On the Record: Green Day – Warning

Who would’ve thought – of all bands that broke out in the 1990s – that Green Day would become mainstream superstars of the 21st Century? The massive success they’ve achieved in the last decade from only two albums (2004’s American Idiot, 2009’s 21st Century Breakdown) seems mind-boggling. Yet, Green Day filled a specific need for anti-establishment, vaguely-dangerous rock music during the Bush administration. However, between their breakout success with Dookie (1994) and their superstardom in the 2000s, Green Day were at the brink of becoming has-beens.

Before their 2000 album Warning, Green Day’s success had dwindled significantly. Their previous two albums, Insomniac (1995) and Nimrod (1997), sold only a fraction of Dookie’s numbers, and without the crossover hit “Good Riddance,” Nimrod likely would’ve tanked altogether. Green Day seemed almost archaic in 2000 with a new crop of snotty pop-punks sneering their annoying faces into the record industry, and Warning didn’t help that.

At the time, Warning was considered Green Day’s “mature” record: the tempos are slower, it’s littered with acoustic guitars, the lyrics are a little more thoughtful, and there are no songs about masturbation. Now, more than a decade on, Warning is still their most mature record, and I think, their best, thanks to the band’s well-crafted, unpretentious – even workman-like – set of songs. Even the middle-finger to authority that is the title track sounds down right blue-collar.

Much of the direction the band takes in the ensuing decade can be found on Warning. The vague anti-establishment sentiment of the title track is reproduced ad infinitum on American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown. The winding story song “Misery” – at the time Green Day’s longest track at a whopping five minutes – lays the groundwork for the multi-part epics that dominate the band’s next two records as well.

However, unlike the Idiot and Breakdown, Warning isn’t trying to turn any heads or get attention by being high-concept, nor does it try to be as blatant in trying to repeat the success of “Good Riddance.” No, Warning has no pretentions, and is only interested in producing twelve catchy power-pop anthems that are more informed by The Kinks than the Buzzcocks, which is probably why the album holds up so well a decade later. It sounded near-timeless upon its release, and sounds even better now as future hits like “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” sound dated a mere half-decade later. Standouts include the charming “Church on Sunday” and low-charting single “Waiting,” which is one of the best tracks the band has recorded (which cleverly cribs from Petula Clark’s “Downtown”)

When American Idiot appeared four years later, Green Day emerged as more serious and ready to tackle the Bush administration with three chords and a snotty attitude. And while their success is well-deserved, they have yet to release an album as consistent, accomplished, and unassuming as Warning.

About James Hrivnak
The H is silent.

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