39:38 min • Reprise Records • February 1, 1994
I realize I may be burning my bridges as a respected underground music journalist by reviewing this album, but to hell with it. I will stand right here and state that this one of the best pop records released in the last twenty years. It’s a loud, rock ‘n’ roll pop record that flew in the face of the seriousness of grunge and alternative and was just fun. In 40 minutes, a trio of twenty-something kids from California exploded onto mainstream America and destroyed the record store elitism that was the cornerstone of alternative music.
Opening with the high energy ‘Burnout’, Billie Joe Armstrong fires off a burst of snotty lyrics,
I declare I don’t care no more,
I’m burning up and out and growing bored,
In my smoked out boring room –
describing life for young Americans in suburbia. What fires up the lyrics and turns them into a defiant party anthem is the bright sounding instrumental work from not only Armstrong, but bassist Mike Dirnt, and drummer Tre Cool.
Continuing with that bright fuck you energy, ‘Having a Blast’ lyrically describes blowing up everything and just not giving a rat’s ass,
Well, no one is getting out alive,
This time I’ve really lost my mind and I don’t care,
So close your eyes and kiss yourself goodbye,
And think about the time you spent and what they’ve meant,
To me it’s nothing –
Reading it like that sounds dark as hell, but the band makes it sound like it’s all gonna go up in smoke with a smile on their face.
The fourth track became the band’s breakthrough single, ‘Longview’, a soft-hard dynamic song that became the anthem for boredom in America. Featuring a groove heavy Bo Diddley style rhythm in the verses from Dirnt and Cool, before exploding into the chorus of,
Bite my lip and close my eyes,
Take me away to paradise,
I’m so damn bored I’m going blind,
And I smell like shit –
The depths of boredom reach their peak in the last verse,
Sit around and watch the phone but no one’s calling,
Call me pathetic call me what you will,
My mother says to get a job,
But she don’t like the one she’s got,
When masturbation’s lost its fun,
You’re fucking breaking –
I suppose when wanking doesn’t do the trick, your life really does suck.
‘Welcome to Paradise’ also proved to be a huge single for the band, a re-recorded track originally from their second album Kerplunk!, here it shines even more strongly, sounding much tighter and brighter than on its original recording.
Slowing things down for a bit, ‘Pulling Teeth’ is a mid-tempo chugger that takes a light sided view of either BDSM or abusive relationships, depending how you interpret the lyrics,
I’m all busted up, broken bones and nasty cuts,
Accidents will happen, but this time I can’t get up,
She comes to check on me, making sure I’m on my knees,
After all she’s the one, who put me in this state –
It’s classic pop song methodology, a bright sound and vocals with lyrics that could be interpreted as deeply disturbing.
Keeping with the theme of craziness, ‘Basket Case’ follows up as the seventh track (and third single from the album), instead of using the soft-hard dynamic or mid-tempo rhythms, this is three-minutes of distorted fast poppy rock n roll. Lyrically, it seems Armstrong is questioning his own sanity and doesn’t know if it’s just him or all the drugs he enjoys,
Sometimes I give myself the creeps,
Sometimes my mind plays tricks on me,
It all keeps adding up, I think I’m cracking up!
Am I just paranoid? Am I just stoned?”
The tenth track (and final single) ‘When I Come Around’ is the closest this album gets to a ballad, a mid-tempo rocker about someone looking for love and being told not to go looking too hard, since the person they love will come around eventually. Personally, I don’t think it’s the strongest single the band released, but its pop sound foreshadows other ballads the band would release after this record.
‘Coming Clean’ is an oddity here, it’s quite possibly the only explicitly gay related song the band ever released, a minute and a half of fuzzy rock ‘n’ roll that describes the fear and tension of coming out young in America,
Seventeen and coming clean for the first time.
I finally figured out myself for the first time.
I found out what it takes to be a man.
Mom and Dad will never understand.
What’s happening to me!
Queercore legends Pansy Division would later cover the song as the B-side to their single ‘Average Men’ in 2009.
The album ends with ‘F.O.D.’, a track that thematically finishes the album the way it started, gleefully singing about anarchy and destruction in the cheeriest way possible. Musically, it’s different, it starts with a hard-strummed acoustic riff that goes a minute and a half into the song before exploding into a distortion-soaked rocker. It’s a pretty good way to end the album.
When this album came out in 1994, grunge was still king and this album tore it down and left it to stagger along with a noticeable limp. This album also sparked scores of imitators such as Sum 41, Blink 182, and others who no doubt heard the possibilities of making a pop rock album with your garage band. Personally, I can’t think of any that came close to the sound and feeling of this album, but you know, ‘A’ for effort.
Which of course brings us to the backlash. I know a lot of people who hate this album with a passion, hate this album and hate this band. Why? Well because it’s marketed as a punk record and it’s not a punk record. On a certain level, I agree with them, this isn’t a punk record, it’s a pop record, it’s a bright-eyed American rock n roll pop album. And one thing a punk will never admit to is having an affinity for anything resembling pop. I appreciate the dedication, fellas, but I can’t abide by it. Good music is good music.