It has been some twenty-six years since Green Day came to fruition. Few modern bands are capable of extending their careers a few years; let alone nearly three decades. Their latest album, Revolution Radio, is politically-charged and angry – inspired by everything from Trumpism and gun violence – and harks back to the glory days of American Idiot. Perhaps not as epic and consistent as that album: Green Day have learnt their fans and public prefer them when turning up the volume and addressing the state of the modern world. Few bands have such a legacy and varied career, so in that vein, The Metropolist looks at the back catalogue of one of the world’s finest-ever groups. Revolution Radio is a typically bold and defiant affair – see our rankings and discover where it sits in the pack – and suggests Green Day have plenty more life in them.
#12 – 39/Smooth (1990)
As is familiar to many soon-to-be-great band: the debut offering shows promise but does not scale the heights of their finest offerings. Released in 1990 – and the only album to feature original drummer John Kiffmeyer – 39/Smooth went out of print – but later re-released. Although critical reviews were not overwhelming by any means: there are some highlights and promising tracks to be found. At the Library and Don’t Leave Me contained the sort of insatiable hum that would define later albums; the band are raw, Punk and attacking throughout and the production values are actually quite impressive – many of their contemporaries’ approach was rather Spartan and underwhelming when it comes to this side of things. Not the finest Green Day album: the lack of experience and eagerness-to-release perhaps hampered the overall quality. Perhaps some more time and outside influence could have moulded a sturdier and less filler-full album. As it stands, 39/Smooth is the sound of a band finding their feet and laying the groundwork.
#11 – ¡Tré! (2012)
The final part of their ambitious, if a little bloated, trilogy of 2012 albums: ¡Tré! Whereas its predecessors addressed power-pop and garage: here there was a suggestion of classic/stadium rock and three-chord jams. The last album to feature Jason White as a permanent member – he would become a touring-only member thereafter – it divided critics and suffered from some early-career Green Day issues. Maybe a little rushed – recorded in a few months – there is a lot of filler and some odd sonic asides. Too experimental; and throwaway in places: Green Day are loose and pop-infused throughout; not as hard and exhilarating as one would hope. It is debatable which of the trilogy’s albums is the best (or worse), yet ¡Tré! Feels lacking and in need of trimming. The band wanted to create something epic and career-defining – with regards the trilogy – and were in rare creative. If ideas were flowing and the chemistry was at its peak: perhaps the energy and excitement led to some unwise decisions. Like many of their lesser-heralded albums: there is plenty to enjoy throughout ¡Tré! It is a record that effortlessly switches between accelerated and restrained; taking in pop and punk and proving Green Day are still capable of bringing the goods – twenty-two years after their debut was released to the world.
#10 – Kerplunk (1992)
Following on from 39/Smooth and its rather mediocre introduction to the music world: Green Day not only crafted a more compelling album but brought drummer Tré Cool to the band. The promotion and premiere for Kerplunk was a rather honest and local affair. The group debuted the album to fans in the Berkley area – which received warm feedback – before heading east. Having gained approval from the hard-to-please 924 Gilman Street crowd; the move eastwards paid off and Green Day found themselves hyped and celebrated enormously. Kerplunk found record labels approach the band and – bolstered by 50,000 sales – they eventually signed to Reprise Records. With Reprise, the band would go to make Dookie (one of their finest albums) and Kerplunk is a fascinating glimpse into the transition period – where the guys would go from promising to superstardom. Kerplunk boasts more variation and instantaneousness than their debut: a more solid, better-produced album that, to some at least, is seen as slightly inferior to Dookie – quite a claim for a group that were still in their infancy. Kerplunk is not quite up to those claims but is a huge leap from their debut and is a fascinating and incredible record from a band that were really starting to capture the public imagination.
#9 – ¡Dos! (2012)
The tenth studio album and second part of the trilogy: this was Green Day embracing garage rock and counterbalancing the pop flavours of its predecessor. Not quite as reflective and more spirited than ¡Uno!; a high-octane album that resonated with existing fans and brought in new followers. Perfect for sound-tracking a late-night party or a high-wired drive: more nuanced and authoritative than a lot of material on their trilogy series. Not quite flawless – filler material and some cutting room material sneaking in – but, by and large, it finds Green Day focused and in charge. Perhaps prefacing Billie Joe Armstrong’s much-publicised breakdown: some songs see the band coming off the rails and losing a bit of focus. If you dig deep, you’ll discover a record packed with variety and incredible ambition.
