Kerplunk

It’s 1992. The Seattle grunge movement is in full swing, George Bush, Sr., is leaving office, the East Bay punk scene is burgeoning, and a group of 20-year-olds who like pot and playing punk rock have released their second full-length album. Think of it this way: you know Dookie? American Idiot? 21st Century Breakdown? Well, Kerplunk is the album that started all of that; without it, we probably never would have heard that famous, acid-inspired bass line on “Longview” or the epic 9-minute length of “Jesus of Suburbia.” The quality of this album is what ensured that Green Day could sign to a major label (angering several thousand “hardcore” fans in the process) and go on to be the stadium-filling, chart-topping band they are today. Kerplunk has everything that’s good about the Berkeley trio’s major-label blockbuster Dookie and even more besides, and continues everything that’s good about their previous releases. You want amazing drumming and the best bassing this side of Insomniac? You got it. You want guitar hooks that rival “American Idiot” and “East Jesus Nowhere” for pure catchiness? You got them, too. What about lyrics that show the thoughtful, creative side of… California stoners? Well, here they are.

In short, Kerplunk is a perfect slice of pop-infused punk rock. From the “big surprise” on “One for the Razorbacks” to “Android”‘s recognizable fear of growing old, you’ll undoubtedly find something to like here if you’ve ever liked anything by Green Day (well, maybe not if you like “Last Night on Earth”… blegh). Say, you liked “Welcome to Paradise” from Dookie? Check out its original version here, the best track among many great ones; if any one track sold the album, it was that one. Hah, so “All By Myself” was your cup of tea? Well, Tre Cool made his singing debut here with the hilarious “Dominated Love Slave”. Even the freakish drop in quality when the attached Sweet Children EP kicks in at track 13 is forgivable… I mean, Minneapolis? Hüsker Dü or The Replacements probably came back to sabotage the recording anyway. Just kidding.

So, into the murky depths of the track-by-track we go. Each song’s review also includes a letter grade for it, and a few lines of lyrics that I think are the best in the song (usually the chorus) or represent the song well overall. This is my first review of anything other than a Harry Potter book (and, c’mon, I was 12), so go easy on me. Hey, maybe you’ll even want to buy this album after reading it. Anything’s possible, right?

Green Day — Kerplunk: Track-by-track review

1. “2000 Light Years Away”
Green Day’s second full-length album gets off to an excellent start with a relatively fast-tempo burst of romantic pop punk, written by Billie Joe Armstrong about his future wife. The song starts off with a simple but extraordinarily catchy guitar riff (this album is chock-full of them), leading into Armstrong’s forgivably whiny vocals, with some surprisingly good lyrics that set the standard for the rest of the album’s songwriting. Tre Cool’s drumming is excellent throughout, and combines with the also-excellent bass of Mike Dirnt in the bridge to create the rhythm section that is a signature of ‘90s Green Day. “2,000 Light Years Away” is not Kerplunk’s best song, but this doesn’t mean it isn’t great anyway; this song is a good opener and easily captures the fun but thoughtful attitude of the album. Rating: A-

“I sit all alone in my bedroom
Staring at the walls
I’ve been up all damn night long…”

2. “One For The Razorbacks”
This is the type of song that you will probably overlook in your first listen of Kerplunk. However, if you, like me, find yourself listening to the album more than once, “One for the Razorbacks” will most likely become a standout before long. The song begins with an excellent melody of bass and fast-picked guitar chords before climaxing with drum beat that leads into the first verse. The guitar provides a good rhythm during the verses and chorus, but is nothing special; however, the catchy and melodic (if, again, a bit whiny) singing and great lyrics, telling the tale of a disillusioned girl named Juliet, will have you humming this song over and over again. And this isn’t even the best part; no, after a brace of verses and choruses comes the last vestige of Billie Joe Armstrong’s uncharacteristically awesome skills with the fretboard on 1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours—a breakneck, insanely catchy 20-second guitar solo. Rating: A

“‘Cause I’m losing what’s left of my dignity
A small price I’ll pay to see that you’re happy
Forget all the disappointments you have faced
Open up your worried world and let me in!”

