Review Summary: American Idiot” is the most ambitious album they have attempted and it received immensely high ratings.
Before the release of “Warning” many people believed that Green Day needed to grow up. They were past the age where singing about bored teenagers and booze was fun. What we have on “American Idiot” in some ways is a more grown-up band. This is my own personal opinion but I don’t think dressing in all black with black make-up shows that Green Day have grown-up. Ditching the fun lyrics for a political viewpoint sounds dangerous considering that in the past I don’t think Green Day could give a flying “f*** about politics and the world around them. But, some of the political lyrics are so blatant (such as “Holiday” and “American Idiot”) that it’s tricky to take Green Day seriously this time around. “American Idiot” is the most ambitious album they have attempted and it received immensely high ratings.
“American Idiot” opens up with the title track that hits you straight away. I imagine its perfect in the mosh-pits. There is a seriously good melody here that keeps the song alive. One major problem with Green Day in my mind has been the lyrics. Take “Deadbeat Holiday” or “Fashion Victim” from the album “Warning” and you’ll get my point. “American Idiot” the song still suffers slightly from this. Billy makes it too obvious that this is political and for me, making a song so blatantly political gets the impression they’re trying to force feed you their politics. Perhaps I’m wrong but I think this shows that Green Day is a little out of they’re depth with this political thing going on. Despite that, the title track is a great rock-solid opener.
This is where two dramatic changes of Green Day are exposed. One of which that they are tackling epic tracks. You would find such nine-minute tracks in progressive rock/metal albums such as Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” or Opeth’s “Deliverance”. The last thing we need is an aging pop punk band trying to pass on the torch which is burning brightly just fine on its own. This track is “Jesus of Suburbia” which also kicks off the concept of the album. Yes! This is a concept album. Another craze that Green Day have caught on and made My Chemical Romance copy as well. The Who didn’t create the concept album but certainly popularized it with “Tommy” and “Quadrophenia”. Green Day owe a lot to The Who in this case and attempt to narrate a story to you using the one thing Green Day struggle with- lyrics. Yes, this is a nine-minute song but it’s only really just a bunch of melodies strung together to create the epic. They probably could have cut the song to pieces and given us five good tracks. That would be boring though(!)
The concept isn’t easy to follow so already the concept is broken. The song is OK but it drags a little so it can be quite an exhausting listen.
One of the most popular singles from the album is “Holiday”. It’s not easy to see why either, the “heys” are used brilliantly here and the melody is so catchy it’s almost intoxicating. I like the section after the bridge where it’s just the bass and drums but I can’t see the point of the words or what exactly they all mean. I would never associate governments with holidays but then again, I don’t think like Green Day does. A really good song. “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” is next which practically won every award a single can win. It’s a brilliant song with its slow tempo and the lyrics are actually one of the best things about it- hooray! It’s a great epic feel to it and it’s boiling with emotion. Sure it was all over the charts and overplayed on the radio and the TV but don’t let that spoil what is a fantastic song.
In terms of fantastic, nothing in my mind beats “Are We The Waiting”. My favourite Green Day song of them all. I love the lonely vibe of a sleeping city and it is brilliant listening to when you’re walking through the night where everybody is sleeping. The chorus is amazing with the backing vocals which sound like a capacity crowd at a sports stadium. I would go to a Green Day concert just to listen to this song and chant the chorus along with the capacity crowd. For me this song is flawless.
Sadly, “American Idiot” gets into a sticky situation where it goes two dreary songs in a row. “St. Jimmy” continues the concept which doesn’t really go anywhere at this point. The song however is relentless in its speed and would definitely get the crowds going at a Green Day show. Personally, I find the song a bit too much how they used to be. So far I like the direction of where the songs are going and I don’t really want aging pop punk musicians to revive what they used to be when we have those memories of how they used to be. Maybe that’s a stupid reason to dislike the song. I just can’t like the song as much as I would like to. “Give Me Novocaine” is much slower than “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and “We Are The Waiting” and pays for it. It’s a boring song which features Jimmy saying novocaine is better than air. Weird song. “She’s A Rebel” is a song about the third character in the concept, Whatsername. Some girl who apparently is a rebel. The lyrics here are actually very good such as “She’s holding on to her heart like a handgrenade”. Like “St. Jimmy” it is a speedy song but a much better one because of the lyrics and the melody.
“Extraordinary Girl” I think should have been removed from the album. It’s about Whatsername again but we have already heard a song about her so why this? It’s quite a good song which picks up some speed before the chorus and then goes back to the simple beat. It’s just a bit of filler really. That all changes with one of the best Green Day songs made, “Letterbomb”. The speed just gets faster from the beginning. Lyrically it’s good but musically it’s a triumph. Vocally this one of Billy’s best. Personally I think this should have been a single instead of “Jesus of Suburbia” but whatever, that doesn’t matter. Another big single from the album and the most emotional song from Green Day, because it’s about Billy’s father. “Wake Me Up When September Ends” is a song where you feel Billy’s pain. Not everybody can place themselves in Billy’s shoes to understand the gravity of his grief but the music and lyrics give you a good idea. It begins acoustically and then the drums come in as well as the guitars. I like the fact this isn’t an acoustic song. The electric interference increases the emotion which is especially noticeable in the song’s unbelievable bridge. The song is only let down by a poor music video which focuses more of story unconnected to the narrative of the actual song. But that’s OK because you don’t need the music video, only the song. A triumph in the album.
The final two songs continue the concept of the album and are actually the best concept songs. “Homecoming” has an amazing first few minutes before Mike and Tre add in their sections. The latter being absolutely cack and painful to listen to. The first two chapters of the song put more into the story than “Jesus of Suburbia” and “St. Jimmy” put together. I love the lyrics and Billy’s singing in this song. I have to emphasise that the brilliance of this song only lies in the first two chapters. The first two chapters rebuild the clarity of the concept which was missing in the album and feature just some great music writing. That all changes with Mike’s section called “Nobody Likes You”. It’s OK but nothing can prepare you for the musical insult that is Tre Cool’s “Rock and Roll Girlfriend” chapter of “Homecoming”. It’s terrible and I can’t work out why it’s even in the song or where it belongs in the concept. Mike Dirnt can sing well, Tre Cool cannot. Don’t waste you’re time. Thankfully, Billy fixes things with the return of his voice and some good music. “Homecoming” got off to a flying start but let down by the introduction of Tre’s crappy voice. Such a shame.
The closing song is “Whatsername” which also finishes the concept. The concept has no beginning, middle or ending so the concept of this song is meaningless. Lyrically it is quite good and I love the pace of the album. Billy’s voice again is brilliant here and this makes an appropriate ending to the album.
Highly ambitious and relative to its ambition, it did amazingly well. I will agree that this was one of the most important and successful releases of the decade but I don’t like the introduction of politics in a band that never represented that part of punk rock. Green Day turned to pop punk years ago and politics is not they’re thing in the slightest. Now if you ask me, this would have been the perfect album to retire on, nope, they went to release the abomination that is “21st Century Breakdown” which is even more ambitious and out of control and void of a sensible story. “American Idiot” worked. …That didn’t.