There's a weird moment toward the end of Warning, Green Day's sixth album and first since 1997's Nimrod. Well, it's not weird so much as unexpected, and that still doesn't accurately describe the moment in "Jackass" when an honest-to-goodness, blow-Big-Man! saxophone solo turns off E Street and crosses the bridge. If nothing else, the ghost of Clarence Clemons that haunts "Jackass" blurts out what the rest of the album, and much of Nimrod, mutters to itself: We're a rock-and-roll band now. Not alternative rock, not punk rock, not even pop-punk (punk-pop, if you're nasty)--rock and roll. It's all there, from Beatles rips (the harmonica in "Hold On," most blatantly) to Who homages ("Deadbeat" borrows Who's Next's jittery synths) to the Petty theft of Heartbreaker Benmont Tench's keys, which skulk in the corner on songs such as "Church on Sunday" and "Macy's Day Parade." And somehow, it sounds like a Green Day album anyway, which is probably the last place you would think to find a reference to The Boss. On Warning, however, it's just another backwards glance, lost among a dozen others.
That said, Warning is definitely and defiantly a new take on an old idea, not the other way around, a disc informed by classic rock and roll rather than handcuffed by it. It's a process that began on Nimrod, although much of the band's progress was overshadowed by "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)," the band's first on-record dalliance with acoustic guitars and over-the-top sentimentality. On first listen, Warning seems to have been built around that song's popularity, beginning with the acoustic strumming of the title track, and ending with another lump-in-throat ballad, "Macy's Day Parade." Obviously, the band is more confident in letting its softer side (both musically and lyrically) show, and more than a little of that is undoubtedly due to "Good Riddance." Singer-guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong isn't afraid to sing lyrics such as, "When you lost all hope and excuses/And the cheapskates and the losers/Nothing's left to cling onto/You got to hold on to yourself," as he does on "Hold On." Well, at least some good came from "Good Riddance."
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But Warning is more about the band's coming into their own an album after they were supposed to, rather than trying to capitalize on the success of Nimrod. While Armstrong continues to fill the record with more hooks than an afternoon at Kronk Gym, he lays off the jab for long stretches, preferring to let his guitar bob-and-weave throughout the song instead of consistently bloodying its nose. He allows the melodies to go where they want, as he and the band dutifully follow behind, tossing out the loud-fast rules along the way. Nothing is forced, whether that means turning it down, or turning it off completely; electric guitar doesn't even make its first appearance on the disc until track No. 2, "Blood, Sex and Booze." And no, that's not a new idea either, and it doesn't really matter. There's no point in having a rearview mirror if you never use it.