“I think everyone should spread as many rumors and lies about the Longshot as possible…” – Billie Joe Armstrong
I’ve been reading a lot lately about the ’90s music scene. The easiest and perhaps the laziest way to describe the ’90s is to describe it as the Grunge Era. And while Grunge was a powerful force in music, Kurt Cobain and crew certainly destroyed everything that came before them, there was a lot more going on in music at the time. There was a ton of what was described as “alternative rock” back then, which was basically anything that wasn’t “classic rock.” Or basically, alternative rock was anything that wasn’t say, Foghat. It’s easy to look at the ’90s as the last Golden Age of Rock. Guitar driven bands are few and far between nowadays… Thank heaven for Greta Van Fleet!
When I read about that era now, I notice a lot of bands get sort of lumped together. I see Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden all lumped together with Green Day, who were another ’90s powerhouse. And while Green Day got big with Dookie in 1994, I’ve always viewed them as being apart from the Grunge thing. Green Day were punk rockers, plain and simple. I’m not suggesting they were derivative, they were just clearly punk. While all the Grunge guys and especially Nirvana were influenced by punk, they were something different. Pearl Jam was more influenced by classic rock than they’d probably be willing to admit. Soundgarden, to me at the time, were Black Sabbath with a better vocalist (I’m talking about Ozzy here, not Dio, I love those Sabbath LPs with RJD…). I will also say, in terms of differentiating Green Day from the other bands of the era, I think that Green Day had a better rhythm section in Tre Cool (drums) and Mike Dirnt (bass) than the other bands… with all due respect to Nirvana’s Grohl/Novoselic, Soundgarden’s Cameron/Shepherd, or Pearl Jam’s Ament/plug-in-drummer-name here. Pearl Jam went through more drummers than Spinal Tap. None of those rhythm sections were bad, I’m just saying Tre Cool is a kick ass drummer. And I do like Grohl as a drummer more than I do as a front man…but I’m off on a tangent here.
If you listen to Green Day’s Dookie, their major label debut, or any of their earlier albums, they were very punk. There was a rawness to the music and a certain amount of menace. They’ve always had a good sense of humor, but it came with a great “fuck you” attitude. You could hear a definite influence of the Clash or the Sex Pistols in early Green Day. As the years passed, their sound evolved and expanded, I think, for the better. Listening to Green Day now, they sound more like the power-pop/rock of say, Big Star with admittedly more powerful guitar, arena-rock size choruses and stronger hooks. My favorite album from Green Day remains their most diverse musically, Warning, which at the time was their least selling album. After that they went heavily into the Rock Opera genre, with American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown. Over their career Green Day has lost a bit of that menace in their sound but I’ve remained a big fan. I liked their last album, Revolution Radio (LP Review: Green Day “Revolution Radio,” They retrench and relaunch).
The mastermind behind Green Day is, of course, Billie Joe Armstrong. As those of you who regularly read B&V know, I’ve always subscribed to the “Great Man” (or woman, I’m using the generic term “man,” because its sounds better than Great Person) theory of rock. I cribbed the theory from a history class. It basically means that at certain points in history or in this case rock and roll, certain great men, er I mean people, came forward to have a significant impact on things. I consider, along with guys like Jack White or Eddie Vedder, Billie Joe Armstrong to be one of these “great” people. He’s now stepped out of Green Day and formed a new band or as they like to call it, a new side-project.
It’s not the first time Armstrong has done this. With the other members of Green Day, they put out an album of 60s style rock tunes under the moniker the Foxboro Hot Tubs. There are rumors a band named the Network was also actually Green Day out there, but it’s never been proved to the point I take that as gospel. Those projects (if the Network really was Green Day) were something more akin to the Beatles pretending to be Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, just a fun way to take some of the pressure off being Green Day. I loved that Foxboro album, it’s a lot of fun. I also followed Armstrong on his truly first “solo” album outside of Green Day, Foreverly, which was a cover album of an old Everly Brothers’ album (Songs My Father Taught Me), literally song for song, only in a different order. I loved that album, but that could be because in a stroke of genius Armstrong invited Norah Jones to harmonize with him. It’s a quiet little album in the vein of Plant/Krauss’ Raising Sand.
So now we have the Longshot. So, in order “spread as many rumors” as I can, I’ll tell you what I know and what I think. Armstrong wrote all the tunes on Love Is For Losers, except for a curious cover of Ozzy Osbourne’s “Goodbye to Romance.” I suspect that he plays all the instruments on this album, although his son is credited as drumming on one song. They’ve done a few live gigs, and the Longshot, at least live, consists of long time Green Day touring guitarist Jeff Matika on bass, Kevin Preston on guitar and David Field on drums. Obviously Armstrong is on vocals and guitar as well.
Love Is For Losers is probably the “punk-iest” thing I’ve heard Armstrong do since Insomniac. The rock songs on this album don’t reach the punk menace of “Geek Stink Breath” but what songs do? This album is a blast of punk-y guitar-rock full of big time riffs. I will say Armstrong has not lost his ability to write hook-filled songs. My first listen through, I got an almost 50s vintage vibe running through the music, but I think that may be because I’ve been listening to a lot of Elvis lately… But when you think about it, the original punk rockers were really stripping away a lot of the artifice that had grown up in rock and roll and took it back to it’s simpler, less complicated roots, albeit with more attitude and well, menace.
I will say, a lot of this music, at least through the first few listens does seem, for lack of a better word, “monochromatic.” Rockers like “The Last Time,” the title track, “Cult Hero” and “Taxi Driver” all sound alike on first listen. The more I listen, the more I like these tracks, and I start to hear the different riffs emerge. There are a few stylistic breaks with that core sound, “Chasing The Ghost” still has guitars but Armstrong uses some vocal effects with interesting results. And, the aforementioned cover of the ballad “Goodbye To Romance,” which sent my wife running from the room, at least made me smile. I mean, who covers Ozzy?
Armstrong seems extremely energized by this creative outlet outside of Green Day. And while I’m not sure I’d say this is a 100% return to punk, it’s certainly got a lot of that swagger and energy. A lot of times side projects are half-assed, narcissistic projects, but you certainly can’t say that about the Longshot. It feels like Armstrong is really into this and is having a great time doing it. While Love Is For Losers isn’t going to change the course of music, it’s nice to hear Armstrong unleash the less polished guitar sound. God knows, we need more guitar driven rock out there. This album certainly deserves a listen.