Green Day lived the irony of being real working class punks from the wrong side of the San Francisco Bay, who became labeled by cooler-than-thou punkers as “inauthentic” after the tremendous success of their third album, Dookie.
Barely out of their teens, singer-guitarist Billy Joe Armstrong, bassist Mike Dirnt, and drummer Tre Cool put out two killer pop-punk records on Bay Area indie label Lookout Records in the early-’90s, the success of which led to a contract with Reprise.
Dookie, released in ’94, was the right record for the right time. Fueled with punk energy and full of prickly slacker anthems, Green Day’s secret weapons were Armstrong’s hooky songwriting, strong (but slightly off-key in the punk tradition) vocals, and the trio’s super-tight musicianship. Dominating modern rock radio for a year and kicked into overdrive by the band’s show-stopping performance at Woodstock ’94, sales of Dookie eventually topped 10 million in the U.S. alone.
The band appeared to be headed down the path of one-album wonders, with diminishing sales and enthusiasm greeting their next two, similar albums, Insomnia and Nimrod, both of which bore many of the same attributes as Dookie, but without that album’s magical freshness.
Having lost much of their original punk base, Green Day appeared up a tree, but then, seemingly out of nowhere, a single from Nimrod, the bitter ballad “Good Riddance” (a.k.a. “Time of Your Life”) crossed over to become a huge pop hit and the band was back, with a new broad-based audience.
Warning was one of the best pop-rock albums of 2000. The band’s punk roots still show in Armstrong’s vocal style and in some of the anti-establishment themes (“Warning,” “Minority”), but this is a band that has matured – in a healthy, secure way, not in a dried-out, boring manner – into a great band period, much like the Clash did.
Armstrong’s songwriting is strong and melodic throughout, with a variety of styles from the early-Beatlesque of “Hold On,” to the Kurt Weil-meets-Tijuana polka of “Misery,” to just plain sing-along melodic rockers like his ode to relationship-building compromise “Church On Sunday,” with the killer chorus:
“If I promise to go to church on Sunday
Will you go out with me on Friday night?”
That’s a long way from “Longview.”