That’s not to say the darkness of Insomniac was completely gone, however. Nice Guys… declares ‘I’m so fucking happy I could cry’ during the chorus, while Uptight deals with suicide. It was during discussion of this song with one American journalist that Billie Joe declined to go any deeper, resulting in a piece in which the band were accused of using the topic simply for impact. The musician hit back by saying, “I wasn’t going to talk about suicide to a complete stranger in some artificial conversation. I feel a lot of responsibility writing about suicide in a song, and then people take it lightly because I won’t talk about my personal life to someone I’ve never met before.”
But the most striking manner in which Nimrod separated itself from everything that had come before arrived in the form of the song Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life). An acoustic ballad with a string accompaniment, Billie Joe had actually written it seven years previously, about an ex-girlfriend who had left him to go travelling, and originally suggested it for Dookie. It was considered too far removed for that album, but in Nimrod it made perfect sense – even the strings, something that you couldn’t imagine going down well with the patrons of 924 Gilman Street.
“The string section thing was just something that had to be done,” its writer shrugged. “At first it was a whole orchestra in there, and they’d all come in like, ‘SHUNG!’ And we were standing there going to the orchestra, ‘Erm, jeez, okay, you two – out, and you two, and you over there – out you go.’ We eventually cut it down to four people. It was amazing to watch, but quite cringy at the same time. In the studio we played it as a big, Bon Jovi-style ballad. Now that was funny!”
Funny or not, the song, with its reflective lyrics and nostalgic tone, became a smash, being used to accompany everything from episodes of George Clooney-led medical drama ER, to post-match lowlights of England crashing out of the 1998 World Cup. It showed an already massive band in a new light, not of snotty punk oiks with an ear for a good tune (though they still very much were that too, by their own admission), but with ambitions to stretch and explore their own creativity, breaking out of a potential punk rock cul-de-sac and show what was possible.