Review Summary: Green Day's revival stops just short of being an absolute genre classic, but does enough to earn its status as a modern-day classic, and is a damn fine listen in its own right.
Green Day. These days, you either love them or hate them (mostly hate them. It’s in fashion.) From pioneers of the punk-pop movement and rightful heirs to The Descendents, the group has apparently grown into the personification of all that is wrong with radio-friendly rock music these days. And whether you are a furious denigrator of the threesome’s reputation or a staunch defender of their role in modern pop-rock, you can blame it all on one album: 2004’s American Idiot
One of the biggest modern music phenomena this side of a Simon Cowell production, American Idiot
not only re-launched Green Day’s faltering career, but became Generation Me’s equivalent of Nevermind
. If you ask a rock music fan between the ages of 14 and 24, they will probably name this album as one of their entry points into the genre. It is that
important. However, musical relevance isn’t everything, and Idiot
might have still sucked, even while influencing millions of kids worldwide. Fortunately, it does not, and instead asserts itself as one of the seminal releases of not only the band’s career, but the modern-day rock scene as a whole.
To understand how Idiot
came to be, one must first hark back to 1998, and the release of Nimrod
. Despite the commercial force of acoustic tearjerker Good Riddance
, that album’s attempt at experimentation fell flat, with Green Day achieving only a modicum of the success they had experienced with their previous two albums. Undeterred, the group soldiered on with their maturity process, releasing the much less ambitious Warning
three years later, to the collective disinterest of the music world.
The gigantic ‘meh’ the album was greeted with still did not discourage Billie Joe Armstrong and Co., who, unwilling to return to the previous status quo and figuring the situation could not get much worse, thought ‘why not’ and decided to go out on a limb. The resulting product, a concept album and punk-rock opera called American Idiot
, would come out in 2004, and exceed even the band’s wildest expectations.
However, this success was not immediate. The first few singles from the album were generally ignored, and only Boulevard Of Broken Dreams
and Wake Me Up When September Ends
would be able to cause a stir – and then, only from horrified fans unable to digest the (gasp!) acoustic guitars and (double gasp!!) eyeliner
! All in all, it seemed this latest experiment from Green Day would go the same way as the other two, and that the band would never again recapture their relevance.
But then, something
happened. All of a sudden, punk fans started to embrace American Idiot
, too, and the album steadily began to acquire its rightful place in 21st century music history. And rightfully so - it is a bloody good album.
Green Day’s sound in Idiot
can best be described as a more mature version of what My Chemical Romance would put out a few years later with The Black Parade
. The album joins heavy guitars and fast, punky rhythms with more acoustic, poppy moments, the whole joined together by a dramatic sheen which stops just short of being overblown – in that regard, the band would not jump the shark until their next album. The final product is a thoroughly satisfying, if not entirely perfect, representative of the modern-rock genre.
The album’s early goings are particularly strong. The first few songs build towards a crescendo, achieved about midway through on the excellent Give Me Novocaine
, and showcase all the different styles the band will touch upon on this album. The title track starts us off on a high note, being the sort of lively, punky cut the band has become known for, and helping ease listeners into what comes next: a multi-layered, eight-minute cut called Jesus Of Suburbia
, which would have been unthinkable not only in Green Day’s previous albums, but in any album from a punk rock band until that point. The ensuing songs are significantly more understated, but do not lay off on the variety, running the gamut from the Warning
-esque pop-rock of Holiday
to the flat-out radio concessions of the infamous Boulevard of Broken Dreams
, the eerie atmosphere of Are We The Waiting
and the irrepressible punk assault of St. Jimmy
. An apex is reached, as noted, on Give Me Novocaine
, a track that perfectly marries the band’s new-found acoustic maturity with a Brain Stew
-esque chorus riff to give us this album’s absolute highlight.
Unfortunately, a high point inevitably implies a downfall, and in that regard, the latter half of the album does not hold a patch to the early tracks. For this portion of American Idiot
, the earlier status quo is turned on its head: nothing
here is interesting, aside from Wake Me Up When September Ends
and a couple of (very punctual) moments in other songs. Instead, we are left with blatant filler like Extraordinary Girl
(almost, but not quite, saved by its chorus) and cute, but inconsequential, tracks such as She’s A Rebel
. A nadir is reached on the hopelessly dull Homecoming
, a failed attempt at recreating Jesus Of Suburbia
whose sole saving grace is a criminally short rollicking segment that sees Billie Joe at his most nasally bratty since around 1992. Sadly, this portion is over in literally thirty seconds, leaving us with the wasteland of ideas that is the rest of the song – and of the album’s latter half as a whole.
As noted, however, not everything
’s bad. Paradoxically, it is in these songs that the band insert their most interesting details – such as the tribal/industrial intro to Extraordinary Girl
or the child-sung intro to Letterbomb
; it is only a shame that they are inserted into such pedestrian tracks. Elsewhere, Wake Me Up When September Ends
may be hideous overplayed by now (and not at all Green Day-esque), but it is nonetheless a solid song, that perfectly encapsulates what the band were aiming for on this opus.
In the end, then, American Idiot
manages to overcome its risible concept and over-dramatic overtones to establish itself as a solid guitar-pop/rock album. While it stops just short of being an absolute genre classic, it does enough to earn its status as a modern-day classic, and slip in right behind Dookie
in the pecking order of the Green Day discography. If you only listen to one Green Day album in your life, it should be that one; but if you are willing to reach out a little further (or have a lower tolerance for loud guitars) then this one is a damn fine listen, too.
Jesus Of Suburbia
Are We The Waiting
Give Me Novocaine
Wake Me Up When September Ends