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Knock-Down Drag-Out

…And in the opposite corner, we have The Green Album. Whereas a gloriously on-edge, unhinged performance like “Getchoo” highlights exactly why Pinkerton is so satisfying even a dozen years on, by 2001 Rivers Cuomo had changed directions. In his mind, that approach now represented the sophomore slump, his biggest commercial failure; while many would be able to simply recognize that their product was too artful or off-beat for a mainstream audience, Cuomo later compared the incident to getting trashed, having a cathartic heart-to-heart with a crowd of strangers at a party, then waking up the next morning, hungover and horrified to remember last night’s revelations. And as it would turn out, that reassessment of his past works stretched back as far as the more personal moments on The Blue Album (recall his Correspondence Board ramblings about the “disneygay” “Only In Dreams”).

Then again, when your misunderstood masterpiece contains a candid portrait of yourself wondering how a Japanese schoolgirl touches herself, what else is there to do than stick your head beneath the sand for a few years and try to disassociate? Producer Ric Ocasek recalls that during the sessions for Green, Cuomo would ruthlessly “coach” bassist Mikey Welsh through scores and scores of takes (many of which Ocasek said were album-worthy to his ears, and virtually indistinguishable), until it was as perfect and bland as could be. Indeed, most of Green feels as though it could have been played by machines; whatever made “Getchoo” click, Cuomo wanted none of it. No flaws, no friction, no soul.

“Knock-Down Drag-Out” is perhaps the very best ambassador for Green‘s modus operandi. Clocking in at a mechanically concise 2 minutes (and eight seconds, for fadeout), the song charges out of the gates as inoffensively as possible, with a rush of Sweet’N Low guitars (my friend has long referred to Green‘s guitar sound as “vomit;” we’ll call it “saccharine vomit”), polished and spitshined to mediocre perfection. Rock crit veteran Mark Prindle concisely sums up the track’s appeal relative to the rest of the album as simply being “faster than the others, [with] great John/Paul harmonies,” which drive it through its catchy-as verses into a perfectly-transitioned chorus. It’s the tale of two lovers at temporary odds, and is typically straightforward in its design, though I do enjoy the imagery of, “Take no prisoners in this knock-down drag-out war.” ‘Knock-down drag-out’ — one of those neat little phrases Cuomo manages to conjure every now and then, like “broken-beaten down” in “The Good Life.” Simple, smart, sounds like what it means.

So yeah: verse, chorus, verse, chorus, abbreviated bridge (all of one line: “Say you love me now”), guitar-solo-as-verse, chorus, verse, and we’re out. But there’s something very appealing going on here. It’s not high art. Emotionally, it does next to nothing for me. But it’s a fast and furious blast of sonic confectionery, a poppy little stint of no-frills vanilla, a one-night stand between early ’60s Beatles and late ’90s post-grunge radio formula. And whether or not it’s saying much, you have to give credit where it’s due: The Green Album is one of the cleanest, cheapest thrills in rock history.

While there seems to be a fair degree of fan hatred for this song, the band apparently knew they were onto something: a survey of live shows from the era reveals that after Green‘s release, this was probably the most-played track from that album not about hash or islands. This much is evidenced by KDDO being issued as a live b-side to the second UK retail CD single for “Keep Fishin’,” a move that was redundant because, if this version is any indication, the band failed to translate its studio flawlessness to the stage. Brian’s added “ahh-ahh” backups on the chorus are a nice idea, however, and Cuomo’s improvised guitar solo handily bests its uninspired album counterpart (highlighting a key Green failing: the lack of development for its songs).