Release Date: Oct 7, 2016
Record label: Reprise
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Punk Revival, Punk-Pop
Having overstretched themselves with ¡Uno!, ¡Dos! and ¡Tré!, 2012’s trilogy of distinctly patchy albums, Green Day have returned to form with their 12th album. There are no great departures stylistically: as ever, radio-friendly, melodic punk predominates, although the closing ballad, Ordinary World, is all the more affecting for its unadorned simplicity. The difference this time is that the choruses are punchier, the lyrics more focused (recent single Bang Bang tackles mass shootings from a perpetrator’s perspective; the everyday violence of contemporary America is reflected throughout).
Green Day's first album in four years is vibrant punk rock, uncluttered by outsize grandiosity or conceptual overthink. "Revolution Radio" sets the tone with its Clash-like police-siren guitar, Tré Cool's combustible drum tumult and Billie Joe Armstrong snarling about cherry bombs and gasoline as if he's looking around his garage for stuff that might set the world on fire. And so he does: The explosive American-angst autopsy "Bang Bang" hits as hard as anything on their Nineties classics Dookie and Kerplunk; when Armstrong sings, "I want to start a rager," it doesn't matter that he's appropriating the voice of a power-mad school shooter.
Review Summary: Flawed but a step into the right direction…Stuck at a crossroad between what older and newer fans ask for, Green Day have had a heavy burden to carry ever since American Idiot sky-rocketed them back to stardom in 2004. Front man Billie Joe Armstrong always had lofty goals, however, a certain restraint was removed with that LP. Channeling The Who, among other genre classics like Hüsker Dü or The Clash, he orchestrated a successful rock opera that became a blueprint for both peers as well as the band itself.
Green Day imploded after the December 2012 release of Tre, the final part of a triple-album project. The very unwieldiness of Uno, Dos, and Tre -- all released in rapid succession in the autumn of 2012 -- suggested that Green Day were perhaps suffering from a lack of focus, but the group wound up taking a forced hiatus once leader Billie Joe Armstrong entered rehab in the middle of the triple-album rollout. Given all this chaos, it's hard not to view 2016's Revolution Radio as a consolidation, a way for the band to shake off all distractions and get back to basics.
Green Day gets played regularly on classic-rock stations in 2016. Usually just the hits from Dookie, though occasionally you might catch “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” or something from Insomniac. It makes sense, considering the band has lived virtually every classic-rock cliché there is by this point: the sappy ballad-turned-high school prom classic; the bombastic, career-reviving rock opera whose plot you can scarcely decipher; the protest-rock phase; the even longer, second rock opera; the releasing-too-many-albums trick borrowed Guns N’ Roses.
Emo-punk pioneers stick to the formula Punk rock, of course, was never meant to form empires. As timely, influential and brilliant as counterculture albums like American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown were – with their multi-part rock operatics about war, religion and big pharma, and their 20 million combined sales – they turned Green Day into a ballooning brand to rival any trainer-flogging rap mogul. Broadway and film musicals, a triple-album release they called “prolific for the sake of it” over the course of 2012...
What happens to a punk band when their unique brand of rebellion rockets them from basement venues to the stadiums and headline festival slots of the world? The Offspring were some of the first in recent memory to answer this question: they were pilloried by their peers, denigrated by the conservative press as a negative influence on the youth of tomorrow, and felt a keen sting as their bright star burnt a little less bright by the year. Likewise, everything changed for Green Day overnight in 2004 with the release of American Idiot, their world-beating album that cemented them as a household name and spawned a musical of the same name. Yes, a Broadway musical.
Green Day’s long career has often been punctuated by remarkable highs and difficult lows. From the monumental success of their major-label debut Dookie and 2004’s magnificent rock opera American Idiot to the periods of low record sales, waning relevance and their ambitious, but ultimately flawed, ¡Uno!, ¡Dos!, ¡Tré! trilogy, their 26-plus years together has undoubtedly been one wild rollercoaster ride. That’s not even taking into account the issues outside of music, such as the troubles that dogged frontman Billie Joe Armstrong during the 21st Century Breakdown tour and around the release of the album trilogy in 2012.
Early on the opening track of Green Day’s 12th studio album, Billie Joe Armstrong sings, “I never wanted to compromise / Or bargain with my soul / How did life on the wild side / Ever get so dull?” This is the mission statement of “Somewhere Now”, which is clearly intended to be the widescreen, important song to kick off the band’s first album since 2012. But the lyrics go on to be a muddled mess of lines about societal problems (firearms, PTSD), middle age ennui (shopping online), and celebrity culture (“We all die in threes”). Then there’s the music, which opens with an acoustic guitar riff that sounds like a direct rip off of the opening acoustic guitar riff of Boston’s “More Than a Feeling”.
In 2004 it was impossible to escape American Idiot, Green Day’s rock opera railing against the Iraq war and a sense of growing social dysfunction in the US. Depending on your outlook, the album was either irritatingly gauche in its outlook, or a bracing blast of agit-prop punk at a time when most pop music shrank away from anything vaguely political. Yet in the years that followed, as the Bush administration transitioned to the more measured Obama era, Green Day ballooned into bloated prog excess, with the likes of their OTT album trilogy Uno! Dos! Tre! Now, though, with Donald Trump inching towards the White House, the band have decided to get back to basics: Revolution Radio is their most focused work in years.
