Green Day - Warning Green Day

Is it success? Maturity? Marriage and fatherhood?

Whatever the reasons behind it, Green Day's return after a three-year silence is the band's most measured and thoughtful disc to date. After the exploratory sprawl of 1997's 18-track Nimrod, Warning is a slim document at 12 songs.

Slim but powerful.

The trio still knows how to deliver the goods, though these days they seem a bit calmer in that delivery.

Warning opens with its title track, an acoustic jam with a walking bassline and a throwback Clash-like attack as Billy Joe Armstrong questions our cordoned off neighborhoods and increasingly powerful police and other authorities: "Question everything?Or shut up and be the victim of authority? ... is it the cop or am I the one that's really dangerous?"

Warning finds Green Day exploring many of the hidden power struggles that hide behind our suburban doorways.

In "Blood, Sex and Booze," Armstrong explores the twisted mind of a man who needs the discipline of a dominatrix. In "Church on Sunday," he puts to highly charged music the situation that many couples find themselves making theologically:

"If I promise to go to church on Sunday
will you go with me on Friday night?
If you live with me, I'll die for you
and this compromise."

Musically, the band delivers its trademark punk-power, three-chord attack on much of the disc, but also explores other textures, including an accordion-laced oom-pah rhythm on "Misery," where Armstrong sings of "better days," and a variety of characters who are felled by "catastrophic incidents."

And in "Hold On" the band pulls out a Beatle-esque harmonica to strum about "a cry of hope/a plea for peace."

But if age has brought Armstrong to deal with deeper themes, his deliciously wicked sarcasm hasn't been sweetened by time. In the acid-bite of "Jackass" he growls: "To know you is to hate you/so loving you must be like suicide," before observing that "everybody loves a joke/but no one likes a fool."

He has, however, developed an increasing skill for writing "sweet" melodies.

The album ends with "Macy's Day Parade," its most introspective track, a softly strummed sonic followup to the smash hit from Nimrod, "Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)." In "Macy's Day Parade," Armstrong recalls that "when I was a kid I thought/I wanted all the things that I haven't got/oh I learned the hardest way," before ending the disc by declaring "I'm thinking about a brand new hope/the one I've never known/'cause now I know/It's all that I wanted."

Sharp, inciteful, catchy, up, down, fast, slow ... Warning has it all. These kids are all right; this is the best album of Green Day's career and one of the year's best.


Elliott Smith - Figure 8 Elliott Smith
Figure 8

There's a quiet sense of urgency to Smith's music; a steady layer of smooth vocal beauty piled on top of sometimes pounding rhythm.

Figure 8 will feel familiar to those who discovered Smith on his 1998 major label debut, XO.

Figure 8 is actually his fifth album overall, and its delicate guitar melodies and perfectly melded cushions of vocal harmonies show the artist has learned to work the studio, to turn his quiet songs into glorious sonic castles of aural warmth.

Smith's simple harmony style and lightly strummed guitar in songs like "Somebody That I Used to Know" leads to easy comparisons to Simon & Garfunkel, but more often than not, his songs are reminiscient of the early solo work of Paul McCartney. There are melancholy, echo-drenched ballads where Smith measures every string pick and syllable ("Everything Reminds Me of Her," "Color Bars"), lilting guitar jams ("L.A.," "Pretty Mary K"), barrelhouse piano throwbacks ("In the Lost and Found"), and big production moments with scads of keyboards, guitar, and background vocals (the sweeping "Son of Sam" and "Happiness").

Smith's smooth delivery and subtle arrangements take some time to really sink in a glancing listen might yield just a yawn, but a fourth or fifth play embeds the melodies in your head and finds the dreamy parts raising smile, rather than lowering eyelids. This is a classic-sounding dose of mellow pop that deserves often repeated listens. It's a late-night fireside symphony.

Smith will perform live at The Vic Theatre in Chicago Friday night.


Don Covay - Adlib Don Covay

Don Covay wrote some of the classic soul hits of the '60s and '70s, including Aretha Franklin's "Chain of Fools,"Wilson Pickett's "Three Time Loser" and Rolling Stones' "Mercy Mercy." Huey Lewis even recorded his "He Don't Know." But he never really tasted fame as a solo artist. Still, he recorded a number of solo albums before suffering a stroke in the '90s.

Now, with the help of his occasional "music director" Jon Tiven and friends like Lewis, Pickett, Paul Rodgers, Wilson, Ann Peebles, Otis Clay and Paul Shaffer, Covay returns with a loose new studio collection on Cannonball Records called Don Covay & Friends: Adlib.

The album features cover art by ex-Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood. Covay's style is to essentially talk over a riff rather than sing, so it's a good thing that Lewis shows up to actually sing "The Red Comb Song" and Peebles belts "Chain of Fools," wherein, at the end, Covay thanks Aretha for making it a hit.

The entire album is a late night jam sounding affair, nothing earthshattering, but some solid R&B grooves.