Release Date: May 15, 2009
Record label: Reprise
Genre(s): Rock, Pop, Alternative
Green Day's dazzlingly ambitious 2004 rock opera American Idiot, with its striking caricature of "the President gas man", didn't just chime with the anti-Bush post-Iraq invasion zeitgeist; it increasingly came to define it. And not just in the United States: American Idiot sold 12 million copies worldwide. That this had been achieved by a band still widely perceived at the time as a Saturday-morning cartoon version of the Clash was all the more remarkable.
American Idiot was a rarity of the 21st century: a bona fide four-quadrant hit, earning critical and commercial respect, roping in new fans young and old alike. It was so big it turned Green Day into something it had never been before -- respected, serious rockers, something they were never considered during their first flight of success with Dookie. Back then, they were clearly (and proudly) slacker rebels with a natural gift for a pop hook, but American Idiot was a big album with big ideas, a political rock opera in an era devoid of both protest rock and wild ambition, so its success was a surprise.
Midway through Déjà Vu, the documentary about Crosby Stills Nash & Young's noble attempt to interest America's conservative heartland in Neil Young's Bush-bashing Living With War album, Young appears on satirist Stephen Colbert's TV show. "Didn't you get all this out of your system with Vietnam?" asks Colbert. "Shouldn't you let someone else protest this one?" "I tried," shrugs Young.
Like Green Day's hit album American Idiot, 21st Century Breakdown takes a concept-album approach to themes of disillusionment and youthful frustration and asks what the fuck is happening to the world. Here, they're angrier, franker and more disgusted with America than ever before. [rssbreak] The tunes are also more ambitious, with strings, piano ballads, Foo Fighters-like yells and a ton of infectious melodies.
For the first time in his career, Billie Joe Armstrong has written himself into a corner. Such a notion might seem odd at first, though, especially considering that Green Day were one of those rare bands who made it a point to change their sound from album to album. Following 1994’s Dookie, these unlikely frontrunners of the American punk-pop movement gradually began trying new and different things, leading to albums with darker lyrical themes (1995’s Insomniac) and more personal introspection (1997’s Nimrod).
I wanted to like American Idiot. Really. Mostly because I was a Green Day fan, but also because of the soul-numbing run-up to the 2004 U.S. presidential election, one of those rare moments when even those wary of politicized art wouldn't mind some big-time act addressing the evils of those pissing on us from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Review Summary: Fantastically, Gloriously, Epically average.Green Day is dead.This shouldn’t really be a surprise to anyone. The harshest critics of American Idiot called it career suicide, and they were right. American Idiot was a Hail Mary pass of pop music, featuring a teenage band on the wrong side of thirty throwing shit to the wind and going for broke while composing the most ambitious songs of their lives by far.
Whereas the blunt force of Green Day's 2004 American Idiot proved a powerful, provocative state of the union address, its follow-up, 21st Century Breakdown, both thrives in and succumbs to the chaos and confusion left in the wake of the Bush regime. Essentially an hourlong classic punk spectacle, the Oakland pranksters' eighth LP cements their most polarizing work to date, recalling an updated version of the Ramones' End of the Century, laced with the theatrical ornamentation of the Who and tangents into Californian pop balladry ("Before the Lobotomy," "Restless Heart Syndrome"), visceral garage-rock ("Horseshoes and Handgrenades"), militant surf marches ("East Jesus Nowhere"), and even mariachi flourishes ("Peacemaker"). Neither the storyline nor Butch Vig's production completely succeeds in pulling the whole thing together, overcompensating with size over substance.
The punk aesthetic, like most provinces of youth, is ? often wasted on the not-young. Not so, Green Day; the tireless ? mid-thirtysomething trio will undoubtedly keep launching their scrappy sonic bottle rockets until the last guitar pick falls from their trembling, liver-spotted fists. Indeed, on 21st Century Breakdown‘s chant-along lead single, ”Know Your Enemy,” frontman Billie Joe Armstrong howls, ”Overthrow the effigy/The vast majority/Burning down the foreman of control” with all the fervor of a high school anarchy club president.
In October 2004, I discovered Green Day’s American Idiot. I’d only heard their singles before that and had no desire to hear anything else. But the reviews were phenomenal, declaring some of the highest praises I’d ever seen. So I bought it, and even after five years, it’s still one of my favorite albums.