Insomniac: Green Days Follow Up
As a punk band, now one of the most influential bands of the last 30 years, Green Day were riding high off of their major-label debut “Dookie”, like many artists it was finally time to release their sophomore effort and to prove if their first acclaimed album was a fluke or not. Now as we know as 1995s properly titled, Insomniac. A 30 minute fast-paced (in proper punk fashion), bleak, heavy, more snotty-nosed (courtesy of Billie Joe Armstrong), and same 4 chord rotation. While now, Green Day is a solidified and influential band, with the help of their blockbuster albums “Dookie” from 1994 and tens years later with “American Idiot”. However, it’s their follow-up album that continues to be under-looked while also being one of the bands’ pivotal moments in their career.
Leading up to Insomniac, Green Day may have garnered love from countless people, fans, and critics thanks to Dookie selling millions of copies, being named best new band by Rolling Stone, and their famous mud fight at Woodstock 94 catapulting them into one of the most talked-about bands. In the limelight, Green Day was beloved, but, behind the scenes conflict and animosity were thick in the air. The band had been ridiculed from the punk scene and were banned from their home away from home, the club 924 Gilman Street. Before signing with Reprise Records, the trio was signed to Lookout Records and released a few EPs and 2 full-length albums. However, as their name began to rings, due to non-stop DIY touring in promotion of their records. Soon, Billie, Mike, and Tre were getting offers left and right. While that sounds like a lollipop and fairy-tale most underground artists would probably give a limb and kill for, but in Green Days’ world, it was just an annoyance and a nightmare.
In the punk community, (to clarify I don’t consider myself apart of the community so I’m just speaking as a respectful outsider looking in……I think), signing to a major label was a boundary you shouldn’t dare cross without facing repercussions like a little brother going to his big brothers’ room without him there. Signing to a major was seen as “selling out” and breaks the moral code of the community. If there were a Ten Commandments for the punk community, “Thou shall not sign to Major Labels” would be a commandment three. Behind “Be Yourself” and “No tolerance of Racism, Homophobia, Sexism, and any other form of bigotry”. So Green Day was highly aware of the rules and knew that they’d burning bridges. However, the time came and they all concluded that signing was the best thing for the band. Convinced by Rob Cavallo, a former musician himself was able to show the level of understanding between him and the band. Discussing the situation, Billie in their “Behind the Music” special from 2001, he elaborated: “The one thing I was thinking about the whole time was ‘what if, I was curious. I felt that we had potential and I didn’t know if it was potential for failure or for being the biggest band in the world but I knew we had potential.” Further stating: “It was scary, we didn’t know what the backlash would be, which was probably one of the reasons we decided to do it, like Fuck It”. Bassist Mike Dirnt expressed: “It was like you know what, if we’re gonna do this, either do it all the way or don’t do it at all, and so we did, we removed ourselves from the punk community at that point”. Singing to Reprise Records in 1993, facing immediate backlash from the community once Dookie was released and the band went global because selling a diamond album isn’t punk in the purist eyes Dealing with altercations, harassment from plenty of members of the community, the band face shamed returning home from the Dookie tour.
Accordingly, one night Billie and a friend snuck into Gilman Street after hours and saw written on one of the stalls in the women’s’ bathroom (yes, I typed that correctly) “Billie Joe must die”, describing that period of his life as a: “moment of confusion”.
Now with animosity between the punk community and Green Day, it seems that would be a fuel that would drive the making an Insomniac. While Dookie, in essence, was a pop album, with a more polish and accessible sound. The trio decided to abandon the approach of Dookie and decided to make an even more punk album at it’s truest form. Bleaker than Dookie, Insomniac deals with topics of Speed Addiction with “Geek Stink Breath” (and possibly Brain Stew/Jaded). with an accompanying video of a graphic teeth removal that couldn’t get much airplay, the troubles between them and the punk community with the track “86” and “No Pride”. You feel the deliriousness, sarcasm, and momentum through Billies’ songwriting that was also a by-product of their reality. Wanting to show the mainstream that they are a punk band to its core, ironically they got more drastically more aggressive than their previous releases. The first line you once you open the album: “Stranded, lost inside myself, my worst friend, my own closest enemy”, Armatage Shanks perfectly gives a vision of what you’re getting into. Leading into the second track “Brat” which is a song from the point of view of a spoiled, good for nothing teen. Billie plays up the character well with lyrics:
“Got a plan of action and cold blood
And it smells of defiance
I’ll just wait for mom and dad to die
And got my inheritance”
This leaves you thinking “Wow, that kid is a cock”.
Throughout the LP, you can feel the frustration took out on their while recording. From Billie singing “You better swallow your pride before you choke on it” on No Pride to him discussing the blackball from the Gilman Street on “86” where he sings:
“So stand aside and let the next one pass
Don’t let the door kick you in the ass
There’s no return from 86
Don’t even try”
To Billie belting “Fucked up and Spun out in my room” on Brain Stew.
Even the singles were harsher than the singles off of Dookie, with every riff punching you in the face once the song begins. Stuck with Me, Geek Stick Breath, Brain Stew/Jaded, only leaving Walking Contradiction as the most accessible track on the album, even though ironically Brain Stew is the bigger single. Tracks named after locations from Billie’s hometown “Tight Wad Hill” and “Stuart and the Ave”, the band adds a part of a personal feel to the album, but it isn’t a positive shout-out. In all, produced within six weeks, this album was a testament of a confusing moment in the band’s career as it was still on the rapid rise. Producer Rob Cavallo, in a Spin Magazine piece from 1996 he explained: “There’s no When I Come Around on this record that’s for sure” You can tell the world and life was coming at them at full speed, for instance in the same piece Billie expressed: “The fucked thing about being famous and having money is that if you complain about something people are like, what the fuck are you complaining about you don’t have to work a real job. So I feel like I don’t have anyone to vent to because they won’t understand”.
As the time to release in 1995, the album went double platinum by 1996 to fairly positive reviews, but without facing some criticism. One critic noted Billie’s songwriting felt more stagnant that showing growth. While also did reach sales some never get to get to achieve, it wasn’t an overnight sensation of an album like Dookie. Billie elaborated: “It did a lot better than I thought it was going to do….From the sound of it, we knew it wasn’t gonna sell as much as Dookie”.
As the 25th Anniversary happens this year (October 10, 2020), much like Weezer’s “Pinkerton”, is a project that deserves a second glance. A time-stamp in the bands arguably most distraught era in their musical career. While comparatively, it may seem inferior to their influential debut, yet it’s a bit unfair to compare. Since Dookie is a “pop” album that was universally praised, Insomniac is a follow that they needed to make as they were finding their way over the hurdles of fame and the betrayal they felt from the punk community. An album to clarify any sell-out accusations while being louder and aggressive in punk form. Showcasing that they were past the point of delirium.