Friday, October 26, 2012

Green Day

The grunge movement that ended with Kurt Cobain blowing his brains out, leaving rock radio trying to find some other band to carry on the so call anti establishment movement (if there was anything to rebel against) in 1994 started a punk revival of sorts.  Not that punk went away, it was always around in some capacity that during that year two bands of note came out of the California wasteland, one was The Offspring whose left field smash called Smash  became a modern rock staple to this day you can't escape the pop hits of Come Out And Play (Keep Them Separated) or Self Esteem and eventually would become more fun pop than real punk.

The other band that broke it big was Billie Joe Armstrong and Green Day, coming off Lookout Records, which was home to Operation Ivy to which Tim Armstrong (no relation) would form the Clash/ska influenced Rancid.  Green Day was more rock influenced than actual punk, in fact their roots can be traced to The Who when The Who were actually punks then became grand rock and rollers with their concept albums Tommy  and Quadaphenoia to which Green Day would make their own grand statements with American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown.  Nevertheless, their first album 1039/Smoothed Out Sloppy Hours was them trying to learn at they go.  I don't play it very much myself.

They came into their own with Kerplunk! to which the Tre Cool became the drummer and GD found the spark that would ignite their albums from here on out.  The sound is very thin but the performance is dead on rock and roll and songs such as Who Wrote Holden Caulfield? Android and 2,000 Light Years Away would become the starting point for later chart toppers like Welcome To Paradise or Longview, Words I Might Have Ate, acoustic Ramones.   Had Cobain lived on Dookie wouldn't be the landslide seller it became but perhaps the world was tired of grunge and wanted a more lighter and punker sound.

And so the love affair with Green Day started with Dookie which combines three chord punk and roll but with a more smoother production.  Critics weren't amused, punk fans accused them of being sellouts when they went major label and BJ's fake Brit accent annoyed the purist but to me it was the music that mattered and Tre Cool being the Keith Moon of punk generation smashing cymbals left and right on Burnout and the moody Having A Blast.  Armstrong singing the angst of teens living in mom and dad's basement on Basket Case echoed many a frustrated teen or not enjoying playing with themselves on Longview, their own Pictures Of Lily I gather.  Dookie the album was a blast but it was a short enjoyable blast barely a half hour at the very least.  And it got the be the album of 1994 in my book.

Even better to these ears was Insomniac which bombed but Green Day kept it short and sweet, turning the guitars and angst up to ten.  Sure they ripped off the Who here and rewrote She's Got Everything by the Kinks into Walking Contradiction but the music pulled it through big time with Geek Stink Breath,  the unsafe at any speed Bab's Uvula Who and the slow burn of Brain Stew which deteriorates into the thrash Jaded or the chaos of Panic Song, Insomniac  is their perfect statement.  Three chords and basically rock and roll to which they would not revisit till their latest Uno!

The problem with punk rock is that is one dimensional and after a while playing the same chords and singing the same song over gets even tiring for punks and they were getting to be in their mid twenties at that time so they added some horns and a violin on Nimrod, which to me is their weakest album in this era.  First of all too many songs (18 of them) and Billie Joe beginning to sound very crusty and grouchy even for being 25.  In fact he wrote a song about being a Grouch.  Hitchin A Ride featuring the violin work of Petra Haden, King For A Day had the horn section honking away and Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life) a acoustic rant that ended up being the theme song from the prom crowd or perhaps the graduation song for the class of 1997.   With that Green Day took a sabbath and came back in 2000 with the more adult thinking Warning but that ended up being their poorest selling album even though it was a marked improvement over Nimrod.  Fearing the end of a great punk rock band Reprise rushed out International Superhits which basically is the perfect snapshot of rock radio of the 1990s and perhaps the best overall view of the best or what some may call the worst of that era.  Shenanigans soon followed and has the b sides to respective songs.  Worth a listen if you're a fan, pass if your not.

Then Green Day decided that they were going to write concept albums and they did, striking gold and a big comeback with American Idiot which may or may not had to do with Bush Jr.  They tried not one but two version of A Quick One (meaning adding short songs to one another to form a suite of sorts) and it works great on Jesus Of Suburbia, but not so much on Homecoming but Green Day got two major big hits on Wake Me Up When September Ends and Boulevard Of Broken Dreams.  American Idiot was so great that they had to have a Broadway version of this album to which I politely declined to get.  21st Century Breakdown was yet another concept album but by this time the pompousness finally got Billie Joe and company and that turned out to be their least interesting album to me, even though 21 Guns was another big hit.  I think at that point that I gave up on them and not even picking up their live albums that came out, although I'm sure Awesome As Fuck had some great moments they don't differ all that much from the studio albums except with more F bombs.

