Thursday, January 27, 2005

Green Day's "American Idiot"

I finally picked up Green Day’s “American Idiot” yesterday on the recommendation of my co-worker Jason. I wish I had picked it up ages ago. It is one of the best albums of 2004 and deserves every award it gets. Not just because of the political message of the album (very anti-Bush), but the playing and writing is amazing.

It was so easy to write off Green Day. Even for me, who heard “Dookie” incessantly in college in the 90’s. Green Day was the 90’s pop version of the 80’s pop-punk of The Clash and Hüsker Dü. And, much like Nirvana, they owe a big debt to the Pixies.

But, this album is light years ahead of “Dookie.” Like Hüsker Dü, and The Who before them, Green Day has made an ambitious concept album, or, “rock opera.” While concept albums are nothing new, it’s refreshing to see a well-known former MTV darling band basically say “to hell with commercial success, let’s make the album we want - something that means something,” and then be rewarded for it by the press and the public. The accolades are well-deserved and the music industry must start to take notice of the fact that people do want to hear music that is different and challenging, not just simple bubblegum pop (another example: Radiohead).

That is why “American Idiot” is important. This is why it is a great album:

Anyone familiar with The Who or Hüsker Dü will immediately see the musical similarities to the Hüskers’ 1984 punk-opera “Zen Arcade” and The Who’s classic mini rock-opera A Quick One While He’s Away, or even “Tommy.” For those unfamiliar with those albums, believe me: “American Idiot” is a perfect melding of these works into something new and vibrant.

Main songwriter Billie Joe Armstrong (guitar, lead vocals) maintains the classic Green Day huge guitar sound throughout the album, but throws in bits of 1950’s rock, acoustic passages, vocal harmonies, keyboards, exotic percussion and other sounds that surprise throughout. It’s clear that this album is not just four-chord power rock. Some of the songs are quite challenging and the fact Billie Joe, Mike Dirnt (bass, vocals) and Tré Cool (drums, vocals) are excellent (even underrated) musicians means they can pull off the musical twists totally convincingly.

Two of the songs, Jesus of Suburbia and Homecoming, are classic progressive rock-style 9 minute plus songs with rapid fire twists and turns, much like The Who’s A Quick One… But, since Billie Joe has a great mastery of the illusive “rock hook” and catchy melodies, it never sounds like long prog rock. The entire album flows seamlessly and has many highlights and songs that will stick in the listener’s ear all day.

But, the real focus of the album is the subject matter. It tells the story/thoughts of the teenage St. Jimmy of Suburbia and his attempt to make his way in the post-9/11 Bush/Republican/war mongering American suburbs. With lyrics like “The representative of California has the floor/zieg heil to the president gasman/bombs away is your punishment/pulverize the Eiffel Towers/who criticize your government,” it’s clear on which side Billie Joe comes down on. But, the harshness of some of the lyrics never takes away from the album. Billie Joe has a great pop voice and doesn’t sing with an over-the-top punk snarl that could turn the less-than-subtle lyrics into preaching obnoxiousness.

Overall, the lyrics and subject matter are very intelligent and well written. Billie Joe is trying to show how today’s world is confusing teenagers by writing the album from the perspective of St. Jimmy. This is teenage angst music, but not like Nirvana. Instead, “American Idiot” is much more like The Who’s 1973 rock opera/concept album, “Quadrophenia,” where Pete Townsend looks back on the days of the Mods and Rockers in mid-1960’s London (a scene he was a huge part of) not with fond memories, but with the bitterness of someone who now realizes how bad things were.

Like how “Quadrophenia” tells the story of a Mod named Jimmy and how absolutely messed up, confused, and drugged out he was, “American Idiot,” tells the story of a confused, messed up, and drugged out suburban teenager, St. Jimmy (naturally!), has become because of it all. Billie Joe’s songs are teenage angst music that looks at the world around us all and shows everyone how world events are affecting the youth of America (something the government is less than concerned about).

Finally, the last reason why the album is so great: it just rocks and can always be enjoyed on that level if you don’t feel like “getting all political.” The sign of a truly great and multi-dimensional album.

***** out of *****

1 Comments:

Blogger szg said...

I admit I was skeptical at first. A "rock opera" from Green Day??

Best album of the year -- bar none.

They gave a nice performance in Phila too. No backing track at that concert.

12:41 PM  

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