Review Summary: An uniquely incongruous step towards maturity from a young band in the verge of a breakthrough.
For most serious music fans, formative albums are one of the most interesting aspects of fandom. There is nothing quite like discovering what one’s favourite band sounded like before they became known, when the only difference between them and the 15-year-olds in the garage three doors down was some sort of (often quite minor) record deal. Examples are countless, and one needs look no further than Sepultura’s Morbid Visions/Eternal Devastation
, Megadeth’s Killing Is My Business...And Business Is Good
, or Slipknot’s legendary MFKR
demo for examples.
To this list, one should also add Green Day’s pre-fame output, consisting of numerous EPs and two full-length releases, and culminating in 1992’s Kerplunk
. Two years after this indie-label-budget-production-sparse-artwork release, the band would put out their magnum opus, Dookie
, and go on to become one of the most divisive bands in the modern rock scene. This vibrant, endearingly raw recording therefore constitutes the final glimpse of Green Day as an underground band – and that alone would be enough to make it an item of interest to underground fans. Fortunately, however, there is more to Kerplunk
than just historical significance, and the album effectively represents a step up from everything that preceded it.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Green Day’s sophomore release is just how experimental it is. Not yet being a household name, even within the Berkeley melodi-core scene, Green Day must have felt like they had nothing to lose, and this album incorporates more outside influences than any other in the band’s discography, bar perhaps Nimrod
. Unlike on that turgid offering, however, the attempts at experimentation on here actually work, and make for the most interesting songs of the album.
In fact, a couple of spins of this 12-songs-plus-bonus-tracks release will reveal a peculiar trend, whereby the most typically Green Day-esque songs are also the least interesting ones. With the exception of One Of My Lies
– an irrepressible explosion of youthful punk-pop – the more ‘traditional’ half of this album veers between the passably bland – Private Ale, Who Wrote Holden Caulfield
– and the unabashedly fillerish (the sequence of 80
is particularly notorious in this regard). There is also an early version of Welcome To Paradise
, which is sadly not a patch on its stellar Dookie
The added CD-and-cassette tracks, taken from the band’s sole release as Sweet Children, continue this trend, with the vivacious eponymous track and unassuming cover of My Generation
standing in stark contrast to the faceless Strangeland
, perhaps the worst track on the extended version of the album.
In direct opposition to these tracks, the more ‘experimental’ songs on this album invariably yield something of interest to the listener – whether it be the surprising maturity of the melancholy No One Knows
(perhaps the best composition of the band’s pre-fame career), the Nirvanesque riff at the end of Christie Road
, the tongue-in-cheek humour of country pastiche Dominated Love Slave
, the throwback to the first album on One For The Razorbacks
or the acoustic surprise of Words I Might Have Ate
. When added to a couple of more traditional, but equally as captivating, songs – Sweet Children
, opener 2000 Lightyears Away
– this portion of the album is enough to warrant it a listen.
Lyrics-wise, the situation is somewhat similar. While most of this album’s poems still deal with Billie Joe Armstrong’s unusually observant take on inter-gender relationships, one is surprised here and there by surprisingly mature musings about the need for integration (Christie Road
) or the inevitable melancholy of growing old (on No One Knows
). That a lyric like ”I see my friends begin to age/a short countdown to their end”
should be found in an album penned by 19-year-olds is surprising; that it is included in the same album as the pubescent S&M ribbing of Dominated Love Slave
, positively incongruous.
And yet, it is on this incongruence that Kerplunk
thrives; and, in that regard, it is like no other album in the Green Day discography. Nimrod
may be more experimental, American Idiot
more ambitious, and Dookie
stronger overall, but the unique mixture of youthful energy and serious attempts at branching out is what gives Kerplunk
its own, very distinctive identity, making it one of the worthier listens in the Green Day back catalogue.
Dominated Love Slave
One Of My Lies
No One Knows