Green Day – Dookie: Round 81, Nick’s choice

Green_Day_-_Dookie_coverI interpreted the theme as “wtf is this doing here?”, and decided that the pick had to be something both stylistically incongruous and without clear reason for existence in the collection. This ruled out lots of potentials: I know exactly why Sugababes albums are in the collection, for instance, and they’re not incongruous because I won several. Even the solitary and very incongruous Will Young album is there because of a fantabulous single that I just had to own (“Switch It On”). There are, of course, lots of records that I can’t remember why I bought them, but very few of them also seem incongruous stylistically (“let’s buy some more minimal faux-jazz/techno/whatever”).

Which left this, the third record by Green Day, which came out just before my 15th birthday and was gifted to me, by my older brother, shortly after that birthday, and which seems completely incongruous sitting in between Al Green and Grizzly Bear. 14 songs, 39 minutes, lyrical concerns as diverse and deep as masturbating and smoking pot. I listened to it intensely for a few months, and then put it away and got into other stuff that sounded nothing like this, and I haven’t listened to this in the intervening 20+ years.

I remember my friend Adam being very impressed by the drummer when I was a teenager, and not really understanding why: I recall being told many moons ago that playing music, like driving, was much easier to do quickly, and much harder to do slowly, so as fast as Tré Cool’s drumrolls were, they never really impressed. (Not playing an instrument, I dunno if that car analogy is true; it’s certainly more awkward to creep along on the clutch than it is to cruise at 55mph, though.)

Why this was in the collection I wasn’t sure; although I can remember its origin, I was sure I’d purged the copy my brother gave me aeons ago, but maybe the fact that it was a gift compelled me to hang on to it. I certainly never intended or expected to listen to it again.

Was it worth listening to again? Not really; I stopped identifying with it and finding it amusing within a few months when I was a teenager, and the intervening decades have done nothing to redress that chasm which opened up between who I thought I was and who this record seemed to be about and for. In my 30s Dookie sounds even more puerile and one-dimensional than it used to, even if that dimension is one of snottily good fun. My hobbies – bikes and boardgames and football and CDs – may still be adolescent to the core, but this wasn’t going to appeal even to a guilty-pleasure-centre in my brain. There are some nice melodies, but it is very, very samey, and tied strictly to an aesthetic that I never really liked anyway.

Green Day, it should be noted, have sold 75 million albums over the last 21 years. That’s seventy-five million. 75,000,000. More than the population of the United Kingdom. Wtf?

Rob listened: Nice to hear this on the same evening as Bob Mould. I liked ‘Basket Case’ when it came out but the rest of it seemed cookie-cutter and just uninteresting on some way. The music, the attitude, the performance all seem to have taken just half a step back from the point of being different, dangerous, enticing. Whereas Mould and Husker Du worked an arguably similar furrow (much earlier) they had edges and hooks and burrs and despair and fights and joy all of which allowed their songs to grow into my heart. Green Day seemed instead like something pre-packaged to pluck from a shelf I don’t need to visit any more.

Tom listened: Having never knowingly listened to Green Day before (unless they were the ones who did that Teenage Dirtbag song?) and having never felt the urge to, I came into Dookie with low expectations and a sinking heart. The dreadful album cover doesn’t help either!

It was alright I suppose.

But, as a result of losing my Green Day virginity, I am more confused than ever about music and my relationship with it, as in:

What were Green Day doing so right that they could sell millions and millions of records whilst countless other bands who sound similar (as in guitar based American indie) but better (Huskers, Replacements, Pixies, Buffalo Tom, Fugazi, Girls vs Boys) could only attract a fraction of their audience?

And what exactly were those other bands doing differently in terms of songwriting, musicianship and production that means they appeal to me so much whilst Green Day really don’t?

These are rhetorical questions!


