-Green Day releases an inconsistent but satisfying affair.
I was six when my father first bought American Idiot, five when it first came out. That was the first album I was ever obsessed with. My brother and I listened to it basically every day, and seemingly the rest of the world was as well. Green Day was the Biggest Band in the World for about a year after American Idiot , and I was just old enough to understand that. Truthfully, that means a lot to me. I grew up for many years with Green Day as my musical inspiration. Every song was, and is, ingrained into my conscious in a way that not too many other artists can match.
However, as I grew and discovered more music, naturally, Green Day fell by the wayside. Once I laid my ears on OK Computer, that was pretty much game over for Billie Joe and the boys, along with Sum 41, Rise Against, The Offspring, Blink 182, The Devil Wears Prada, My Chemical Romance, etc. Frankly though, really, that’s a little dishonest. I still listen to and appreciate Green Day, and they definitely hold up better than many of their contemporaries. (Though they’re nothing compared to Panic at the Disco, who are still one of my favorite bands, I don’t give a fuck.) American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown are still great albums in my eyes, especially the latter, as blasphemous as that is to many people. So, even coming off of the embarrassing trilogy they put out, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited to give Revolution Radio a listen.
Did it deliver? I’d say so.
First, the positives. This album sounds good. It’s definitely not as raw as I’d like it to be, but given the band’s fame and history, this is about as good as a production job as we’re gonna get. What’s interesting, is that longtime producer Rob Cavallo didn’t produce this, the band self-produced it, and it’s for the better. The drums actually real as opposed to the MIDI input sound they had on the trilogy, the guitars are thicker, Billie Joe sounds much more alive and less engineered, and generally, the production is just bigger, heavier, and more substantial. I liken it to A Day to Remember’s best album, Common Courtesy. The band stripped things back and as a result, it sounded like a rock band playing music together. Why they don’t always sound like that is a mystery to me. It’s not rocket science, ya know? If you write simple, direct, punchy songs, just have a simple, direct, and punchy production job. It’s OK if it sounds a tiny bit blemished. That means real people are playing it.
Next, the songwriting here is about 500 notches above the trilogy. They actually sound energetic and like they want to be playing music here. “Bang Bang” is maybe the most intense song they’ve ever put out: it runs at a blazing speed, and they’re all playing like they really believe in the angry message that delves into the mind of a fame obsessed mass shooter. It’s the most convicted they’ve sounded since 21st Century Breakdown. Not to mention this song has a killer hook that’s cleverly not revealed until about halfway through the song. This energy and vitality extends to the title track, “Revolution Radio,” which is as melodically sharp as “Bang Bang.” It’s dumb as shit and features Billie Joe running through his Rolodex of lyrical cliches, (gasoline, bombs, revolution, dawn of the new ______, bullet proof, rebel, etc.), but that hook is undeniable.
They maybe sound their most energetic on “Forever Now,” which, at 6 minutes, is the most ambitious song here. Reprise of the sub-par opener notwithstanding, the first half of this song is more or less fantastic. It kind of reminds me of “Letterbomb” in how high the stakes of the song feels. It feels epic, their most epic work since 21st Century Breakdown.
Their best work since that album though is by far “Too Dumb to Die.” Honestly, it wouldn’t be too far of a stretch for me to declare it my favorite Green Day song ever. Not only is it just supremely catchy, it’s the first song of their’s in many, many years that calls back to the high school stoner vibe of their first couple of albums. The opening lyrics say it all:
“I was a high school atom bomb
Going off on the weekends
Smoking dope and mowing lawns
And hated all the new trends.”
On this track, the band sounds genuinely youthful. Even though they’re all well into their 40s, they still manage to recapture that youth, as opposed to sounding like old men trying to re-live their glory days. “Outlaws” also has a youthful vibe to it. Not in the way “Too Dumb to Die” feels youthful in the moment; this track feels reflective, but it’s done tastefully, like Billie Joe and the gang are reveling in their wild past but also accepting their mistakes. The instrumental is also unlike anything Green Day has ever done. It’s very simple, especially in the verses: just bass and drums playing no syncopation. Just the simplest rhythm you could imagine. But it’s got this vibe to it that Green Day has never captured before: a late night out driving under streetlights in a beat up car with some friends from high school. Not to mention that this track is strong melodically, despite how bare bones the writing is.
But that’s only five songs, and that’s where the problems of this album crop up. Besides the decent “Still Breathing,” every other song here is more or less shitty. To begin, they’re not nearly as catchy as the best tracks here. And when you’re writing such simple, upfront music, you’re running into big problems there. There’s no reason for me to return to songs like “Somewhere Now,” or “Bouncing Off the Wall.” They’re not offensively bad, just painfully average, especially the latter. Also, there’re the songs that are offensively bad. “Say Goodbye” features this horrible foot stomping folk instrumental that, when combined with the strangely crunchy production of this song, just sounds like shit. “Youngblood” sounds like one of the those braindead shitshows that would show up on the trilogy. (“She’s a loner / not a stoner.”) It’s just baffling how Billie Joe can effortlessly write these solid pop punk songs, and then churns out a song as bad as this. Does he really finish writing up songs like “Youngblood” and “Makeout Party” and “Fuck Time” and say to himself,
“Yeah, that’s good enough.”
And then there’s “Troubled Times,” which is almost as braindead as “Youngblood.” On the chorus, Billie Joe comes to the revolutionary conclusion that “we live in troubled times.” If you can’t say anything interesting about the world, don’t say it. He once had the ability on American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown. But if you can only speak in platitudes, just throw in the towel and write songs about smoking weed in high school. Because on Revolution Radio, clearly the band is best at just writing dumb, fun songs. An album full of “Too Dumb to Die”s would be great. For now though, we’ll just have to settle for OK.
Standout Tracks: “Bang Bang” “Revolution Radio” “Outlaws” “Too Dumb to Die” “Forever Now”
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