The 90s was a great decade for American Idiots Green Day. The release of Dookie, so far their best selling album of all time, and Nimrod that houses smash hit singles ‘Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)’ and ‘Nice Guys Finish Last’, saw Green Day firmly cement their place on top of the punk-rock world.
But, sandwiched in between the two is quiet unassuming Insomniac, Green Day’s 1995 release. Or not. Often overlooked in the trajectory of Green Day’s success, Insomniac is dark and grimy, with rough guitars and abrasive lyrics. For these reasons, it hasn’t had the same long lasting appeal as it’s predecessor, but my god, if this isn’t Green Day at their best, then I don’t know what it.
After the shiny and almost-radio-friendly sheen that was Dookie it is no wonder that Insomniac seemed a little harsh on the ears. But therein lies the merit. Frontman Billie Joe Armstrong had become a father when Insomniac was in the pipeline, and there was so much potential for Green Day’s musical integrity to come crashing down around them (which of course happened only 6 years later with the release of American Idiot). But instead of whinging about life as a rock star, or as a parent, Billie Joe and the gang remained haywire and mental, which is epitomised through Insomniac.
Right from the offset you know you are in for a musical fun house, and no I don’t mean the Pat Sharp kind. The kind where ordinary things are distorted by mirrors and swirling shapes, the kind where you feel you have wondered into a dark Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Opener ‘Armitage Shanks’, with the killer lyric “I must insist on being a pessimist”, really sets the tone for the rest of the album. It’s still got a sing-a-long quality that fans were introduced to through Dookie, but there’s dust and dirt on every single drum beat, guitar whine or half-spoken lyric, making it somehow sound like Dookie’s older sister that has forgotten what daylight looks like. And it continues much in that same vein. Single ‘Geek Stink Breath’ opens with a gravelly pseudo- lyric and punching beats, whilst ‘Brat’ does exactly what is says on the tin, documenting the life of the generally underwhelmed. And I suppose it is this that really sums up what Insomniac did that other Green Day records cannot – giving a voice to the disillusioned youth who are underwhelmed with life for no apparent reason.
From a personal perspective, highlights of the album come from 1 minute 31 second power house ‘Jaded’ and the track with the killer bassline ‘Stuart and the Ave.’. The former is a dense and heavy sound, with an accompanying music video that is completely bizarre, with skewed camera angles all over the place that’ll give any fully functioning human a headache. And that is why I love it. It is such an intense minute and a half that you come away from it a somewhat changed person, whose brain has been scrambled a bit like egg. ‘Stuart and the Ave.’ on the other hand is a little more user friendly. The opening bass riff smacks entirely of ‘Longveiw’, which is no bad thing, whilst the general feel of the track is just a smidge more upbeat than its musical cousins. That being said, the refrain of “But now it’s all fucked up” leaves a slightly less cheerful taste on the tongue, firmly confirming its position on the album.
Insomniac is a massive unsung hero of the 90s, and fully deserves to be credited as one of the founding records of the brand that is now Green Day. It was daring, dark and dirty: what more could you ask for from the trio of punk-rockers?