20 years ago today Green Day released their sixth album, and kickstarted a whole new era for the band. We take a deep dive into what makes it so special and just how it affected everything that came afterwards.
It’s never easy for bands to grow away from the sounds that brought them success. With every tentative move you make into new territory, you risk alienating fans and undoing all the hard work you’ve already put in. By the turn of the millennium, Green Day had already had a wealth of hits and established themselves as punk icons. The Bay Area trio had ideas and were well underway in carrying them out to as they readied their world takeover. Their story was bound to have several components; the rough ’n’ tumble beginnings, the successes and then the surging comeback in the form of ‘American Idiot’, which saw them soar to stadium-filling legends.
But before that orchestrated narrative and punk-rock-to-the-masses behemoth arrived came the album released four years prior, one that sits firmly in the middle of the Green Day discography (if you group together that cheeky trio, Uno, Dos, Tres). The tipping point that saw them evolve from snot-filled teens into dudes that yearned to grow into something bigger while keeping one foot firmly where their heart belongs.
‘Warning' signalled the entry of Green Day into the 21st century, intentions and all.
They were still punk, but they were leaning whole-heartedly into being more than that and to proving that they can do more than that. Being in their thirties at this point, families building, the world for Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt and Tre Cool was changing, and their sound melts with these changes. From the offset, the eponymous track and that grooving rhythm, ‘Warning’ wasn’t going to be like any other Green Day album - and still isn’t. “This is a public service announcement, this is only a test,” are the first words hollered by Billie-Joe, and nothing has been truer. ‘Warning’ is where Green Day established their want to be big, to walk away from any need of being a “pure” punk band, and knowledge that there was more to being in a band that just being loud.
Not only does it stand as a turning point for Green Day, welcoming in their exploratory phase proper, but it proved to the world that a scrappy punk band can indeed be more with songs dealing with classic tropes of love and loss, whilst also erring into sadomasochist sex (‘Blood, Sex, and Booze’). Most importantly, they still stood for something but weren’t afraid of expanding their horizons, dipping their toes into flourishes of folk and mariachi. The very question asked in that opening track (“Or shut up and be a victim of authority?”) is answered not only throughout this album of exploration, rife with tales of the underworld, reckoning with the darker side of life while you get older, but also in the classic ‘Minority’ with its rousing singalong chorus: “I want to be the minority, I don’t need your authority”. But knowing the sun comes up, and the world is still a bit messed up regardless of who you are and what you’re doing, ‘Macy’s Day Parade’ makes sure you at the very least know what your place within all of this is as well.
Is it too much of a stretch to connect the dots between the fabled lyrics of ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams’ (“I walk a lonely road, the only one that I have ever known’) and one of the final utterances on ‘Macy’s Day Parade’ (“And I’m thinking about the only road, the one I’ve never known and where it goes”) because finding hope has never been the end goal for Green Day. Expressing the hopelessness has and if it begins to make sense, then that just proves the process works. It even features their first foray into the world of opus-reaching tracks, the five minute long ‘Misery’, which harks to the same rhythm and marching sound as ‘Hitchin’ A Ride’ from '97’s 'Nimrod', but removes all facets of expectation and instead just does what it wants to do. It’s also a deep venture into the world of storytelling that would resurface on its follow-up, where the band venute into telling a tale of life, death, eloping and everything in between. Given that at this time they were in the mix of the pop-punk mainstream boom, with the likes of Blink 182, Sum 41 et al spearheading things with their purist sound, Green Day’s journey was already well under-way. But by this point in the pop culture zeitgeist, their trajectory had stagnated - not at a bad point by any means. Though their mark had already been made, in many ways thanks to 'Warning', and knowing where to go next was all a part of the bigger plan.
When it comes to remembering Green Day albums, ‘Warning’ isn't always the first to crop up, but it's an album that deserves as much recognition as any of their major chapters. It was the final call of the Green Day of old before the reinvention into the all-knowing and all-seeing hyper-political punks clad in black shirts, red ties and eye-liner. Though with their focus and drive and such a bountiful source of punk and spit on their side, the band were always going to reject any expectations cast upon them at this point. Because after all, what’s more fucking punk than subverting expectations?