's American Idiot marked a major shift for Green Day, but not just for the reasons normally cited. On that album, Billie Joe Armstrong was, for the first time, explicitly writing songs about people whose lives and experiences weren't necessarily his own. That's hardly a ground-breaking songwriting trick, but in rock, particularly punk, fans want to project an artist's personal truth onto their own lives.
The spectre that looms dark over Green Day’s discography isn’t - or shouldn’t be - ‘Dookie’. Sure, the trio’s 1994 breakthrough is one hell of a record, but really, do we *want* a mid-40s Billie Joe still yelling about getting high and wanking all the time? No, it’s 2004’s ‘American Idiot’ that’s this trio’s watermark; a record which channelled their not-so-adolescent rage in ways both incisive and incendiary, capturing the mood of a huge swathe of the world’s population, all the while packaging it in perfect punk-pop parcels. While there’s hints of the same in ‘Revolution Radio’; ‘Bang! Bang!’ with its nods to both celebrity and gun culture most notably, but where this record shines is in showing Green Day’s existence as pop-punk’s elder statesmen.
Green Day's Revolution Radio is the band's most concise effort in years, as it's essentially their first standalone, concept-free album since 2000's Warning. In spite of this, it manages to survey almost the entire bag of tricks the group has pulled from over the past 25 years. The dynamic, Who-ish opener “Somewhere Now” favorably recalls American Idiot's distinctly puffed-up bombast, which was tempered by a personal, emotional core—and that album's narrative ambitions are echoed when “Somewhere Now” is reprised during the penultimate “Forever Now.
Green Day are victims of accidental evolution. Between Dookie and American Idiot, they shifted just enough in texture and composition that the modest, Bay Area-pop-punk trio eventually generated the aura of an imperial rock band. They managed this without ever directly shedding their pop or punk sensibilities, even as their ambitions slipped into the hysterical space of musical theater.
Here’s a story that should sound familiar: Aging pop punk trio Green Day, on the brink of obsolescence, fleeing the spotlight for four years in order to regroup, rebrand, and return with an album destined to convert the next generation of teenage rebels. That’s how it played out back in 2004, when Billie Joe Armstrong and co. released the massively successful American Idiot and proved that they had somehow aged in reverse in the four years since the false start of adulthood that was Warning.
The state of the world is just too much for Green Day on “Revolution Radio.” Violence, war, death and lies loom everywhere; a glimmer of love or truth, or simply a respite, is the most the band can hope for, and it’s far from enough. But the tumult and desperation ignite the music on “Revolution Radio.” It’s the group’s first batch of new songs since “Uno! Dos! Tré!,” the three-disc surfeit of more straightforward tunes released in 2012. Those songs were built around snappy catchphrases and brisk, punky riffs.
In fact, if there’s a defining characteristic of ‘Revolution Radio’, it’s Green Day rediscovering the joys of simply being themselves. There’s filler, certainly- ‘Troubled Times’ manages to be both heavy-handed and entirely forgettable, while ‘Youngblood’ lapses into the generic, by-numbers territory of their ill-fated trilogy- but there’s also an unmistakeable sense of purpose and economy that’s been sorely lacking for longer than they’d care to admit. Green Day have learned the hard way that bigger isn’t always better, but by dialling things back they’ve finally found a way forward.
Whether it’s wrestling with the world outside or the enemy within, punk needs a struggle if it’s going to mean something. For Green Day, wartime under George W. Bush gave 2004’s American Idiot a career-resurrecting sense of purpose, while the existential aftermath of a post-Bush America fueled 2009’s 21st Century Breakdown. And while the band’s 2012 “solo trilogy” ¡Uno!, ¡Dos! and ¡Tre! reflected their optimism during the Obama years, it wouldn’t take long for the struggles to move inward: family and touring members' battles with cancer; frontman Billie Joe Armstrong's 2012 rehab and recovery.
Pity the punk who grows up but doesn’t grow accustomed to mortality. Not in a “rage, rage against the dying of the light” kind of way, but more the “sitting in the all-ages hardcore show basement, wondering why you still feel the same” mentality. Billie Joe Armstrong’s concerns are still largely the same as those throughout most of his career—teen angst, shitty families, coloring outside the lines of whatever the hell “mainstream society” means anymore, and so on—but now they’re tempered by an obsession with the passing of time, and a lack of humor.
Midlife crises are, in many ways, a return to adolescence. They are imbued with an overwhelming sense of dislocation and identity confusion. And punk, as a genre, is often associated with adolescence and the accompanying turbulent emotions. So in a way that will probably surprise many, Green Day’s latest album, Revolution Radio, is the perfect comeback vehicle for a trio of middle-aged punk rockers recovering from a four year hiatus rife with personal issues and identity crises.
On December 31, 2015, Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong sent out a rare tweet. He wrote, “my mission for 2016? to destroy the phrase ‘pop-punk’ forever.” It was a shot heard ‘round the internet, intended to start his own revolution. Eight months later, Green Day announced Revolution Radio, the band’s first album in four years, and a record written with the objective of ridding themselves of the genre signifier they served to popularize more so than any other band.
Despite the woeful spirit that surrounds most of our staff at the moment, which goes without saying, the past month was actually one of the most enjoyable in terms of music releases for Carl and I. But both of us were not going to back out of our duty to report on some albums that are really worth ….