Green Day - Insomniac (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Green Day

Insomniac (1995)

Reprise Records

When Green Day partnered with video game developer Harmonix for 2010's Green Day: Rock Band, there were a few glaring omissions from the set list. Notably, the game was devoid of tracks from the band's first two Lookout full-lengths, 1,039 Smoothed Out Slappy Hours and Kerplunk, though that was explained away quickly as an issue related to irreparable damage to the masters. The only other album not represented in some way was 1995's Insomniac despite the fact that it sold more than 2 million copies. So what does that say about Insomniac's place in history?

As the follow-up to Dookie, the album that sold 20 million copies, put the final nail in grunge's coffin and helped bring punk to the mainstream, Insomniac had to live up to massive expectations. In many ways, it does, but even a slight misstep or two along the way, paired with the inevitable Dookie comparisons, have doomed the record as a failure in the eyes of many.

That judgement is a bit harsh, honestly, as the record certainly doesn't mark a major departure from Green Day's previous effort. It does, however, lack some of the musical "oomph" that Dookie had, which is likely a side effect of success. Instead of a bunch of young stoners singing about their lack of direction, Insomniac finds the band trying to understand its place following the notoriety and financial windfall that came from Dookie. Should they stick strongly to their D.I.Y. roots, embrace rock stardom or try to carve out a place somewhere in the middle? The future would provide a clear answer, but at the time it was a little less of a given where the band was headed, and that struggle is often reflected on the record. "Brat," the album's second track, is a good example. A track about longing for your parents' demise and the subsequent inheritance it may provide would have fit in quite well on Dookie or another Green Day's earlier albums, but hearing the same thought expressed by newly minted millionaires comes off as a bit insincere and, well, bratty. Even so, it's one of the record's better tracks. Others, like "Stuart and the Ave." and "Westbound Sign," also showcase the best of Billie Joe Armstrong's songwriting.

Green Day even attempts a bit of experimentation on the album, and that's unfortunately where the quality dips. "Geek Stink Breath," the album's lead single, is an attempt at something a bit tenser than most of Green Day's output, but it comes off more plodding than anything else. The same goes for "Brain Stew," illustrating that, at this point in their career, Green Day is best when playing fast and loud.

As a whole, Insomniac isn't the classic that Dookie is, but it's certainly not a bad record. There are a handful of tracks that come very close to matching those on Dookie, along with some perfectly good songs and a few failed attempts at experimentation. That said, Dookie did cast a long shadow, and that shadow still influences history's view of Insomniac today.