As a millennial, I have to confess to a love for pop-punk, and for Green Day in particular. Like many people my age, I came to them because American Idiot was released right at that crucial middle school stage in my musical development, and it blew my mind—never had I heard the f-word so many times on an album, and never had I heard music played with such intensity and attitude.
American Idiot is still a good and important album, and I’ll defend it to the death despite the hipster backlash (yes, even in my middle school), But it’s not my favorite by Green Day. Enter Nimrod.
Recorded in 1997, Nimrod has the seeds of the band that would mature into American Idiot-era Green Day. Here, the band largely shed the more repetitive three-chord Hüsker Dü-influenced grind of their previous albums for a sound that’s more diverse, more literate, and more exciting.
I suppose the inevitable illustration here is the mega-hit “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life),” which is now ubiquitous enough to have both a Muzak and a Glee version. But it’s a nice case in point—a stripped-back acoustic ballad with a string section isn’t the type of thing that most people think Green Day is capable of. It’s a far cry from “Basket Case.”
Despite the overwhelming presence of “Good Riddance,” there’s stylistic diversity all over this album. Take the song directly preceding it, “King For A Day,” which is a ska song about experimenting with drag and includes a middle eight dominated by muted trumpets (at 1:41).
But a lot of the innovation on the album is a little muted. New textures crop up even in classic power-chord slammers, like the gypsy-tinged violin on “Hitchin’ A Ride,” or the surprisingly deft harmonica playing on “Walking Alone.” These experiments with instrumentation rather than genre pastiche strengthen the songs in a way that no amount of guitar solos or shout-along choruses could.
This musical maturity thankfully doesn’t dominate the whole album, and some of my favorite tracks on the record are the ones where Green Day is at its most juvenile. “The Grouch’s” profane chorus and bitter take on aging (“I was a young boy that had big plans/now I’m just another shitty old man”) always puts a smile on my face, particularly when I’m feeling contrary. “Jinx” is Green Day distilled into a 2:13 package, with big guitars and lyrics about messing up again and again, and I don’t think it’s any accident that the end of the track fades into the start of my favorite track on the album—and one of my favorite Green Day song of all time—“Haushinka.”
Perhaps it’s the contrast with the straightforward “Jinx,” that makes “Haushinka” sound rich, layered, and complex. It’s also—dare I say—anthemic, with its rubato opening before it locks down into the normal chugging guitars. Drummer Tré Cool puts in a particularly good performance here—he’s in the pocket, and his syncopated drum fills add a nice variety to the song when the guitar gets a little repetitive. It’s here that Green Day sounds at their most fully developed and most fully realized—a nuanced sound that doesn’t sacrifice their bombast or their intensity but employs something a little more than your run-of-the-mill punk-pop power trio.
For better or for worse, Nimrod was the start of something new for Green Day. It’s at times an inconsistent album, but the slightly scatter-shot quality is what makes it an interesting listen. It’s the sound of a band experimenting, trying to get the sound in their heads onto a disc, and it’s an exciting process to hear.