Tuesday, October 5, 2004
Green Day 'American Idiot'
Can you be a punk rocker when you’re in your thirties?
It’s been 10 years since Green Day’s “Dookie” became a hit record. You wouldn’t expect the punk-pop trio to have much steam left in them in the year 2004.
Yet they’ve gone and shocked us all by rocketing past their punk-pop proteges like Good Charlotte and Blink-182 and putting out what may be their finest record yet, “American Idiot.” Their artistic daring was validated when it became their first album to debut at number one on Billboard’s charts.
“American Idiot” is, of all things, a “rock opera.” But don’t worry, this isn’t “Bohemian Rhapsody, Part II.” It’s classic Green Day brazenness married with a new, more thoughtful insight.
“Idiot” takes as much influence from The Who and The Clash as it does The Ramones, with a soaring epic feel married with pounding punk attacks and songs as catchy as TV commercial jingles.
If there’s a flaw, it’s that, like most concept albums, the “story” of “American Idiot” is rather obscure. It’s loosely the tale of “Jesus of Suburbia,” a bored suburban kid, and his adventures as he leaves home and explores the world around him. Jesus rises and falls and ultimately gains some wisdom in his quixotic quest.
Even if the story isn’t clear upon first listen, the emotions behind it certainly are. It’s about being young, aimless and confused in 21st century America, with evocative song titles such as “Boulevard Of Broken Dreams” and “Wake Me Up When September Ends.” References abound to the Bush administration and 9/11, but “American Idiot” is less specifically political than it is about waking up from apathy.
But none of that would matter if the songs didn’t have sing-along, catchy hooks. It kicks off with a bang in the lead-off single, also titled “American Idiot,” powered by the rage of a punk engaged: “I’m not a part of the redneck agenda / now everybody do the propaganda!”
The heart of “American Idiot” is found in two lengthy, multi-part songs, both clocking in at more than nine minutes long each. In “Jesus Of Suburbia” and “Homecoming,” Green Day wrap alienation, rage and regret into sonic assaults marked by sudden tempo shifts, lyrical flights of fancy and epic choruses. A few choice ballads break up the rhythm nicely.
Not every chance taken on “American Idiot” works, but by and large it’s a tight, remarkably focused album that leaves you battered and smiling at the end.
Punk doesn’t have to be shallow to make an impact. “American Idiot” takes the raw energy of punk rock and sculpts it into a powerful, crisp song cycle. It’s as American as apple pie and tearing electric guitar solos.