The MC5 – Kick Out The Jams; round 20, Nick’s choice

When Tom said “bring something loud” I thought about some kind of clever definition of loud, and bringing a record of over-compressed ballads or mushed-up AOR or something, but only for a second. My second thought was to bring XTRMNTR by Primal Scream, but upon revisiting it revealed itself to be 24 seconds longer than our allowed album length of 60 minutes – given that I’ve broken the rules so often I thought I’d adhere to them for once, and look elsewhere. The raucous guitars and screaming, noise-descending chaos of XTRMNTR made me think of an older record, though, so I bypassed Fugazi and the recently-reformed At The Drive-In and went to the source – The MC5, and their legendary debut album, recorded live over two nights of Halloween weekend 1968 and Detroit’s Grande Ballroom, notorious for its guitars, energy, sermonising, and the profane introduction to the title track that got them dropped by Elektra.

I first bought Kick Out The Jams when I was about 17 or 18, and we played it for the first time at my friend Ben’s house. His dad had a big stereo, and we were astonished by the guitar sound, which was nothing like we’d heard from other 60s music before; it felt like the motherlode of alternative rock, grunge, punk, metal, anyone and everyone who’d tried to squeeze an amplified, distorted, excited squall of riffs out of a guitar. It was great.

Factor in the crazed sermonising (I’d not listened to Kick Out The Jams in years, but could still quote along with every word – “I wanna see a sea of hands!”; “Are you ready to testify? I give you a testimonial; The MC5!”; the infamous use of the word “m*th*r*ck*r”, etc etc), the crowd noise, the energy of the rhythm section, Rob Tyner’s squealing vocals to “Ramblin’ Rose” – at astonishing odds with his voice (assuming it’s him) giving introductory testimonial – and you’ve got a hell of a record. It’s mad to think that most of the band were only a couple of years older when they recorded it than I was when I first heard it (guitarist Wayne Kramer was only 20).

If I’m honest, it wanes a little bit after the first four songs, the tempos slow, the energy dips, and by the time Starship’s 8 minutes of Sun Ra-inspired explorations roll around I’m losing interest; Lester Bangs’ review of it for Rolling Stone was apparently unfavourable, describing it as “ridiculous, overbearing [and] pretentious”, and you can certainly see where he’s coming from during the dirgy “Borderline” and “Motor City is Burning”.

But those first four songs are still immense; the twin-guitar chaos of “Rocket Reducer No. 62 (Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa)”, the irresistible momentum and chaos of “Come Together”, the shock of “Ramblin’ Rose” and the fact that the title track somehow seems to embody the platonic essence of every piece of energised, loud guitar music ever made before or since…

Rob listened: The sound of religious fervour fired through with pure adrenalin. The first half of ‘Kick Out The Jams’ could serve as a one-shot tester for anyone who’s never heard rock and roll before. If you don’t get it after those first four tracks, you never will. Back to chamber music with you. If, however, the wave catches you, dive in. The waters are choppy, the currents dangerous, but there’s a hell of a time to be had. [File under both ‘mixed’ and ‘painfully over-extended’ metaphors].

Tom Listened: In contrast to Big Black, I fully expected to fall for Kick Out The Jams (and have almost bought it on many occasions in the past), but I just couldn’t get into it. Obviously close relatives to Iggy and The Stooges both geographically and sonically, on closer inspection I found little in common between our two offerings other than the fact they are both, indeed, LOUD. But whereas I love The Stooges pounding bass lines and grooviness I found KotJ to be too screechy for my taste and, whilst I’m sure that once you dig a bit there is treasure to be unearthed, I think the fact that Graham’s  reaction was positive upon also hearing this for the first time on the night suggests that, for me, this may be one of those records best left on the shelf.

Graham Listened: Whatever the secret recipe of rock might be, energy and madness must surely feature in the ingredients. Perhaps unfairly compared to Funhouse, I found far more of both in KotJ and it kept my attention longer. Maybe I could access this easier as buried in the madness there is some  guitar work and grooves  I could relate to Jimmy Page on early Led Zep stuff. All in all, wonderfully, “out-there man”!


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