Catch me in the right mood (and with the right amount of beer in me) and I will make the argument that Energy is the greatest album of all-time. Logically, I know that isn’t true but few (if any) records have had such a lasting impact on me that I can’t help myself. If someone paid close attention and tallied it all up, I would guess that I have listened to Operation Ivy more than any other band over the course of my 35+ years.
So what is it that makes them so vital, so fucking great? It’s the perfect storm of naivete, pure energy (I know, I know), songwriting chops, and timing that came together to produce this supernova that defined mid-80s-to-mid-90s West Coast punk rock. On the surface, Op Ivy have a very simplistic approach, but when you dig into the guts there’s a surprising amount of complexity and depth. Lint aka Tim Armstrong has always had an innate ability to write hooks. They are unexpected and come in surprise forms, but Energy and Hectic are, above all else, earworms. Jesse Michaels certainly gets credit because of his lyric-writing ability, but, and it sometimes pains me to admit this, Armstrong is the spine of Op Ivy. Tim Armstrong is why Op Ivy are one of the greatest bands of all-time. Yes, he had the ultimate running mate with Michaels, who over the course of an EP and LP cements his place as one of punk rock’s greatest singers, but Armstrong was the engine room. It wasn’t as obvious at the time, I imagine, but on those first two Rancid records (which I will stand by until I die), you can hear the ghosts of Op Ivy and that’s all Lint.
Yet, Michaels is why Op Ivy is in the pantheon and Rancid is a novel sideshow. Every performance he gives, at least on record, is full on with no punches pulled. He is absolutely impaling himself on the sword of Op Ivy and it’s fucking beautiful and cathartic. Tunes like “The Crowd,” “Vulnerability,” “Unity,” “Hoboken,” and “I Got No” live and die with the pure, unharnessed energy he provides. It’s almost too much, but everything is in balanced, everything kept in check. On top of that, musically, it defined an era. Ska-infused pop-punk became a kajillion dollar industry in a lot of ways (and yeah, the first couple Green Day records ARE great but they wouldn’t fucking exist without Energy and aren’t at all on the same level anyway), but it’s all about Energy. The west coast punk scene would never be the same post-Op Ivy.
But that’s all fairly well-known yeah? For me, Op Ivy was the pinnacle of so many things. Michaels was singing about social justice ideas that resonated with me as a 14 year-old deeply. The thing that’s so impressive, though, is that his lyrics are presented in a way that will appeal to a teenager but aren’t so schlocky that at 35 I find myself cringing. It still works. That’s the definition of timeless, right? It’s music that makes you want to get up and move your ass, crash through walls and scream at the top of your lungs. It’s an incredible achievement. It’s a perfect mix of songwriting ability and youthful indifference. Operation Ivy is everything. It’s ridiculous and incredible and I don’t understand how all these things are possible on a single, monumental record. All I know is that I don’t know nothing in-fucking-deed.