If you know anything about Green Day, it's no big secret that they're Who fans (see: Sweet Children EP - Track 4 - "My Generation"). On top of that, you should also know that they've been extremely creative lately (see: Warning). Now, put those two together, and you have Green Day's seventh full length release, American Idiot. Not only does it offer a small dose of musical progression, but it's a freaking rock opera! Think Quadrophenia, Green Day style.
While American Idiot doesn't tell a tale of a schizoid tangled in the middle of a raging class war, it's close enough. Lyrically, the new album takes a mainly political stance, dealing with America's war policies, the overall state of the nation, and the economy. Musically, I've diagnosed this album with a definite multiple personality disorder. There's some average Nimrod-era Green Day mixed in with a bit of extremely watered-down Warning-style folk-punk, a lot of heavy riffs, and a few string-laden slow songs that seem to slow down the momentum that the more exciting tracks bring into the mix.
The second track, actually a collection of various pieces, is a nine-minute epic that offers plenty of variety. It starts off with two minutes of hard-hitting punk rock, and slows down to what sounds like the band's take on Summer of '69. It goes on to build itself up, drop back down, and repeats that pattern until the track's explosive ending.
"Are We The Waiting" is boring and repetitive. The same chords are hit over and over again, and the drums aren't much different. The vocals are disturbingly similar to that "Youth of the Nation" song by P.O.D., repeating "are we, we are, are we, we are the waiting," until, thankfully, it leads up to one of the album's best tracks, "St. Jimmy," which is classic Nimrod material.
Songs like "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" and "Wake Me Up When September Ends" are slow, less interesting tracks that don't offer much to the overall American Idiot experience. As the titles might suggest, they're nothing more than feeble attempts to bring some emotion into the album, but that attempt fails miserably, thanks to cheesy lyrics and lack of overall musical quality.
When it all comes down to it, American Idiot is an album that has a steady balance between it's strengths and weaknesses. On one hand, it's a solid listen, and a nice addition to anyone's punk rock collection. On the other, sadly, there are a lot of shortcomings and regression from it's advanced predecessor. It's nothing groundbreaking and we probably won't get to see a movie with Billie Joe riding around on a Vespa any time soon, but it's fun, and, hey, isn't that what punk rock's all about?
Like too many of their musical peers, Green Day, the longtime bay area punk/pop heroes, have thrown down their challenge to the American government with their bluntly titled seventh album. Upon learning the name of this record, I have to admit that I felt a little concerned that everyone's favourite pop-punkers had decided to become 'political' - didn't they learn from their doomed cousins, Anti-Flag? However, more news surfaced and I read that this record would also be a "rock opera." While journalists everywhere made the obvious Who comparisons, Green Day recorded a 21 track epic detailing the life of "Jesus of Suburbia" and his struggles.
Beginning with that single, the record initially seems like a slice of predictable Green Day - fun, energetic, dumb, and a little two-dimensional. Billie Joe Armstrong's lyrics are candy coated little barbs at the media, homophobes, and "subliminal mindfuck America." Lyrics like these make for a catchy chorus that makes it easy to forget the meaning of the words and just sing along with the hook. The distortion effect on Armstrong's vocals is used several more times in further tracks.
Straight after the single, we get the first of the two 9 minute long tracks, both made up of several songs spliced together, in the vein of, yes, The Who, and more recently, NOFX's "The Decline." Green Days shows a new ability to break from their old three chord strumming, as we hear a piano incorporated into the track, as well as some Beach Boys-esque harmonies and even a xylophone. The changes between the five subtracks (is that even a word?) are clever, one even leading to a skiffle-like acoustic part that could have been on Warning. The track ends with a bare piano outro that screams ballad. But they've fooled us. Back come the distorted guitars and TrÃÂ© Cool's empowered beats.
"Holiday" is an excellent track, showing a fusion of the band's marching-beat style rhythms, like they used on Warning, with their more traditional pop rock tracks. Armstrong even borrows from older lyrics with the line "(This is the dawning) of the rest of our lives" which is familiar to Warning's "Church on Sunday." Once again the band makes use of over-produced vocals, but "Holiday" stands out as the record's first darker track.
"Boulevard of Broken Dreams" is a very new sound for the band, with delay effects on the guitars, a piano accompaniment, and a slow tempo that makes for a balladic track with spacey guitars. All that rushes away to make way for a fist-in-the-air chorus and an acoustic middle section, ending in a flurry of guitar effects. "Are We The Waiting" is poetic and thoughtfully constructed, but drags on and has an annoyingly wordy chorus that just bores the listener. "St Jimmy" is trademark fast, energetic Green Day, and will bring a smile to the face of every listener.
Without revealing too much about the record, I'll say that the further tracks are similar to the others, but not in an altogether repetitive vein. Where bands like the Clash failed in their attempts to fuse too many musical styles together in one record (triple-album Sandinista!), Green Day tend to stick to what they know, loosely, and so don't suffer as much as their forebears. However, this doesn't stop the song "Extraordinary Girl" beginning with synths and African tribal drums.
"Wake Me Up When September Ends" is the tearful cousin of Nimrod's "Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)." It's soppy stuff that progresses to a guitar-heavy ending. "Homecoming" is the second nine-minute track, and this is where the formula and style become a little bit repetitive. Some nice call and repeat guitar work midway through almost saves it, but not quite. As an ending to the character's story as the concept progresses, it works well, with lyrics smacking of self-reflection: "I got a rock and roll band / I got a rock and roll life / I got a rock and roll girlfriend / And another ex-wife."
Armstrong's lyrics are witty and hooky, and the music itself, well, what else can you say about Green Day as a musical trio? You either love it or hate it. Twenty years ago when they were students in Oakland and writing quirky pop tunes, nobody would have thought they'd be around in 2004. In a sense, the Green Day of old aren't, but the band now knows exactly what they're doing, and are still writing for fun, not on an agenda.
Overall, American Idiot is an ambitious record by a band who, thankfully, have realized that now they're 30 they can no longer get away with writing songs about high school and girls all the time (take note, MxPx). It doesn't always work, but as a pompous and clever attempt to break out from the perceived perceptions of whatever "punk" is, American Idiot succeeds, a product of a mature band who are still showing spirit without looking stupid.
[Reviews editor: Insert a joke here about them not being American Idiots or something (geddit?!).]