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Green Day’s Kerplunk! Is An Unspoiled 90s Punk Gem

On the 28th anniversary of its release, we look back on the band’s last truly indie release.

Historically, Green Day will forever be remembered for their 1994 breakout album Dookie. And for good reason – that record was a rare case of a massive success story surrounding a truly good album, and saw the band go from DIY darlings to rock megastars. But while Dookie is a genre-spanning megahit, its success rests heavily on the shoulders of the band’s 1991 sophomore effort Kerplunk!, on which Green Day streamlined their sound while keeping low-to-the-ground indie punk approach intact.

The beauty of Kerplunk! lies in its embodiment of a musical movement that was still very much in its infancy. The album’s production sound seems purposefully contained, as though the band didn’t want to betray their 924 Gilman roots by embracing a fuller, more aggressive rock vibe. The songwriting remains poetic in an adolescent way, focusing on the deep personalimportance of what can seem like emotional minutiae. Even the cover art is quintessential to the era – how many skater dudes did we all know with smirking, cute-but-not-exactly-sexualized women on their shirts?

To be fair, next to those of Dookie, any record’s sales would look unimpressive, but part of Kerplunk!’s story is its success as an independent album. Kerplunk! sold 10,000 copies on its release day, a feat at which that no band can turn up their noses. Green Day then toured like motherfuckers to support the album, selling more and more records as they went and proving that hard work and fun songs are the perfect combination. In that way, the band was living the earnest punk dream: giving important music to the masses, the hard way. 

The truth is that Dookie’s success made Green Day something very different from what they were in 1991. By 1995, the band were officially rock stars, musicians speaking to all listeners, everywhere. There’s nothing wrong with that, and the band have certainly handled it extremely well, writing the kinds of big, immortal hits one wants from those kinds of artists. But Kerplunk! is our last view into Green Day’s awkward stages, a glimpse into the hearts of a band content to jangle through a handful of emotionally-complicated confessions (well, and Dominated Love Slave, but sometimes you need a redneck fetish anthem in there, too).

So, Kerplunk!, we salute you. From one musical institution named after a sound* to another, happy birthday. Thanks you for being the ultimate album to listen to while staring out the window on long train trips as scenery passes by. 

*With an exclamation point at the end, no less!

Posted on December 17th 2019, 2:53p.m.
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