Review Summary: The start of something brilliant.
It’s hard to believe that Green Day have been a band for twenty-seven years now. When Billie Joe and Mike, both fifteen at the time, formed Sweet Children all the way back in 1987, they had no idea that they would become one of the best-selling bands of all time and gain the amount of fans (and critics) they have today. But before they captured the hearts of pot-smoking punks, gained a second generation of fans and drew the ire of many for selling out, Green Day were a fresh young act trying to make it against other punk bands who were also just getting their careers started. 39/Smooth
was a relatively low-profile release back in the day – it was the debut album from a band no one had heard about previously. Nowadays, it’s out of print, replaced by the collection 1039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours
, but back in 1990, no one knew that Green Day would even make another album, much less achieve all they did.
If anything, 39/Smooth
absolutely feels like a band’s first effort. There’s no doubt that Billie, Mike, and then-drummer Al Sobrante were talented songwriters – from the melodic yet rough “I Was There” to the slab of early Green Day goodness that is “At the Library”, there’s plenty of moments on the album that display the band’s talents when they were just starting out. The hooks that Billie wrote on tracks like “Disappearing Boy” showcased some of his best pre-Dookie
songwriting, and their melodic tendencies balance out well with the album’s rough overall sound. 39/Smooth
was Green Day’s first (and last) album with original drummer Al Sobrante, and even though he was by no means ”bad”
at playing, he doesn’t come close to the standards set by Tré Cool. Many of his fills are rather basic, though, and the drums seem a bit more repetitive and bland than Tré’s.
Even though the album’s production sounds like it was made in Mike’s basement, that doesn’t necessarily detract from 39/Smooth
’s quality. In this case, the low-key production complements Billie’s melodic hooks flawlessly. Even though Kerplunk
would build upon the basic foundation of their debut, songs like “I Was There” utilize the blend between its rough sound and catchy choruses. The lack of polish never seemed to hurt Green Day – between the first two albums and Insomniac
, it only seemed to benefit them. After all, we all know what happened when too much production was applied. 39/Smooth
essentially laid the foundation for one of the best albums they made, as Kerplunk
saw them take the best things about their debut and improve on them even more.
had Green Day in their adolescence. Themes such as low self-esteem, teenage lust, not wanting to grow up and typical teen angst are explored but it makes sense considering how young the band was during their early days. Of course, there is the obligatory ode to smoking pot (it’s even the song that the band took their name from), and “I Was There”, penned by Sobrante, does delve into a bit more mature subject matter about looking back at life and past errors. Despite a few shaky lines, nothing comes close to the lyrical atrocities on ¡Uno!
– “The Judge’s Daughter”, although a bit saccharine, isn’t “Sex, Drugs & Violence”, and that’s about the highest compliment it’ll get.
Perhaps the greatest ailment that the album suffers from is that the whole thing ends up sounding similar towards its conclusion. 39/Smooth
’s mantra is fast, sloppy, melodic low-produced punk, and it suffers without some much-needed variation. When every song sounds the same, there’s a problem. This gives the record a very front-loaded feel, especially when it ends with some of its weakest songs. The only change of pace is the low-tempo snoozer “Rest”, which is hands down the album’s weakest track. Between Billie’s dragging out of every word to the monotonous instrumentation, it’s hard to find a song on the album that’s as grating as “Rest”. Hell, I’d even be inclined to say it ranks as one of the band’s worst songs in their entire career, right between “Oh Love” and “Last Night on Earth”.
There’s so many reasons why 39/Smooth
was the perfect debut for Green Day. It laid the foundation for them to keep on building upon their strengths, resulting in an impressive next three albums. It’s also a reasonably fine freshman effort that exposed a different side of the band before they sold millions of albums and became household names. As rough as its production may be, it gives the record a much more ‘rawer’ feel that recently benefited the demos from the trilogy sessions. Even if the instrumentation is a bit basic, Billie and Mike still show off their songwriting skills with melodic hooks amongst the sloppy, repetitive riffs. Sure, Kiffmeyer may not be all that great of a drummer, and maybe the whole album does
sound the same after a while, but these were flaws that would be soon be improved with the release of Kerplunk
. Through all its imperfections, 39/Smooth
still manages to be a fairly enjoyable listen while showing the world a side of Green Day that often gets tossed to the wayside.