Green Day Insomniac  25th Anniversary Deluxe Limited Edition

Green Day’s Insomniac 25th Anniversary Deluxe Limited Edition double LP is pressed on black or translucent orange vinyl (add $2) and includes Winston Smith’s cover art printed on prismatic silver foil. The first LP is a remastered version of the 1995 album. The second LP includes on side A selected live tracks from their revered 1996 Prague show and on side B an etching.

With its dark overtones of self-destruction and near insanity, Insomniac, the follow-up album to the group’s 1994 Reprise album Dookie (Reprise 45529-1)— a wildly successful release that propelled them to household name stardom with songs like “Basket Case”, “Longview” and “When I Come Around”— reassured fans that the bratty suburban outcasts were far from a flash in the pan in the American pop landscape.

The musical punk-rock power trio leaped from the small shows at 924 Gilman St. in Oakland onto America’s main stage without “selling out.” Despite moving from Lookout! Records, which released small underground bands like Operation Ivy, to Reprise, Green Day never altered its sound to suit mainstream culture. Rather, the opposite happened. Mainstream culture fell in love with Green Day, causing Insomniac to hit #2 on the Billboard Top 100 charts.

But for the band 1995 didn’t feel at all rewarding. Bay Area punks were pissed, and within the local scene in which they had polished their sound, the three were declared “personae non gratae”. In an interview with Larry Livermore, Billie Joe Armstrong said “I think I was just lost…I couldn’t find the strength to convince myself that what I was doing was a good thing. I was in a band that was huge because it was supposed to be huge, because our songs were that good. But it couldn’t even feel that I was doing the right thing, because it felt like I was making so many people angry. That’s where I became so confused, and it got really stupid. I would never want to live that part of my life over again…the fact that the album came out, like, a year and a half after Dookie was us trying to cut off the bullshit in its tracks and just keep making music. That’s all we wanted to do, keep making music. Sometimes I feel that Insomniac is the most honest record I ever made at the particular moment that it was written and recorded.”

Insomniac hits heavier and harder than does Dookie. It is peak “first wave” Green Day. Each song is a tight coil of economically composed punk music that due to the trio’s outstanding musicianship, both rocks and rolls. Tre Cool’s drumming is lively, dynamic and extremely musical. He simultaneously holds the back beat while composing swirling drum fills into the song structure. Billie’s angular palm-muting with brief rhythmic hits of open power chords fit right into the spaces between his vocal melody. Mike Dirnt’s aggressively picked walking and arpeggiated bass lines propel each musical passage forward to the next chord. There is not a single guitar solo on the entire record, and good riddance!

Let’s start with the packaging—Winston Smith’s prismatic silver foil print titled “God Told Me To Skin You Alive” looks and feels superb! Smith’s artwork casts a wide net into the catalog of Dead Kennedys, Ben Harper, and George Carlin to name a few, often using humorous collage and controversial imagery to reconsider predetermined social systems. The cacophony of Insomniac’s artwork perfectly accompanies the dark energy of the lyrics and sound.

Inside, the records are housed in two thick paper record sleeves (you’ll want to house the records in rice paper inner sleeves and of course retain the paper ones in the jacket). One showcases the lyrics in disjointed typographic design, while the other displays black and white contact sheet outtakes illuminating the bands infamous shenanigans. The song lyrics are not in order, and you have to flip between sleeve sides, which proves difficult given most songs hover around two minutes. It’s a short record clocking in at just over a half hour, which is perfect for punk.

But does it sound as good as the original 1995 pressing? For the 25th anniversary edition Warner Music sent to Gateway Mastering flat 192/24 bit transfers from the original 1/2" master tapes. Adam Ayan working off of Bob Ludwig’s original mastering notes, mastered the files. Chris Bellman cut lacquers using those mastered files. But make no mistake…this anniversary edition is cut from digital files while the original is from the analog tape. Precision Record Pressing in Burlington, Ontario Canada pressed the records. Precision (PRP) was established in 2016 as a partnership with GZ Media in the Czech Republic.

