On October 10th 1995, one of the year’s most anticipated albums was released into the wild but to little fanfare. It was the album “Insomniac” by the band Green Day.
That fall, I was just starting the 7th grade and my young punk rock days had just begun. It was in those moments that my friends and I would talk about songs that we heard or bands that we wanted to listen to. It was just months before I started my first punk band, and the start of a 15 year journey playing music for a living.
Friends at school would tell me how disappointed they thought the album was, citing lack of popular songs like “Basket Case” and “Longview”. However, in my mind Insomniac is the perfect Green Day record. It doesn’t waste your time nor does it try to be something that it’s not. From the first song to the last note, Insomniac kicks open the door, destroys your living room and leaves without apologizing.
Insomniac was the follow up album to what is considered one of the greatest pop punk albums of all time, Dookie. The critics seemed to like the record, but in the end were disappointed that the album didn’t change the Green Day formula much.
The album cover is a collage created by Winston Smith, titled God Told Me To Skin You Alive and is an homage to San Francisco based punk rock band the Dead Kennedys. It perfectly encapsulates what you are getting when you sit down to listen as this style of punk hadn’t been seen since the 80’s.
“Geek Stink Breath”, the first single of Insomniac details the profoundly disgusting effects of meth usage and deals with the consequences of living with addiction, which singer Billie Joe Armstrong has constantly struggled with. The video which accompanied the single featured the band playing in a basement with scenes of one of the band’s friends having one his teeth pulled. The video was shortly pulled from MTV rotation due to its graphic nature.
The other single of note from the album is in fact two songs. “Brain Stew/Jaded” are tracks 10 and 11 on the record, with “Brain Stew” being the slowest song on the album. Though the song didn’t chart as high as Geek Stink Breath, it still managed to help the band sell over 2 million copies reaching as high as #2 on the billboard music charts, beaten out only by Mariah Carey’s Daydream.
Where the record really shines is in all the other songs that most people didn’t hear. Putting the CD into your CD player, pressing play and getting a swift kick in the nuts is why you want to listen to it all the way through from start to finish. Coming in at a run time of just over 32 minutes and featuring 14 songs, it’s a cathartic experience to say the least. With the opening track “Armatage Shanks” blowing out your speakers with all three instruments and Billie letting you know, “Hi, we are here, and you will be rocked”.
“Brat”, the album’s second song is a pop punk extravaganza of melody and harmonies that will bring joy to your ear drums. Songs like “Stuck With Me” and “Bab’s Uvula Who?” bring home just how important Mike Dirnt’s Bass guitar really is, taking the band’s melodies to a whole new level. The little things that he does really make the album that much better in such beautiful and subtle ways.
Later on in the record, we get to songs “Panic Song” and “Walking Contradiction” and you see just how varied and inspired Tre Cool’s drumming is. With “Panic Song”, you have a punk rock opening of what could be considered a song by The Who. Yet by the time you get to the final track “Walking Contradiction”, you can hear the Ringo Starr style drumming made famous by the former Beatles drummer.
All of this is brought together by Singer/Guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong, who uses a simple three chord structure and vibrant vocals to really bring the whole album into a cohesive, powerful punk album. Songs like the aforementioned “Brat” and “Brain Stew” as well as “86”, a song about no longer being able to play at the famous 924 Gilman Street music club because they signed to a major label, really show a singer/songwriting coming into their own.
The culmination of all these songs coalesce into a single track on the album “Stewart and The Ave.”. It is a spiteful, angry punk rock song about the breakup of his girlfriend at the time and would resonate with anyone who has gone through something similar. Going back home to Berkeley CA, he wrote this song as a final goodbye to his ex (Good Riddance). The song hits hard right from the first notes, to the hammering bass line and into Tre’s slamming of the drums. The lyrics call out melodically up and down as Billie sings and plays his heart out. Two minutes and four seconds is all that’s needed for Billie to say what needs to be said and shut the door on that part of his life.
I must let you know that “Stewart and The Ave.” is my favorite song by Green Day. It has been from the very first day I heard it, way back on October 10th 1995. Insomniac continues to be my favorite album by the band.
Folks will say that Dookie or American Idiot are Green Day’s best records and while I don’t fully agree, the argument is one I enjoy. Both records are commercial successes, selling millions of copies and they are loved and beloved. I first heard Green Day because of the song “Basket Case” and I went out and bought the cd.
I Immediately fell in love with all the songs not on the radio. It is the songs in between the hits that make for a musical journey like no other. I believe Insomniac has fallen into relative obscurity and been forgotten not only by music lovers in general, but also Green Day fans. Just last year, the band celebrated its 25th anniversary by re-releasing the album with a new mix and live recordings of the songs on the album. I got lucky and only found out about it because I saw the Vinyl version of Insomniac at Walmart. Of course I spent the money just to own one of my favorite albums of all time.
So next time you have 32 minutes to kill or can’t sleep, why not take a trip in time and listen to a record that still sounds better than most music released today.
This article (Pulling Teeth Never Sounded so Good – SophmoreJohn Reviews His Favorite Green Day Album) originally appeared at Phillip Schneider and may be re-posted freely with proper attribution, author credit, and this copyright statement.