Review Summary: A formative album that sounds like a prototype for the next few. It shows promise, but it only just hints at the greatness of later albums.
Today, Green Day are one of the most hated bands among «real» music lovers. But what most of the detractors of American Idiot
– and also a vast majority of its defenders, present writer included – aren’t old enough to remember is that Green Day were once an up-and-coming band like any other. That’s right, before the concessions to radio airplay, before the eyeliner, the emo ballads and the conceptual albums, Green Day were just another melodi-core band with a street cred. The year was 1990, the place was Southern California, and Green Day were nothing but a trio of 18-year-olds trying to break through in a thriving hardcore scene. Back then, they had the support of Jesse Michaels (of Operation Ivy fame), who contributed the artwork for their first full-lenght album, 39/Smooth
. The band repaid by including a cover of Knowledge
in one of their multiple Ep’s of the time.
Both the artwork and the cover song are included on 1.039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours
, a re-release that comprises both their debut album and two of the aforementioned Ep’s, 10.000 Hours
, as well as a track from a Flipside compilation of the time. What we have in this 19-track opus is basically a formative version of what Green Day would later become. The trappings were all here – Mike Dirnt’s complex bass, Billie Joe’s trademark riffs and the poppy choruses – but there were still some adjustments to be made. Billie Joe, for example, sounds paradoxically more mature here than on any other release by the band, Kerplunk
included. His nasal tone was still developing, causing him to sound somewhat less shrill than usual. Furthermore, Tre Cool hadn’t yet entered the picture, and featured here is Green Day’s first drummer, John – unpronounceable surname – who even contributes with lyrics to one track, I Was There
. Sadly, he isn’t a patch on Tre Cool, which means the drum acrobactics of other Green Day CD’s are sorely missed here. Instead, John Whatsits prefers to keep a more straightforward beat, that ends up detracting from the songs themselves.
Not that the songs were overtly inspired to begin with. The album does start out with three strong tracks (paticularly At The Library
) but everything is quickly submerged in a sea of edgy riffs, mediocre drumming and over-repeated choruses. Every now and then, a gem arises – Going To Pasalacqua
is an excellent track worthy of Kerplunk
– but overall the first half of the album – Green Day’s debut proper – leaves something to be desired.
The real saving grace, then, is the second half, consisting of the two EP’s plus the compilation track. This, ironically, is where the best moments can be found. Even though these are tracks from three separate sources, they sound more like a whole than the first ten, and grace us with two of the best tracks here: 409 in you Coffemaker
(a track so mature in its composition that when I first heard it, separate from the album, I though it might be a latter-stage B-Side) and The One That I Want
, a perfect song to dedicate to the woman you love.
And speaking of love...Billie Joe shows throughout this album that he was a keen observant of human relationships, even this early in his career. An example" Well, I remember someone on this site complaining that some band had written a «scared virgin» ballad...well, In The Library
perfect virgin ballad. It’s about sitting in the library, seeing a pretty girl across the room and not being able to gather up the guts to go talk to her. A feeling I assume we’re all familiar with. Its chorus of «are you leaving soon"/I just need a little time»
, set to a quick, poppy backbeat rings true within us all. Another example is the – fairly weak – Green Day
(yes, they have an eponymous track), which does feel like a marijuana trip, with its whacky visions about «being in a field»
. And last, but not least. John’s lyrical contribution with I Was There
– a strangely melancholic lyric for ones so young.
Musically, the group also shows glimpses of good ideas, but these songs feel more like a prototype for those on Kerplunk
. For instance, 16
could just as well be called When I Come Around Part 1
, the intro riff is just so similar. Similarly, the similarities between Rest
, Christie Road
) and Pulling Teeth
) are hard to overlook. The second half of the album also shows something unheard-of in any Green Day album since: ripping surf-rock guitar solos! In fact, many of the songs from the EP’s (and The Judge’s Daughter
from the album itself) show that Billie Joe has some skills, a fact that could not have been ascertained from his ever-so-simple riffs and chord progressions. However, the album itself shows a clear abandoning of this particular element, which would only be recovered once or twice in Green Day’s subsequent career. A shame, really.
Interestingly, this is also the only Green Day album in which the constant comparisons to the Ramones make at least some
sense. In some of the most straightforward riffs, the simpler choruses and the most energetic songs, one may occasionally be reminded of Joey and Co, something that does not happen in other Green Day albums. However, 1.039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours
strays closer to bands such as Generation X (from 1977 – yay), Dag Nasty or – you guessed it – Operation Ivy. Soon, this band would make it bigger than any of those and lose all street credibility. This remains as a document of a more formative age, one of naïveté and teenage rebellion. Casual Green Day fans might be let down by it, but it remains, above all, one for the collectors and all those who, like me, share an interest in a band’s formative stages. There’s been much better debut albums, but there’s also been much worse ones.
At The Library
Going To Pasalacqua
409 in your Coffeemaker
The One I Want