3. “Welcome To Paradise”
And here we are, folks: My personal favorite Green Day song. Like most of you, probably, I first heard this song on Dookie. The two versions are quite different, but just about equally as good; the Kerplunk version has a rawer sound to the guitar (which may or may not be preferable to the later version’s faster, but dryer and more “radio friendly,” sound), while the bass is more prominent and the singing a bit whinier and less aggressive. The guitar riff is instantly memorable—it was the first thing I ever learned to play—and Tre Cool’s drumming is perhaps at its best here. Like on “2,000 Light Years Away,” Mike Dirnt shines in a bass solo during the breakdown, combining with Cool’s drums and a scratchy, palm muted guitar riff to deliver a satisfying buildup to the song’s third verse. Of all the excellent songs on this album, “Welcome to Paradise” is undoubtedly the best. The lyrics speak of Armstrong’s life away from his parents’ home, living in an Oakland warehouse; it’s a slightly dark but amazingly fun song to listen to, and perfectly represents everything good about Kerplunk. Rating: A+

“Pay attention to the cracked streets and the broken homes
Some call it slums, some call it nice…
I wanna take you through a wasteland I like to call my home
Welcome to paradise!”

4. “Christie Road”
The fourth song on the album opens with a few quick hits on Tre Cool’s drums and a slow, chugging guitar riff that reflects, to some degree, the interesting combination of metal, grunge and punk rock guitar sound on 1,039…. Billie Joe Armstrong’s lyrics are top-notch on “Christie Road,” describing his frequent teenage escapes to a nearby railroad line to smoke and “kill some time.” The singing also is above-average here, and mostly avoids the whininess that sometimes detracts from other songs on the record (ignore an annoying voice crack in the second verse and you’ll be good to go); the singing in the chorus is especially good. The ending has the guitar move into a quick, higher-pitched riff, which sounds good but also a bit ill-matched with the final sung lines of the song. Overall, “Christie Road” is a very nice song, but except for the stellar vocals in the chorus, it lacks a feature that makes it really stand out, and doesn’t quite capture the pure catchiness of other Kerplunk songs. This song would probably be excellent acoustic. Rating: A-

“Give me something to do to kill some time
Take me to that place that I call home
Take away the strains of being lonely
Take me to the tracks at Christie Road!”

5. “Private Ale”
A faster, more intense chugging guitar riff starts off “Private Ale,” the next in the series of kick-@$$ songs that make up the first third of Kerplunk. A lead guitar shows up briefly but drops out immediately, a bit of a disappointment. You’ll notice that the lyrics in the verses are essentially the same, except for the first line, but this is compensated by some excellent, angry singing from Billie Joe Armstrong and a chorus which rivals that of “One for the Razorbacks” for catchiness, backed up by furiously pounding guitar chords. Tre Cool once more shows his utility to the band, keeping up the rhythm and providing lots of little drum fills. Though it lacks a rhythm section or bass solo, “Private Ale” showcases a great feature of Kerplunk: Mike Dirnt’s bass is still audible basically all the time. Like the best songs on this album, “Private Ale” is simple and catchy. Oh, and it has a strange, hilarious bridge (think “drill sergeant with distortion”).
Rating: A-/A

“Because I feel so right
Let my imagination go
Until you’re in my sights
And through my veins temptation flows!
Whoa-oh
Out here…”

6. “Dominated Love Slave”
A joke track that I’m not going to rate. “Dominated Love Slave” features Tre Cool singing and playing guitar for the first time on a Green Day album, and has hilarious lyrics about bondage and masochism made even funnier by Tre’s country-parody singing and some weird background noises. Okay, fine, if I had to rate it: B+

“Want you to slap me and call me naughty
Put a belt sander against my skin!
I wanna feel pain all over my body
Can’t wait to be punished for my sins!”

“Dominated Love Slave” is not exactly the best Tre song, but it fits the album. by KreyzMcKormik (0)

7. “One Of My Lies”
“One of My Lies” has grown on me quite a bit; I previously dismissed it as just filler, but now I see it as a pretty good pop-punk song despite still considering it to be among the “worst” on this album. The singing is my main complaint in this song; the chorus is excellent, just like ALL of this album’s choruses, but the verses suffer from a sense of disorganization and wordiness, while Billie Joe’s characteristic whine is annoying rather than endearing. Still, the guitar on “One of My Lies” is crisp and excellent, and Mike Dirnt’s bass provides some nice fills and good rhythm, while the lyrics manage to show some developing maturity among cries of “And all I want to do is get real high!” Rating: B

“I used to pray at night
Before I laid myself down
My mother said it was right
Her mother said it too
Why?”