To which at this point Green Day finally decided tor return to their punk roots with Uno!, a three album trilogy that two more would follow (Dos in November, Tre! in Jan 2013) and despite Cumulus KRNA sticking Oh Love down our throats three days per day, the rest of the album is a welcome return to the three chords glory of Kerplunk/Dookie/Insomniac but then again having three albums back to back to back might be risking permanent damage to their reputation, especially after Billie Joe's meltdown in Las Vegas over seeing a wide screen telling the band they had one more minute to play on the infamous I Heart Radio show and Armstrong's F bomb tirade and one finger salute which is rock and roll rebellion but not into sales.  But at as he approaches 40 years, the new punks really don't take heed to the old fart punks, just as Pete Townsend found that out in 1977 and Johnny Rotten did 20 years later.  Rock and roll and punk is a young man's game as Billie Joe is finding out the hard way, but he's still going to go down fighting regardless.

Looking back at the 90s and all that mattered to me, Green Day ended up being my choice of the band of the decade, simply of the fact I thought they rocked harder than the grunge bands and whatever passed for album rock and then the second decade came back from the dead by throwing The Who's attitude into the mix.  So far Uno! sales have not done very well and perhaps may have cast a rethink on the forthcoming Dos! and Tre! albums from consumers but unlike them I'll be waiting in line.

Because I think they still matter to me.


1039 Smoothed Out Sloppy Seconds (Lookout/Reprise 1990) B-
Kerplunk!  (Lookout/Reprise 1991) A-
Dookie (Reprise 1994) A
Insomniac (Reprise 1995) A+
Nimrod (Reprise 1997) B-
Warning (Reprise 2000) A-
International Superhits (Reprise 2001) A
Shenanigans (Reprise 2002) B+
American Idiot (Reprise 2004) B+
21st Century Breakdown (Reprise 2009) C+
!Uno! (Reprise 2012) A-
!Dos! (Reprise 2012) B+
!Tre!  (Reprise 2012) B+
Revolution Radio (Reprise 2016) B

Friday, October 19, 2012


They came from Illinois and made four albums for Epic but their lead singer used to be in REO Speedwagon.  Terry Luttrell was the barrelhouse screamer on that self titled album and then left soon after.  In the meantime hooking with some like minded individuals that had a deep love of Yes and progressive rock at that time, a bit of a Kansas to go with as well.

The first album was recorded in the great rock and roll mecca that is known as Pekin Illinois and the self titled album remains the only in print on the Epic label. The three others were reissued via Renaissance. Critics didn't get them and wrote them off as Yes clones and Luttrell does sound like a more mild mannered Jon Anderson as the first album gave them a FM hit with Lady Of The Lake.

The next two albums Starcastle worked with Roy Thomas Baker on the fine sounding Fountains Of Light with another FM hit with Fountains which adds elements of Queen and Styx to the mix.  This is probably their most prog rock soundish.  Citadel shortens the songs a bit there's more of a pop sound, although it still sounds prog rock but I like this record the best, especially on Can't Think Twice, Evening Wind and Could This Be Love.  While Epic was winning to cut them some slack and let them chase that prog rock dream, the next and final effort Real To Reel had them working with Jeffrey Lesser who is best known for producing Head East and Real To Reel sounds more like an Head East album rather than Starcastle.  Some of the songs feel like demos or half attempts for the radio and while it's a interesting listen it's not a prog rock album.  The last two songs The Stars Are Out Tonight and When The Sun Shines At Midnight (which makes them sound like Lake, the German band) are the closest thing to the sound of the previous albums.  However the band doesn't mention that album on their website.  And of course the album cover of Real To Reel is horrendous.

Still, Starcastle may have not enjoyed the big sales of Kansas or as remembered as well as Yes, they made great albums in the prog rock tradition.   One of the bands that I didn't get into till later in my years.  Worth looking for if you can find their albums.


Starcastle (Epic 1976) 
Fountains Of Light (Epic 1977)
Citadel (Epic 1978)
Real To Real (Epic 1979)