Friday, May 22, 2009

X-Ray Hamburger (Side Projects And Other Ephemera): Green Day, Pt. 2

Side projects are often a waste of time. Either too specifically stylized for the general populace to enjoy, or too much like the parent project to seem anything other than redundant. I've been in bands, and after a shorter period than many would care to admit, the urge to deflate the balloon a little bit, to "take the piss" as our Brit pals say becomes overwhelming. When things get too serious, they're not fun anymore, so side projects for musicians act almost as a pressure release valve... you can have your cake and eat it too by making music that is supposed to be percieved as "less important" somehow. Green Day are better than many at this. I'm not going to include moments where someone played with somebody else's band (a la Dirnt playing in Screeching Weasel), or The Frustrators, as I have never been able to track down one of their records, but once I make my point, I don't think that will be missed.

From an academic standpoint, let's start with the least important of the side projects: Pinhead Gunpowder. Now, saying that it's the "least important" hurts, because it's a fantastic project. This is a Bay Area punk supergroup, where all the members started on equal footing, even though one went on to global fame. Billie Joe Armstrong got together with some buddies from his friends' bands and made a record. Then he gets what I like to call "stupid famous". Why would he keep making records with PG? Cause they're great. This could be thought of as a "keepin' it real" project, the kind of authentic good time that megastars find all kinds of contrived ways to grasp. Tin Machine anyone? The difference is that this is great. Armstrong's songs (he shares songwriting duty) are like Green Day pre-Dookie. Direct, maybe a little harder than the major-label stuff, but by and large the same. And the fact that he keeps putting out a Pinhead Gunpowder record on his own Adeline Records every couple of years with no hype speaks volumes about how grounded this guy must be, I guess. I'd be too busy in my fur-lined jet.

Now, on a less serious note, let's talk about The Network.

The Network hate Green Day. Members Fink, The Snoo, and Van Gough are a New Wave band that Green Day supported initially. Brought them to the States from wherever they're from, helped them get a deal, and suddenly The Network turned on them. According to Armstrong:

"I just wanted to talk about the rumors and the bullshit that has been going on lately. All I gotta say is fuck The Network. These guys are totally spreading rumors. I try to do those guys a favour by bringing them to this country and putting out their record and this is how I get repaid, by talking shit about my band. Unfortunately there is a contract and I have to put out their record. The only thing I can say is Fuck you, Network. Bring it on."

There's video of a Network press conference that devolves into chair-throwing once Green Day's name is brought up. The Network's lone album, Money Money 2020, is a dark, synth-heavy descendent of Devo and pre-chicks Human League. Catchy, but not something you'd want to catch. The closest it comes to a pop hit is a squelching cover of the Misfits' "Teenagers From Mars". Wait, what? That doesn't seem like your typical Depeche Mode cover fodder. Pretty punk for a futurist pop band, huh? Maybe things aren't as they seem?

Of course they aren't. This (obviously) is Green Day with some extra members (gross), and getting their Devo jones out. And it comes across well. If it weren't for the fact that these songs are catchy and it's clearly Armstrong singing, I would never have made the initial connection between the two. Now, as I said, there is other evidence (record label, etc.), but this is a GOOD new wave record, in that it doesn't feel put on, it feels natural. A bit smart-assed, but natural.

On the other side of the fence (stylistically, that is) is the more recent, and much more well-known, Foxboro Hot Tubs. There was apparently an attempt to keep this one under wraps too, but that lasted all of 5 minutes. In fact, it was known that this was Green Day when I got the record, which was about 3 weeks before it came out. Thanks, mysterious benefactor!

So this one's not New Wave, but garage rock. Now, I like Green Day, and I like garage rock, so this one should be a no-brainer for me, right? Well, it is. Less affected than Money Money 2020, but just as fun. However, the fact that garage and punk ain't that far removed, and Green Day ain't exactly a pure punk band to begin with, means that this one doesn't quite have the same shock as, say, Slayer doing a folk tune, but for those who've been bitching about Green Day's proper albums being a little overblown these days, this is a tonic for the soul. Much like Pinhead Gunpowder, this shit hearkens back to the Lookout! Records years without seeming like a retread - in fact, there's a lot less metal and a lot more soul here than on those early records. Surprisingly, this one was a minor hit (at least, I remember seeing it on display in Best Buy), once again proving that even the masses will occasionally fuck up and elevate something to a higher level that deserves to be there. [Please see: Battlestar Galactica 2.0, Prince, Twin Peaks, Lost, etc.] Worth getting, if not just in the hopes that they keep making more records under this name. I'm a garage revival nerd and this floored me as totally solid from beginning to end.

So that about does it. No fancy wrap-up, just the knowledge that there's a good band is talented enough to put out records on the side that most other bands would love to have as their main creative outlet. Bands that stay active because they want to, and stay catchy and relevant doing it. This is not The Power Station.

[NEXT TIME: Using Green Day as a flimsy framework for an unravelling of my psyche (this is the line for free therapy, right?), I'll discuss how Green Day unwittingly played a huge part in the development of my personality not once, not twice, but THREE different times! How was my young mind warped by modern rock radio? Log on to find out!]

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