Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Green Day

  • 1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours [Lookout, 1990] Dud
  • Kerplunk! [Lookout, 1992] **
  • Dookie [Reprise, 1994] A-
  • Insomniac [Reprise, 1995] A-
  • Nimrod [Reprise, 1997] **
  • Warning [Reprise, 2000] A-
  • American Idiot [Reprise, 2004] C+
  • 21st Century Breakdown [Reprise, 2009] C

Consumer Guide Reviews:

1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours [Lookout, 1990] Dud

Kerplunk! [Lookout, 1992]
beats masturbating ("One for the Razorbacks," "2000 Light Years Away") **

Dookie [Reprise, 1994]
For accuracy's sake, I should note that you haven't exactly heard it all before--the drums are punchier, the structures trickier. But insofar as you have, that's the point: punk lives, and these guys have the toons and sass to prove it to those who can live without. Before they start to wear down, they've done their bit for apathy, insanity, voluntary poverty, and the un-American way. A-

Insomniac [Reprise, 1995]
Billie Joe has an instinctive hold on the rock and roll virtue of sounding like you mean--his songs conceptualize his natural whine with a musicality that undercuts his defeatism only don't be so sure. "I'm a smart-ass but I'm playing dumb": eight million sold and all he admits to knowing is the futility of Telegraph Avenue losers who dis the rich occasionally and each other all the time. How he'll feel when this one doesn't sell two million we should all want to know. A-

Nimrod [Reprise, 1997]
punks can age gracefully, but for whiners it's hard ("The Grouch," "Walking Alone") **

Warning [Reprise, 2000]
What's going on with Billie Joe is less maturity than the really boring stuff--professionalism, craft, artistic growth. He's abandoning the first person. He's assuming fictional personas. And he's creating for himself the voice of a thinking left-liberal who "want[s] to be the minority" and cautions against caution itself--a voice that scolds rather than whines, a nice age-appropriate shift. Crucially, his knack for simple punk tunes remains unchanged; also crucially, these do fine at moderate tempos, and one even gives off a whiff of Brecht-Weill. There are worse ways to come down off a multiplatinum high--lots of them. A-

American Idiot [Reprise, 2004]
If you're wondering what this concept album means, don't labor over the lyric booklet. As Billie Joe knows even if he doesn't come out and say it--he doesn't come out and say lots of obvious stuff--this is a visual culture. So examine the cover. That red grenade in the upraised fist? It's also a heart--a bleeding heart. Which he heaves as if it'll explode, only it won't, because he doesn't have what it takes to pull the pin. The emotional travails of two clueless punks--one passive, one aggressive, both projections of the auteur--stand in for the sociopolitical content that the vague references to Bush, Schwarzenegger, and war (not any special war, just war) are thought to indicate. There's no economics, no race, hardly any compassion. Joe name-checks America as if his hometown of Berkeley was in the middle of it, then name-checks Jesus as if he's never met anyone who's attended church. And to lend his maunderings rock grandeur, he ties them together with devices that sunk under their own weight back when the Who invented them. Sole rhetorical coup: makes being called a "faggot" something to aspire to, which in this terrible time it is. C+

21st Century Breakdown [Reprise, 2009]
I tried, I swear. Played it over and over so the music would sink in before I assessed a concept unlikely to prove profound. That way I could give it up to individual tracks whatever the state of Billie Joe Armstrong's geopolitical acumen. But all this did was convince me that I disliked the tunes I remembered even more than those I didn't--especially the slow ones that set up the fast ones within the same song, a hotcha-gotcha device with which the Broadway-bound ex-punk is deeply smitten. I don't like right-wing Christianists either. But as every oppressed teen in the right-wing orbit knows full well, they're not as garbled and simplistic as Armstrong's anthems insist. C