Nimrod is a grab bag, delivering some of the best music Green Day ever made, and also predicting their decline.
Green Day shouldn’t have blown up. Dookie wasn’t, by any means, a commercial guarantee. A pop-punk blast that owed as much to Big Star as it did long weekends masturbating the pain away, that record found a similar mold to Weezer’s Blue Album. They were both impossibly sharp power-pop records that were just too catchy not to worm into the mainstream. The stretch between Dookie and American Idiot can be seen as Green Day’s wilderness years. There was no Trans or any sort of sudden genre shift, but as I’ve mentioned previously, Insomniac essentially marked a downward spiral for Green Day. In the process of making Nimrod, Tre Cool was throwing TVs out windows, they canceled a European tour and Billie Joe Armstrong’s panic attacks hadn’t lessened. Nimrod was a troubled album mirroring the inner chaos of a band that couldn’t deal with fame.
Until 21st Century Breakdown in 2009, Nimrod was undoubtedly the California boys’ weirdest product. Near thrash-metal breakdowns, string sections and (shudders) ska all found their way into Green Day’s fifth album. Additionally, in the pre-American Idiot days, Nimrod’s 50-minute length virtually seemed opera-length by the band’s standards. But, of course, they remained as wonderfully obnoxious as ever.
Lyrically, Armstrong was on top of his game here, filtering insomnia with caustic spite that resulted in a seething cauldron of hate. “Nice Guys Finish Last” (which My Chemical Romance bit for “Welcome to the Black Parade”) might have one of the best punk putdowns of all time. “Don’t pat yourself on the back/ You might break your spine,” Armstrong smirks, setting the tone for his fiery takedown of his bandmates, romantic interests and himself. That last target is the one he hammers on the most. The hungover rumblings of “Hitchin’ a Ride” are a fun romp, but are full of not-so-subtle hints of Armstrong’s personal war with his liver. “Fermented salmonella, poison oak/ There’s a drought at the fountain of youth,” he slurs over the thumping rhythm section.
The best songs here carry the jittery confidence of Insomniac, shown perfectly by the manic “Platypus (I Hate You),” which features the charming couplet, “Cause you ain’t worth the shit/ Under my shoes or the piss on the ground.” But Nimrod unfortunately foretold the complete slog of Warning with its ebbs in energy and novelty. “Redundant,” despite a cutting concept, (the words “I love you” losing meaning over time) finds itself, ironically, rehashing boilerplate Green Day. “All the Time” cracks under similar pressures, without even Armstrong’s deadpan sneer able to inject any fun into the paint-by-numbers punk.
In comparison to Insomniac, Armstrong had lost a bit of his pop bite. Pre-Nimrod, Green Day was a hook machine, but here they were running out of steam. The album, at its worst, is a selection of “Pulling Teeth” also-rans. “Pulling Teeth”’s chugging pace worked on Dookie due to its placement between rapid-fire barnburners. But Nimrod leans heavily into mid-pace songs, leaving segments of the album sluggish. And then there were the stranger detours that completely fell flat. It’s all very ‘90s with the below-average Rancid track in “Walking Alone” and Green Day, my dudes, no ska please. No. “King for a Day” has some great storytelling with Armstrong following the power fantasy of a cross-dresser, but the grating horn section would have been laughed out of a Less Than Jake album. And considering how the infamous “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” has been used in what feels like every sappy closing scene post-1997 (including the penultimate Seinfeld episode!) it’s now hard to tell whether it was a true left-field gem, or the ‘90s version of “Hey There Delilah.”
Thankfully there were some off-the-beaten-path moments that did work, with the boys indulging in straight power-pop with the surprisingly tender “Scattered” and “Haushinka” holding the finest harmonies in their discography. Nimrod was a grab bag, delivering some of the best music Green Day ever made, and also predicting their decline. They were on the road towards critical failure, but they hitched a few raucous rides on the way.