I’ve always gotten the impression that Nimrod — which turns 20 tomorrow — is the Jan Brady of ’90s Green Day albums. I don’t have much to back this up other than a gut feeling and a lifetime of best-Green Day-album debates. But I have noticed that, over the course of said discussions, Nimrod conveniently fades into the background — not unlike 2000’s equally underrated Warning and the band’s 2002 B-sides collection, Shenanigans. And if it is talked about (because it will be if I’m in the room), Nimrod is rarely lavished with the sort of universal praise reserved for canon records like 1994’s commercial breakout Dookie and 2004’s protest-punk touchstone American Idiot. Nimrod is pretty divisive — either you love it for what it is (overly long and unapologetically scattershot), or you disregard it.
I get why you would. Nimrod was never meant to be an album-album — i.e., a traditional collection of songs that complement each other in texture and tone. It’s purposefully longer and less uniform than the band’s earlier major-label albums (the aforementioned Dookie and its 1995 follow-up, the nihilistic Insomniac), and it purposefully doesn’t adhere to the three-chord structure on which the band came to prominence.
Instead, Nimrod meanders all over the place for 18 tracks (originally cut down from 30). Sure, there are echoes of earlier work on the brat-punk “Hitchin’ A Ride” and its bitter-old-guy counterpart “The Grouch,” but Nimrod quickly diverges with a splatter of experimentation: It tests out hardcore (“Take Back”), ska (“King For A Day”), and even wordless surf-rock (“Last Ride In”). It also houses Green Day’s most commercially successful and sickeningly overplayed single: syrupy acoustic ballad “Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life).”
But Nimrod deserves our recognition, especially on its anniversary, for it captures the group at a turning point, personally and professionally.
After two Lookout! LPs that made them Gilman Street-famous (1990’s 1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours and 1991’s Kerplunk!), and two more on Reprise that made them MTV-famous, Green Day had landed in a liminal state. They’d been branded sellouts in some circles and genre heroes in others; Billie Joe Armstrong had gotten married and had a kid. They’d outgrown the punk warehouses where they’d cut their teeth but weren’t entirely at home at the arenas they’d booked. It’s any punk’s nightmare, really: the simple act of aging.
Some would crumble under the pressure. But Green Day? They just did whatever the hell they wanted. Actually, if you define “punk” the way Armstrong did in 2006, where he compared punk to being the first to kick over a garbage can (and consider the fact that it’s directly influenced by Bikini Kill’s decidedly more mature Reject All American), then yeah, Nimrod is very punk rock.
Nimrod is Armstrong kicking over all of the garbage cans, exploring multiple genres and instruments he’d wanted to incorporate on Dookie and Insomniac but didn’t because they didn’t sonically fit. After allaying Insomniac enthusiasts with roaring underdog anthem “Nice Guys Finish Last” and a couple more crunchy three-chorders (“Jinx,” “Reject”), the trio accented the bass-driven “Hitchin’ a Ride” with some slippery Middle Eastern fiddle and even slowed down to a mid-tempo pace with love song “Redundant.” Meanwhile, “Worry Rock” has Armstrong trying his hand (mouth?) at harmonica for the first time, and the loopy drag-themed “King For a Day” features Gabrial McNair and Stephen Bradley of No Doubt on horns.
And the group’s genre-hopping is only the beginning: Nimrod is a snapshot of Armstrong at a quarter-life crossroads. He worries about becoming “another shitty old man” in “The Grouch”; he struggles with sobriety on “Hitchin’ A Ride,” he reflects on love’s enormity on “Redundant,” he sighs over losing touch with old friends on “Walking Alone.” If early-to-mid-’90s Armstrong was the poster child for Gen-X apathy, complaining about living at home and being too bored to even put a hand down his pants, mid-to-late-’90s Armstrong yearns to know what comes after a young punk gets everything he ever wanted.
And at the very back of Nimrod is maybe your least-favorite Green Day song; you know the one. Leaving aside its forced graduation-friends-forever stigma, “Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)” was a bold move for the band, who until then had relied on crazy-catchy, easily digested cuts full of smartass-isms like “I’ll just wait for Mom and Dad to die / And got my inheritance.”
Not that Nimrod is without its tongue-in-cheekiness. It’s back to business as usual on the semi-trolling “King For A Day,” which Armstrong wrote because he
The more things change, the more they stay the same. In Green Day’s case, Nimrod is proof.