Review Summary: Green Day's second and final underground release, Kerplunk is one fine album that pretty much owns everything Green Day's put out in the last decade.
Having just read Catcher In the Rye
and noticing the literary reference on the back cover of Kerplunk
, a thought comes to mind: Holden Caulfield would ***ing hate Green Day. What with the politics, the eye makeup, the punky-punk black shirt/red tie uniforms, let’s face it: Green Day are big fat phonies. Cue whining for another five paragraphs about the punk rock opera that doesn’t exist, the change from punk to emo music, and the total abandonment of their roots.
But disregarding the maligned (and honestly not that
bad) American Idiot
, Green Day makes (or has made) some good music. Their older stuff is fun, honest, and just frickin’ catchy
pop punk. I’m not talking about the Nimrod
-ian “hey-guys-we’re-mature-because-we-play-acoustic-guitar” old stuff. I’m talking way old. Like Kerplunk
old. Looking back on those underground days where the production was low-fi and the color scheme was green and white, it’s enough to make even the most jaded of fans grin again as they discover that their once favorite band held that honor for a reason.
was Green Day’s final release before being signed to Warner Brothers and setting the world aflame with songs about masturbation and pot, and it’s clear why. Kerplunk
, despite the production value of a tin can, sounds like seasoned vets playing what they play best on a level above everyone else. The songs off Kerplunk
run with a furious speed and affect with the heart of a teenager. Opener “2000 Light Years Away” sets the tone of the album with a driving beat by brand new drummer Tre Cool (it was funny in 1991), and a simple guitar line that would become trademark from Billie Joe. Armstrong sings “I sit alone in my bedroom staring at the walls. I've been up all damn night long, my pulse is speeding, my love is yearning. I hold my breath and close my eyes and dream about her, cuz she's 2000 light years away”
with an unrefined wail that’s just unprofessional enough to be charming. The introspective nature of Billie’s lyrics, lost in succeeding albums, makes Kerplunk
all the more savory. ”When I was younger I thought the world circled around me, but in time I realized I was wrong. My immortal thoughts turned into just dreams of a dead future. It was a tragic case of my reality”
sounds too personal to be found on Insomniac
and too honest to be found on American Idiot
. What Kerplunk
gives, unknowingly at the time of its release, is the best of both Green Day worlds: The energetic punk music of yore and the self examining lyrics abandoned until the latter days of “Wake Me Up When September Ends” and “Macy’s Day Parade” cheese, only this time the lyrics are placed in songs that come off like anthems with their candor.
Now, at a stretching-it sixteen tracks, Kerplunk
doesn’t make it to the finish without its fair share of weaker tunes, but there’s enough musical talent on the album to make up for the sometimes crude songwriting. Bassist Mike Dirnt and Tre connect throughout Kerplunk
to give many tunes intricacy and drive, a useful asset when Billie Joe’s songwriting suffers an occasional dip into mediocrity. Armstrong gets in on the act himself, playing some actual guitar solos, which incidentally disappeared at the same time the indie cred did. As a trio, Armstrong, Dirnt, and Cool have a noticeable amount of chemistry, most evident on Kerplunk
’s greatest track, “Welcome to Paradise”. Containing some of Dirnt’s best bass playing to date interlocked with Cool’s fury, “Welcome to Paradise” is driven mostly by the rhythm section, but Billie’s songwriting is able to match Mike and Tre’s intensity, sneering ”I wanna take you to a wasteland I like to call my home: Welcome to Paradise.”
Capping off with an intense climactic breakdown section, “Welcome To Paradise” is Green Day’s own mini-classic, hence it was given the glossy big-production treatment on Dookie
. Actually, “Welcome To Paradise” is a fair representation of what Kerplunk
shows Green Day as: a catchy, furious force that just needs that major-label production to make it digestible to the masses.
isn’t perfect (there’s a severe, almost laughable dip in quality when the needlessly attached Sweet Children EP comes up), but it doesn’t have to be. There’s enough underground allure here to make most of the faults in Kerplunk
forgivable and retain its status as an enjoyable record. The sound isn’t of a small band trying to make it big; it’s more of a band just being true to themselves. Towards the end of the album comes Billie’s songwriting apex on Kerplunk
. “Who Wrote Holden Caulfield” feels like Kerplunk
in two minutes and forty-four seconds; it’s catchy, fast, and anthem-like, as Billie cries “Was it just a dream that happened long ago? Oh well...Never mind”
, leading into one helluva chorus. Indubitably the real Holden Caulfield’s ego would be thrilled to have a song named after him, but he’d probably like this song, and Kerplunk
, too. It’s honest, real, and stripped of all the crap that came with Green Day’s name in later years. Maybe they should have stayed underground, if albums like Kerplunk
are the result. After all, as Billie Joe said, “A Working Class Hero is something to beer.”
2000 Light Years Away
Welcome To Paradise
Who Wrote Holden Caulfield