Green Day are one of those unique bands who have multiple career-defining albums. Whether you’re old school and prefer the manic, in your face punk of Dookie or your preferences lie more towards the politically-charged American Idiot, there’s no denying these guys have staying power. Even last year’s Revolution Radio proved a huge success, launching them into rock’s stratosphere once again. But with that said, you’d be forgiven if in the overwhelming shadow these two juggernauts cast, you forgot about some of their other really great- albeit- less commercially successful albums.
Twenty years ago, on October 14th, 1997, Green Day released Nimrod. The band’s fifth album, and third major label release marked the first in a few of turning points for the pop-punk trio. The follow-up to 1995’s Insomniac, Nimrod saw the guys venture outside the waters of brash, two minutes, in your face punk bliss. In its place the band ventured into some pretty interesting areas. Nimrod no doubt still showcases Green Day doing what they do best in the punk world, but there were more than a few left turns and curve balls. Nimrod may not be the group’s best-selling album, their most critically lauded or even their most die-hard fans favorite album, but it is without doubt their most important album. Here’s why.
Nimrod debuted at a time when a cultural shift was occurring across music. Grunge died off faster than the dinosaurs. Bands like Weezer and The Offspring had seen diminishing returns to follow-ups to their hugely successful earlier albums. Nu-Metal started to rear its ugly, backward red New York Yankee hat wearing head in. And worst of all, boybands and generic-teen-hit-making machines were slowly overtaking mainstream music. No trend in America comes and goes quicker than music; just ask Disco. Green Day couldn’t afford another Insomniac. That album was met with a relative “meh.” The album gave birth to accusation of not being as polished, hooky and radio friendly as Dookie, Album sales stattled and the band cancelled a lengthy European tour.
In order to navigate their way through this sea change, Green Day needed to adapt. The band experienced backlash and the “Sellout” moniker since they signed to Reprise Records prior to the release of Dookie. They didn’t start wearing camo shorts and wife-beaters. They didn’t rar. They elevated their sound and opened their musical palette to anything and everything that inspiration would call. The resulting album contained 18 songs; the highest track number they had released to that time. They album also clocked in just short of fifty minutes- almost twenty minutes longer that Insomniac. Nimrod could have also been called Kitchen Sink. They threw everything in there- and most of it worked better than expected.
Do you ever look at Green Day’s career and think, “How are these guys preaching about politics? They rose to fame using masturbation for a muse.” That’s a fair thought. “Longview” remains one of the band’s greatest songs twenty years after its release. But it wasn’t just “Longview” to “Holiday.” Nimrod showed Green Day maturing. Billie Joe Armstrong came into his own on this album. “Scattered”, “Redundant” and “Walking Alone” sit in stark juxtaposition to the brash, snotty anthems like “Geek Stink Breath” and Stuart and the Ave.” from Insomniac. Yet, the former fit in better with where Green Day went post-2004 that their early-to-mid-90’s explosion.
Nimrod allowed the band to breathe. They had nothing to lose and everything to gain on this album. Green Day found a way to satisfy fans of many different musical styles on here. But more importantly, they satisfied their own creative desires. Shockingly when Nimrod came out, each member of the band was a mere twenty-five years old. The depths they went to and with the audacity to spit in the face of the pigeon-holed existence they could have succumbed to shows a poise and much wiser than their young selves at that time. In a 1997 interview with the band, Billie Joe said,” This is a record I’ve been wanting to make, you know, since the band pretty much started.”
Green Day strive at making solid overall records. That said, you can’t deny that it’s their singles that really drive it home for them. Eager listeners were treated to “Hitchin’ a Ride”, the first single released. The track screamed Green Day yet offered a fresh spin on a time-tested method. Mike Dirnt pounds away on his bass taking the notion of hanging on the root and throwing it to the dogs. Tre Cool trances you with his hypnotic, uppity tom-heavy drumming. Lyrically, Billie Joe Armstrong is at his strongest. The song uses rich metaphors and clever phrasings to take a tongue-in-cheek stab at sobriety. And then that chorus. Good Lord. The band released “Hitchin a Ride” on their live album, Bullet in a Bible and that may be the definitive version of this song. The extended middle section and frenzied, shrieking guitar solo just hits you right in that sweet spot of your gut.
“(Good Riddance) Time of Your Life” proved to be the biggest smash hit from the album. The song’s performance eclipsed all of the previous singles from their previous album. It became the band’s most commercially successful single since the Angus soundtrack cut, “J.A.R” in 1995. If you graduated high school between 1997 and 2007, I’d be willing to bet this song won the contest for Class Song. I bet it also showed up at your prom. And maybe, maybe even your wedding. You couldn’t escape this song. Even Seinfeld used it during the highlight show before their finale. But it’s strange to see this kind of song from Green Day; even today. Where are the drums? What, no bass? Are those strings!?
This single, which shockingly stalled at number two on the Billboard Alternativity Songs Chart cements a long-standing theory I’ve always had about Green Day. Their career is like the plot of Ghostbusters. And “(Good Riddance) Time of Your Life” is the scene in the ballroom where they capture Slimer. You see, if the opening scene of Ghostbusters showed you Venkman, Stantz, Winston and Egon fighting the fifty-foot Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, you’d kind be like, “I don’t know how much I’m buying this.” The same applies to Green Day. If “American Idiot” debuted in 1997 you’d be like, “These bratty punks with blue hair want to tell me about my country? Pass.”
But just like when the Ghostbusters bolted, frightened out of the library basement following the failed, “GET HER!”, Green Day had to build up to tackling their own Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. Without Slimer, you never get your suspension of disbelief to the point of the Staypuft Marshmallow Man. The same that the guys who gave you “Longview” and “Brain Stew” had to work their way to achieving their ultimate greatness with American Idiot. “(Good Riddance) Time of Your Life” and more specifically Nimrod filled them with the confidence to conquer their full potential.
Nimrod plays like all great albums. It’s in the journey that brings the most pleasure. Through bouts of straight up punk, to reflective, folk-tinged offerings, you end the listening experience satisfied; but wanting more. The album’s best tracks don’t necessarily fit the Green Day mold. “King for a Day” reeks of zany, unapologetic ska. “The Grouch” and “Worry Rock” lend to the deeper, introspective side of Billie Joe’s abilities as a lyricist. But “(Platypus) I Hate You”, “Take Back” and “Reject” beat you into submission with their aggressive, over the top punk perfection. And “Nice Guys Finish Last” is so catchy, you find yourself humming it at the oddest of times.
Green Day really hit their stride on Nimrod. With the upcoming greatest hits package God’s Favorite Band, it’s as good a time as ever to venture through their back catalogue. If you want to get the full Green Day experience, you must listen to Nimrod. You might just have the time of your life.