before returning to the mellow isolation of verses.

Next up is "Welcome to Paradise", originally found on the previous album (Kerplunk!); the band and production team presumably came to some sort of conclusion that a song as lyrically and musically intelligent as this should not be remembered accompanied with the poor recording quality courtesy of Lookout! Records, so they decided to re-record it. Good job they did, as it still remains a fan favourite, something it may not have ever ended up being if this extra effort was not injected into it.

Following this track, is a peculiar one to say the least. "Pulling Teeth", the track in question, is a surprisingly light ode to the physical and emotional abuse of the protagonist by his female lover. Accompanied by a tune that could potentially be described as somewhat jolly, it is a unique song, and I will leave it at that.

At the halfway point through the album, is perhaps the quintessential Green Day song, which is of course, "Basket Case". From the opening line, is it just one of those songs that everybody, Green Day fan or not can sing along to: not just the lyrics, but the riffs, bass line, and drum fills. If you are not doing just that in your head right now, I suggest you look it up immediately. The song itself follows Armstrong’s stormy mental torment, covering his panic attacks and anxiety disorder diagnosis, while being an energetic ball of classic 3-chord pop punk.

The last two ‘hits’ as such on the album are entitled "She" and "When I Come Around",  dotted in amidst a handful of less well-known tracks. ‘She’ is a mainly bass-orientated song, written by Armstrong as a response to a feminist poem shown to him by an ex-girlfriend, who eventually dumped him and moved to Ecuador - a pretty hard thing to deal with at the time, but it did result in an extremely good single.

"When I Come Around", however, doesn’t resemble the mainly pop punk orientated structure that the rest of the album follows suit, but instead channels a Warped Tour strain of Lynyrd Skynyrd. Despite this, the walking paced song remains a firm favourite to many.

There isn’t particularly anything of great interest to say about the rest of the album; while showcasing the talent of the trio, admittedly none of the other songs will be monumentally remembered by anyone outside of the Green Day fan circle. Except for perhaps, the half-acoustic, half hard-rock "F.O.D". For the first minute and a half, Armstrong almost poetically builds up to the pinnacle of the song, with a barely audible acoustic accompaniment. This is of course until the electric guitars decided they just couldn’t resist, and make it clear what the song title truly stands for.

And, if you make it through the silence after "F.O.D"., you will stumble upon  particular secret track, written and sung by none other than Tré Cool. The completely novelty spectacle of ‘All By Myself’ is, well, listening to it, and forging your own opinion is probably best.

 

In August of last year, I was lucky enough to see Green Day’s ‘secret’ 5000-capacity show at the O2 Academy Brixton. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity, not only getting to see such a huge band in a relatively small venue (in comparison to seeing them at the 80,000 capacity Emirates Stadium just two months earlier), but they played Dookie from front to back in addition to the already extensive set. Hearing the entire album live almost 20 years on was incredible; the trio channelled the same energy that they had at the time of the album actually being recorded, barely stopping for breath between songs. So, all in all, Dookie is an album that is still, and will most likely always be, remembered as a huge Pop Punk milestone.

 

 

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