#8 – ¡Uno! (2012)
It was February 2012 that Billie Joe Armstrong announced the band were in the studio recording material for a new album – one that would turn into three. Feeling the energy and vibrancy running through the band – the most pumped and ready they had ever been – ¡Uno! Is a dozen-strong set of pumped-up tracks that is lighter and more accessible than their previous two albums. Not laden with the dread and anxiety of 21st Century Breakdown: many critics were relieved to see Green Day go back to the high-energy youthfulness of Dookie and Nimrod. Not a complete return to their slacker roots: ¡Uno! did provide a momentary glimpse of what (Green Day) were. Simpler, more direct lyrics – contrasting the high-concept tales of 21 Century Breakdown – everything (on ¡Uno!) was stripped-down, more fun and energised. Green Day came hard out of the blocks, and whilst the trilogy had plenty of weak moments, the first album was the strongest – fewer bad moments and the band promising throughout.
#7 – Warning (2000)
By the turn of the century, Green Day were starting to mature and look in new directions for their sound. Warning is an album that does not possess quite the same intent and pusillanimous attack as previous offerings. Bringing acoustic and folk elements into the music: it subverted expectations following the runaway success of Nimrod (1997). Perhaps more optimistic and hopeful than records like Nimrod: this departure and about-face surprised many and did cause division among critics. With this newly-discovered maturity came the same peppiness and energy that had always been in the band’s arsenal. Slicker and more consistent than a lot of their past work: Armstrong’s lyrics were praised heavily whilst Green Day were commended for fully embracing pop – something they hinted at earlier in their careers. Perhaps more coherent and consistent than Nimrod: rebellion and anger still found its way into a largely-composed affair. Inspired by artists like Bob Dylan and The Beatles – Rubber Soul was mentioned as a comparable piece – there was a sense of over-production; that does not dampen the sense of growth and quality you find throughout Warning.
#6 – 21st Century Breakdown (2009)
Green Day’s eighth album arrived four years after American Idiot: both L.P.s have political ambitions and deal with anger and disgust. Less focused and spellbinding than American Idiot: the rock opera arc remains and saw Butch Vig drafted as producer. Because of Vig’s influence – having produced Nirvana in the past – 21st Century Breakdown is a tougher, snarling beast (than a lot of their work). Forty-five songs were written by Armstrong and the band commended recording during January 2008 – a couple of years after Armstrong’s created the initial germs. Seeing the album as a “snapshot of the era in which we live as we question and try to make sense of the selfish manipulation going on around us, whether it be the government, religion, media or frankly any form of authority“; politically-motivated anger and alienation surfaced in many of the songs – notably the singles Know Your Enemy and 21 Guns. Never jingoistic and sloganeering: 21st Century Breakdown drew favourable comparisons to Bruce Springsteen’s finest work; literary nods to Chuck Palahniuk and classic bands – a compression of The Who, The Clash and Springsteen. Armstrong’s lyrics address the problems in U.S. society and the desires of the electorate; the struggle and anger that pervades – perfectly capturing the feelings of many across the nation. In terms of detraction; some critics found little of American Idiot’s humour and charterer but they are small criticisms of a solid and assured album.
#5 – Revolution Radio (2016)
The reviews are still coming in and dust settling on Revolution Radio’s arrival. Fresh in the mind and causing much chatter – another stunning album from a band that felt the need to prove themselves. After the mediocre response to their 2012 trilogy: Revolution Radio is a return to the focused, punk-laden political urgency that defined 21st Century Breakdown and American Idiot. As such, many have been captivated by the sound of a band who are as angry and relevant as they were in the ‘90s. Perhaps compelled by the rise of Donald Trump and gun violence on the rise: Revolution Radio asks the listener to rise up and take action; there is the consensus change needs to happen and America is in a bad state. This might not be a new revelation but (Revolution Radio) sounds as necessary and vital as any album released this year. All the time mass shootings and political evil rear its head; songs like Bang Bang and Troubled Times will resonate. Leaner, more concentrated and more essential than anything they have created since 2004 (debatably): Revolution Radio is one of the world’s musical titans reclaiming their position in the spotlight and representation the disenfranchised voice of America.