8. “80”
Wow, look at that. “80” is the 8th track on this album! A-hem. Anyway, “80” isn’t significantly better than “One of My Lies,” making this part of the album the part to skip if you have to. Again, it is by no means a bad song, and provides a nice slowdown å la “Christie Road,” with tongue-in-cheek lyrics about Billie Joe Armstrong’s future wife Adrienne, who he nicknamed “Aidy”—also the subject of “2,000 Light Years Away.” However, it lacks that song’s charm, and the juicy, vaguely grunge-like guitar sounds a bit uninspired this time around. Billie Joe’s singing is less interesting than on other songs on the album, and though the chorus is nice, it seems to drag on for a bit too long, and the song as a whole seems like it could be cut down by a good thirty or forty seconds (it’s the longest on the record, tied with “No One Knows”). “80” is not a bad song, but is probably the one you should skip, if you do skip any of Kerplunk’s gems (the Sweet Children EP tracks notwithstanding—see below). Rating: B-/B

“I do not mind if this goes on
‘Cause now it seems I’m too far gone
I must admit that I enjoy myself
80, please keep taking me away.”

9. “Android”
After a few solid but relatively average tracks, “Android” livens things up again, beginning with an instantly catchy riff (think “Welcome to Paradise” but with a thicker sound). The lyrics funnily and perfectly capture a teenager’s uncertainty about his future and fear of old age, as Armstrong sings about seeing an “old man in woman’s shoes” and wondering about his past. Tre Cool has several drum mini-solos, alternating well with the guitar’s riffing and palm-muted rhythm. Every element of the band blends excellently on “Android,” with Mike Dirnt’s bass meandering along in the bridge (which, like that of “Private Ale,” is hilarious—this time, think “lazy old man + fart noises”), and his backing vocals supporting Armstrong’s in the song’s melodic conclusion, before Tre’s drums and the guitar riff kick in again to finish it. “Android” is another song that has in it everything that is good about Kerplunk, and only “Welcome to Paradise” really surpasses it for pure memorability and display of Green Day’s songwriting skill.
Rating: A

“It seems so frightening
Time passes by like lightening
Before you know it you’re struck down
I always waste my time on
My chemical emotions
It keeps my head spinning around!
Waste away…”

10. “No One Knows”
Easily the slowest song on Kerplunk, “No One Knows” continues the pattern of excellent bassing with a long, haunting intro by Mike Dirnt. The guitar is absolutely unremarkable when it comes in (it’s just three or four palm-muted power chords with only the barest of rhythm, though it picks up a bit on the chorus with the album’s characteristic grunge-like sound), but the great bassing is complemented by the most mature-sounding vocals on the album, worthy of those of Warning. The lyrics again speak of growing up, but this time in relation to the subject’s friends—after all, anyone’s late teens are rife with uncertainty and the capricious nature of friends… and I speak from experience. “No One Knows” is equally as long as “80,” and to some degree it suffers from the same problem of dragging on. However, the bass intro and the singing are enough to sustain the song and make it interesting throughout, so you’ll likely have no problem keeping it on through it’s final chorus (which ranks among the best on this album of excellent choruses). Rating: A-

“Call me irresponsible
Call me habitual
But when you think of me
Do you fill your head with schemes?
Better think again ‘cause no one knows.”

11. “Who Wrote Holden Caulfield?”
As the title indicates, the eleventh song on Kerplunk is about The Catcher in the Rye, Billie Joe Armstrong’s favorite book. It deals with the same sort of coming-of-age issues found in both that book and on many of the other songs on this album, and is, unfortunately, the last truly excellent song here. The album’s characteristically raw guitar sound is prominent here, at its best despite lacking the instantly memorable riffs of “Welcome to Paradise” or “Android.” Mike Dirnt’s bass is less of a part of this song than it is of “No One Knows,” but still continues Kerplunk’s excellent practice of leaving it audible beneath the electric guitar, and Tre Cool again delivers a solid performance on the drums. Billie Joe’s vocals are top-notch again; though lacking the maturity of those of “No One Knows,” they are well suited to this song and sound genuine and honest, switching well between the slower verses and yelled chorus. The chorus is, once again, very good, though its repetition at the end of the song can be a little bit wearing. Rating: A-

“Well I say there’s a boy who fogs his world and now he’s getting lazy
There’s no motivation and frustration makes him crazy
He makes a plan to take a stand but always ends up sitting
Someone help him up or he is gonna end up quitting!”