As always, the proof is in the playback. If you’re familiar with the compact disc, then the 25th anniversary vinyl provides depth, dynamics and clarity. The album feels sonically heavier and rocks harder. The compact disc by comparison sounds thin, cold and flat. Unfortunately, I was not able to compare this reissue with the AAA original, which on Discogs is in short supply. The two copies now listed there are going for $200. MF has an original so at some point soon I’ll bring this reissue over and we’ll compare. Watch this space for an update.

“Armitage Shanks” (a brand of U.K. bathroom ceramics) kicks off the album with Tre’s thunderous syncopated drum solo coming before the first lyrics hit, with the Billie’s self-loathing platitudes “stranded /lost inside myself /my own worst friend is my own closest enemy /I’m branded /maladjusted /never trusted anyone let alone myself /I must insist on being a pessimist /I’m a loner in a catastrophic mind.” It’s a thinner, more electrified tube overdriven sound than much of Green Day’s later work in which Billie switched to layering acoustic guitars underneath Gibson electrics. Billie’s mid-90’s heavily decorated sonic blue Fernandez hung below his waist coupled with his comically overextended guitar strumming is his iconic Dookie and Insomniac look and sound.

“Brat” touches on a jobless privileged suburban prick waiting for his parents to die so he can gain their inheritance. The song is so minimal that if you omitted one chord the entire structure would fall apart.

“Brainstew” sounds exceptionally thick with Billie’s gated guitar delivering an almost NIN style industrial production…Tre’s hi-hat is crisp and defined. It’s the record’s slowest, but perhaps its most memorable. It segues right into “Jaded”, the speediest song of their career, entering the realm of the “fast beat” popularized by NOFX. Playing this fast yet so tight continues to be the band’s most mesmerizing ability.

“86” deals with being branded as sellouts and not being allowed to hang out at the band’s old stomping grounds. “What brings you around / did you lose something the last time you were here / you’ll never find it now / it’s buried deep with your identity / so stand aside and let the next one pass / don’t let the door kick you in the ass / there’s no return from 86 / don’t even try…”.

Throughout the superb sounding record, the drums pop, the toms have a bouncy low end and the cymbals and hi-hats have tempered yet precise transients. The guitars sound layered, thick and fuzzed out. It’s a “precisely clean” yet distorted record, with both sensations simultaneously striking. Dirnt’s aggressive picking sits in the mix moving the songs forward, only poking out when a solo pops, he arpeggiates a chord structure, or walks it up and down leading to the next power chord into which Billie shreds.

The second disc’s side A contains select tracks from their legendary 1996 Prague show. They bust into “Armitage Shanks” at what feels like 30% faster than the studio recording! It’s a live punk show…the crowd energy transmits, and you can envision youngsters frantically bouncing around the room. But the sound quality sometimes wavers like you are at the other end of a long tube. A technical difficulty produces on “Jaded” an undesirable hi-pitched feedback squeal. Despite these shortcomings, these live recordings are a wonderful addition to an already explosive album, revealing Green Day’s intensity, fun, and youthful angst in a European club at the peak of their first wave success.

The 25th anniversary limited edition of Green Day’s Insomniac includes the necessary bells and whistles to justify its 2021 reissue. It’s a new way to listen to an otherwise familiar record—especially considering how limited was the original vinyl release. If you are looking to live out 90’s nostalgia, this double vinyl hits a home run. The album transports you to the time and feel of a bygone era, while the live show highlights provide a new listening element.

Green Day’s 30+ year recording career produced many great albums. Insomniac remains one of the trio’s most formidable and honest records.

Nicholas Coleman is an internationally renowned Oleologist living and working in New York City. He is the co-founder of Grove and Vine a company that bottles and champions the finest olive oil producers in the world, available by subscription on the site. He firmly believes in the virtues of home cookery and the power of outstanding music.

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