The Rivermaya-Bamboo breakup in ’98 was such a bummer, it was a heartbreaker, that the band’s fourth LP, It’s Not Easy Being Green, features some of Rivermaya’s most personal songs—some about breakup, some about moving on. The album title itself is a reference to a specific song lamenting the state of “being green”, of being ordinary, of disappearing into the background—that without the rockstar vocalist, they’re just these three regular guys.
There’s “Shattered Like” implicitly referencing Bamboo leaving the group, the country-folk “May Kasalanan”, about being left behind, “Bagong Taon”, where Blanco compares his love life to an assortment of fireworks (baby rocket, trumpilyo, lucis), and “Never Been Better”, a song about having moved on or feigning it. All four highlight the album in varying level of cathartic phlebotomy before “Homecoming” closes the album with a teary-eyed “Lover come home, lover come home.”
But Rivermaya (this time just Mark, Nathan and Rico), bemoans “being green” much less than they embrace it. And totally embrace being green they did. As if the band said “Fuck it! We’ll just do what we want to do”, Rivermaya delivered their darnedest best with this album. Never before did a Rivermaya album sound this focused, this consistent. The songs just flow, fly and soar from start to end. Less of that faux experimental shit that littered their previous album (i.e., Atomic Bomb).
While the sad songs hit the sad notes where they need to, stompers like “Grounded Ang Girlfriend Ko”, “Nerbyoso”, and “Sorry” totally rocks. The epic “Bagong Taon”, with guitar pyrotechnics that reminds me of Radiohead’s “Creep” and Bush’s “Swallowed”, is as great as any of the best tracks from Free, Atomic Bomb or Trip.
Then, there’s “Rodeo”, a song about “a song about true love”, with Blanco’s perfectly faux cowboy twang, country-folk beat and honky keys, it’s just perfect. Most likely inspired by Beck’s Odelay (with both Beck and Odelay mentioned in the lyrics), “Rodeo” is album’s ultimate equalizer, balancing the heartbreak and sad songs, with bawdy humor and glee (What sweeter thing could happen to a boy and a girl / we gotta do it like mechanical rabbits from hell, yeah).
Is this album better than Free? Well, actually I won’t mind putting either ahead of the other. Free is more left-of-the-dial, more like In Utero than Nevermind while It’s Not Easy Being Green is more varied, more expansive. It covers more area, it’s more complete, y’know, from A to Zinc. And to these impaired ears, it’s the quintessential Rivermaya record.