12. “Words I Might Have Ate”
The first entirely acoustic Green Day song (uh, maybe the only acoustic one, period, besides their cover of Operation Ivy’s “Knowledge”) is somewhat of a disappointment, not reaching the quality of “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” or even “Macy’s Day Parade.” No, this is not the album’s one bad song, but it doesn’t have a big draw for me like most of the others. The bass is good, and audible for the entire song, but Tre’s drumming is basic, and the acoustic guitar is flat and boring after a couple of listens. The vocals are a little above average for Kerplunk, showing some nice pitch changes and harmonies, with good, thoughtful lyrics, but also get quite whiny at some points. None of these things make this song bad, but it is a—forgivably— average track. Rating: B-

“But now it’s gone
And I take the blame
So there’s nothing I can do but take the pain
Why?”

13. “Sweet Children”
At this point, the original Kerplunk gives way to the four tracks of the Sweet Children EP. Though it sounds like it might have been the first thing the band ever released (plus, “Sweet Children” was also Green Day’s original name), this EP was simply a poorly-recorded collection of the band’s oldest tracks that was tossed out in 1990—after 39/Smooth and the 1,000 Hours and Slappy EPs, the original incarnations of 1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours, had already been released—from Skene Records, when the band stopped in Minneapolis for a few weeks while on tour. Emphasis “poorly-recorded”; the production quality is terrible. “Sweet Children” has a very cool guitar and bass riff, but John Kiffmeyer’s drumming leaves a lot to be desired—the band made a smart move, replacing him with Tre Cool in ’91. Billie Joe Armstrong’s signing is… well… it sucks. Nice lyrics, about those oh-so-troublesome early-teen hormones, but, really, the singing is a big fault of this song… and the next songs don’t get any better. I can forgive these last four songs as being “bonus tracks,” but, yeah… nobody will blame you for skipping. This song is average at best. Rating: C+/B-

“Sweet young girl so soft and blond
Doesn’t attack me, but she did once
Intoxication’s in her veins
Sweet young boy plays with her brain.”

14. “Best Thing In Town”
Remember how I said the singing of the next songs doesn’t get any better? Well, here’s your proof. 80% of the lyrics on this one are completely unintelligible. There is nothing above below-average in this song, besides a nifty little guitar solo in the bridge, and the production quality almost kills that, too. This song just barely escapes being actually bad, but it’s definitely the worst song on the album. Rating: C

“Come with me, let’s go for a ride
Follow me on to the other side
[Something, something, something
Something, something] best thing in town!”

15. “Strangeland”
“Strangeland” is so similar to “Best Thing in Town” that the two songs will probably just blend together for you. Everything I just said still applies. The guitar solo is worse here, but the rhythm guitar is a little bit better, and the vocals are also a little better, if even more mumbled. Take your pick. Rating: C

“Looking at the clouds in the sky
[Almost everything after this is entirely unclear]”

16. “My Generation”
The mediocrity of the last two tracks is, thankfully, not the last word of this stellar album. This two-minute cover of one of The Who’s most famous songs is surprisingly fun and overcomes a lot of the quality issues that plague the other Sweet Children tracks. Billie Joe Armstrong has some fun with the vocals and there are mini-solos for each instrument and a longer, very good guitar solo at the end. It’s still inferior to all of the original Kerplunk tracks, but between this song and the guitar riff on “Sweet Children,” the end of what I consider to be Green Day’s best album is bearable. Rating: B-

“Talkin’ ’bout my generation!”

Well, that’s it for Green Day’s Kerplunk. If you like fun, catchy pop-punk, there’s no album better than this one. Comment on the review, please!

—Daniel Franc (“Francfurter”)

Kerplunk by Green Day

“2000 Light Years Away”

“One For The Razorbacks”

“Welcome To Paradise”

“Christie Road”

“Private Ale”

“Dominated Love Slave”

“One Of My Lies”

“80”

“Android”

“No One Knows”

“Who Wrote Holden Caulfield?”

“Words I Might Have Ate”

“Sweet Children”

“Best Thing In Town”

“Strangeland”

“My Generation”

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