Green Day - Nimrod (Cover Artwork)

Green Day

Nimrod (1997)

Reprise


Did you ever see an episode of your favorite show that wasn’t very interesting, but that you can’t truly hate on because it added something important to the overall plot of the show? My favorite show, Doctor Who, had one like that last season called “The Girl Who Lived,” which was written by my favorite two writers on the show, yet was dull as dust but was still vital to the much larger, more exciting story arc of the whole season. I’m telling you this because that’s what Nimrod is: the mediocre episode that’s still vital to the larger story that is Green Day.

In my review of Revolution Radio, I talked about what I called the Green Day boom and bust cycle, in which every commercially successful Green Day album is followed by a commercial failure. Notice I say commercial successes and failures, because a lot of the commercial failures were some of their best work, like Insomniac which basically failed commercially because it married Dookie’s dark humor with actual minor chords, turning off everyone who fell in love with the dark lyrics and bright, upbeat music of Dookie. I was in elementary school when Insomniac came out, and I remember that, from when it came out, up until Nimrod was released, people made fun of me for liking Green Day. So Nimrod was the boom to Insomniac’s bust. But Nimrod’s commercial success rode almost entirely on one song, possibly Green Day’s biggest hit. But I really want to save that one song for the end of this review.

Nimrod isn’t a terrible album by any means, but it is a flabby album with a lot of filler that by no means needs 18 tracks. It starts out with a powerful punch of four excellent songs—three of which became singles—“Nice Guys Finish Last,” “Hitchin’ a Ride,” “The Grouch,” and “Redundant,” then closes strong with “King for a Day,” “Time of Your Life” (again, we’re going to talk about it later), and “Prosthetic Head.” But everything in the middle is a bit hit or miss.

“Nice Guys Finish Last” is a song that actually ages a lot better than expected. As Green Day skewers the old saying in 1997, today we see the modern generation questioning if the phrase just encourages creepy, stalking behavior. “Redundant” is actually the best of Green Day’s few genuine, cynicism-free love songs, next to Kerplunk’s “2000 Light Years Away.” If you’ve kept up with some of the other things I’ve written for Punknews, you’ll probably know why “King for a Day” is my favorite on this particular album. Billie Joe Armstrong, who is openly bisexual and has often been photographed cross-dressing, creates an irreverent celebration of cross-dressing and an outright dismissal of traditional gender roles. For many trans people out there, “King for a Day” is an anthem of affirmation and one of the first times we started to imagine being our true selves.

I remember when I was a kid and the first two singles came out, “Hitchin’ a Ride” and “Time of Your Life,” I wondered if Green Day had added a fourth member to play violin and, in my nerdiness, commented to everyone who would listen that that would technically mean Green Day was no longer a band, but an orchestra. (I was wrong, the difference between a band and an orchestra is a string section, but technically guitars and basses are string instruments, making almost every rock band in history into orchestras.) Obviously that wasn’t what had happened, but it does point to what is so significant about Nimrod. Green Day had been keeping to pretty straightforward punk rock for their first three albums (I don’t count a compilation of three of their EPs as a full-length album, so I consider Nimrod their fourth, but they were pretty straight forward punk on those EPs, too), and I can’t think of anything on Kerplunk, Dookie, or Insomniac that incorporated more than a guitar, drum, and bass. Nimrod was their first attempt to dabble in something outside of the style that made them famous. String instruments, the horn section of “King for a Day,” and the most radical experiment that nobody talks about on this album, the calypso-inspired instrumental “Last Ride In.” These experiments would be expanded on in great depth on their next album, the eternally underappreciated Warning, which they would then retreat from after that album failed to produce the album sales they were hoping for, but still nothing after Nimrod is a rehash of Green Day’s early material. For better or worse, Nimrod was the beginning of Green Day taking chances and always pushing them to try something different.

But then, as I said I wanted to save for last, there’s the song that has been the longest lasting legacy of Nimrod, possibly the most well-known of all of Green Day’s songs, “Time of Your Life.” Actually, I’ve been intentionally calling it by the wrong name for this whole review, because I think that about 99% of people really think that the song is called “Time of Your Life.” It seems like an appropriate title for the song that’s commonly used for wedding videos and was named one of the top 20 graduation songs of the last 20 years by Rolling Stone magazine. For my high school’s senior prom, we got to vote for which song would be used as our prom theme song, and sure enough on the ballot was “Time of Your Life” by Green Day. Unfortunately it lost out to Eve 6’s “Here’s to the Night,” and as the bottom of the official prom picture frames we were given were emblazoned with the slogan “Here’s to the Night,” I imagined how much funnier it would have been had Green Day won and the actual title of the song, “Good Riddance,” had been written on those picture frames our prom photos were in. It just makes me laugh how many people forget the real title, “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life),” because of how sentimentalized this song has become.

“Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” was actually written before even Kerplunk came out, but they didn’t find the right album for it to fit in with until Nimrod. Again, it fits in on Nimrod because it’s an album that’s starting to dabble in other things. It’s a song completely unlike anything they had put out before. The last time they had used soft guitars like this, the song was called “Fuck Off and Die” and launched into distorted power chords again halfway through the song. “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” is Green Day’s first true ballad, and can really tug at the heartstrings in the right context. The song can sound trite and clichéd now, but is that a result of the actual lyrics or a result of how massively overplayed it remains to this day? I’d say probably the latter. I remember when “Good Riddance” first came out, I was excited and refreshed by the new direction Green Day had taken.

Overall, Nimrod is not Green Day’s best album, but the band that Green Day became in the 2000’s and 2010’s was launched with Nimrod, and there’s a lot of great material in those decades. Nimrod is the reason that Green Day, a band that had seemed iconic of the 1990’s, made it out of the 90’s and stayed relevant and popular to this day.