The Greatest Hits Comp comes in many different flavors: a stop-gap for a project that’s been in utero longer than planned, a parting gift at the start of a hiatus, or a desperate commercial jump star for a fading career. Coming a year after Warning‘s disappointing sales–not to mention still living under what bassist Mike Durnt called “the shadow of [the band’s breakout hit] Dookie“–few singles compilations sound as desperate as Green Day’s 2001 release, International Superhits!. The album consists of two acceptable-but-not essential new songs, and a generous 19 singles spanning from 1994’s Dookie to Warning in 2000. Maybe it’s the finality of quiet, somber “Macy’s Day Parade” as a closer, but it’s possibly if not easy to listen to International Superhits! as a last “Well guys, it’s been real” wave goodbye before Green Day resigned themselves to a decade of constant club and ballroom tours.
But, as history has shown, that was anything but the case.
As a kid who first got into music in 2004, I don’t feel particularly bad for admitting that American Idiot was my first Green Day album. Hell, I would have had to try really hard for it to not be; Idiot became synonymous with Green Day, so much so that I was surprised that one of that album’s inserts advertised the band’s six other studio albums and compilations. Before then, like many, I hadn’t considered that Green Day was a band entering its second decade on a major label. I picked up IS the next time I had a chance, if only because it was on sale.
What makes IS interesting in 2012 is that it casts Green Day in a light that’s impossible to see them in now. It’s a light that doesn’t walk the boulevard of broken dreams, know the enemy, or want to kill the DJ; a band without eyeliner or rock operas or triple albums written into its DNA. Instead, we see a bunch of slackers whose first major label single was about being a bored, lonely teen who spends all of his time jacking off. It’s an album from when Green Day was a 90’s holdover with occasional airplay before American Idiot turned them back into, well, an international superhit.
It was an unpredicted hit, too; part of what made AI big was that it was such a dramatic departure from the trajectory the band had followed before. If, hypothetically, “American Idiot” had been included on IS, the transition it would make from “Macy’s Day Parade” would be more jarring than the relatively smooth transitions from “She” to “Geek Stink Breath” or “Stuck With Me” into “Hitchin’ a Ride”.
International Superhits! arranges singles in chronological order instead of trying anything fancy with the tracklisting. This, along with each album getting at least four cuts (Dookie gets five, and “Brain Stew” and “Jaded” from Insomniac are a twofer), means that you get the gist of each one: Dookie‘s zany adolescent neuroses, the drug addled self-deprecating darkness on Insomniac, nimrod.‘s variety and maturity, and the folkier influence on Warning are all put on display. There are small sacrifices–surely “86” or “No Pride” would represent Insomniac better than “Walking Contradiction”, and nimrod. and Warning‘s more experimental musical detours are passed up, but no glaring omissions; 90’s Green Day had surprisingly smart single choices.
I remember that after getting International Superhits!, the thing lived in my CD player so long that I could have charged it rent. It works as an effective advertisement for any of the records it represents, but it also has consistency that makes it a great standalone. From the beginning, Green Day’s used slacker attitude to hide raw musical talent (particularly from bassist Mike Dirnt and drummer Tre Cool), and while Warning in particular got praise for lyrical strength, Billie Joe Armstrong’s been a strong songwriter since Dookie. He makes the protagonists for “Longview” and “Basket Case”–probably unlikeable people if you met them–borderline sympathetic, and spins gruesome but not alienating tales on songs like “Hitchin’ a Ride” and “Geek Stink Breath”. “Brain Stew” is similarly impressive for how economic it is; the song wrings physical misery out of three basic stanzas.
But even the lyrics wouldn’t hold up as well were the music not so endlessly catchy and energetic. The band’s specialty in manic, three chord pop punk is on display here, but the variety in the extra heavy “Hitchin’ a Ride” or mostly-acoustic “Warning” is a strength instead of a weakness. Balladry from “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)”, “Redundant”, and “Macy’s Day Parade” highlights the poignancy and impact of the songs (even if the world at large has collectively heard “Good Riddance” enough that its essentially lost all meaning).
For this Feedback, the point isn’t that International Superhits! is a particularly overlooked compilation (it’s shipped over a million copies), but that it’s a time capsule from a band who doesn’t really exist anymore. We’ve been so exposed to Green Day as a high-concept rock band that’s all politics, guyliner, and bluster (and something of a punchline) that we’ve missed seeing them as a bunch of guys banging out consistent material without looking like they’re trying. Even if few of them were actual international superhits or hits in the first place, this incarnation of the band–and this compilation–exists as a solid one-stop shop for big name 90’s pop punk.