#4 – Insomniac (1995)
Perhaps an album that most people overlook and do not associate with Green Day. It is not one of the big-hitters but the work of a band hitting their stride and has enjoyed retrospective success. It has been certified two-times platinum and, although it did not hit the sales figures of Dookie, it is a wonderful record. Darker, harder and more aggressive than Dookie: over two-million copies were sold in spite of the relative lack of airplay. Immediate, bracing and sizzling with punk energy: Armstrong not changing his lyrics (having become a father) and keeping things pure and consistent. Rallying against authority figures and the tried-and-tested Green Day templates – an album that resonated with fans. Whereas contemporaries were embracing new sound and genres: Green Day sounded like they did on their debut – albeit with darker edges and less humour. That is not to say Insomniac is a failure: it is a strong and impressive album that proved they were one of the most assured and solid bands in the music world. Instantaneous gems like Lost Cause are only the start of things: dig deep and you will find plenty of nuance, quality and reliable Green Day excellence.
#3 – Nimrod (1997)
If tracks like Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) have been endlessly played on radio: Nimrod packs plenty more hits and worthy moments. After their European tour was cancelled – following the release of Insomniac – Green Day headed back into the studio with the intention of recording some new songs – never intending to create an album. At eighteen tracks; many might find it a bit galling and intimidating. Armstrong’s knack for hooks and the band’s breathless delivery means the songs fly by – making sure there is enough melody and tenderness to boot. It is that blend of direct and romantic that gives the album such depth and colour. Elements lacking on Insomniac – depth and a sense of relief – are found here and Nimrod is Green Day ready and primed for arenas – an album that shows they are capable of holding audiences of thousands in their palms. The entire band sound tighter and more compelling than their earliest work – bigger hooks and singalong choruses throughout.
#2 – Dookie (1994)
It is incredible the reaction Dookie received considering it was the band’s third album. The first collaboration with producer Rob Cavallo: Dookie charted in seven countries and was a worldwide success. Not only were Green Day thrust into the limelight: they helped promulgate and proffer the punk genre for a new generation. Singles Longview and Basket Case certainty played their part in that success – songs that featured heavily on radio stations’ lists. Scooping the Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album in 1995; ranked 193 in Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 best albums – it remains the band’s best-selling album. Dookie seemed to define the 1990s and has aged incredibly well. Peers and contemporaries tried (in vain) to emulate and top the album – few bands have come close to topping Dookie. With songs addressing apathy and teenage tantrums – Green Day made the subjects sound funny, fresh and essential. Insomniac was Green Day unveiling their anger at critics who dismissed them as punk pretenders. They need not have worried as Dookie has outlived the critics and rightly regarded as a near-masterpiece.
#1 – American Idiot (2004)
Many would dispute the first-placed choice, but for me, there could be no other. American Idiot was the summation of Green Day’s threads and powers – their political ambitions and anger; variation and melody; kinetic energy and tightness. Warning received disappointing sales figures so the band rethought things and decided to pen a punk rock opera. Jesus of Suburbia is the adolescent anti-hero and takes the listener into songs of disillusionment and dissent. The Iraq War and U.S. politics are covered: an album of the times and one that was celebrated and championed. Muscular songs and focus, intelligent songwriting moved Green Day away from Warning’s wistfulness and pop sounds to something more anxious and affected. It is hard to highlight any weak songs on the album: everything is so well constructed and tight. Many critics labelled the album a mess but that is incredibly harsh. Perhaps some songs did not shine as bright but American Idiot is a stunning and brave work. If there is one fault that can be levied at it; it is that (the album) is ahead of its time. In a time whether Trump threatens to enter the White House – American Idiot seems like the soundtrack of a fearful and angry opposition.