Despite a change in themes and studio quality, Green Day has been producing chart-topping music since the early 1990s, and has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. With their newest release (leaked September 26, but slated for release on October 7), Revolution Radio, Green Day seems to be reaching a middle ground between past and present, for fans new and old.
I’ve been listening to Green Day since the ripe old age of 11, when Dookie was released and “Basket Case” was an ever-present echo. While I missed an album here or there, I kept up with (and enjoyed) the singles I’d hear on the radio, until my early 20s. I purchased American Idiot on the recommendation of my dad, who’d introduced me to the band in the first place. It was just around the second term of George W. Bush, and the ire for the U.S. government, the war, and the general dissatisfaction of the state of the world was made very clear by the songs and lyrics. The continuing saga of the Jesus of Suburbia, the sarcasm, the nostalgia . . . it was protest rock, written for a new generation.
I loved it.
It’s quite a leap from 1994 to now, and American Idiot marked a turning point for the band, with a Broadway musical created from the album, and a serial set of albums in 2012 (¡Uno!, ¡Dos! and ¡Tré!) keeping Green Day at the forefront of the alt-rock-punk music scene.
Revolution Road showcases that continued resilience, with a fairly consistent range both in lyrics and chord progressions (they’ve never been very complicated). Billie Joe Armstrong’s plaintive, nasal insistence is at once unobtrusive and attention-grabbing in its familiarity. Long-time fans will hear less of the “let’s keep up with the kids” lyrics that appeared in 21st Century Breakdown, and newer fans will get to experience Green Day when they’re not pandering.
In essence, if you’ve never listened to Green Day, before, this isn’t a bad place to start, at all. I feel the best way to go about this review is to briefly describe each song – I’ll be including a snippet of the lyrics most of them, as well.
The first track, “Somewhere Now,” is a gripe about growing up. This isn’t a stretch in repertoire, and with the simple chord structure, it’s easy to overlook the song as a whole. Listen to it once, and it feels like a typical first track: Nice and bland, somewhere in the middle of the road as far as the tone of the rest of the album. Listen again, and it’s so very Green Day. This is the central focus of their tenure – the dissatisfaction with life as an adult, in a time where it’s easier to be a loner thanks to technology, people are numb, and nothing is difficult because we’ve designed it that way. Life is frustrating, because there’s not much resistance to throw your effort toward.
Here comes nothing, there’s nothing to lose
Its a small price we pay
When we all die in threes
“Bang Bang” has been released as a single, complete with a music video:
After news clips about murders of various types, a pulsing guitar and strong beat provide the backdrop for an observation about the reasons for mass shootings and ideological killings. It’s pretty straightforward – there’s no doubt about the sarcasm behind the lyrics, mocking not only those who want to be recognized through their actions, but also the media that feeds into this urge by covering these tragedies non-stop.
I wanna be a celebrity martyr
The leading man in my own private drama
Hoorah, bang, bang, hoorah, bang, bang, the hero of the hour
It’s good for radio play, that’s for sure. There might be some irony in that fact, but it’s hard to tell.
“Revolution Radio” is the title track, and hoo boy, they follow up “Bang Bang” with an even further criticism of media and the way that social issues are handled. This song was inspired by a Black Lives Matter protest, outlining how, despite a very clear need for a resolution, the masses of those affected are not heard. Social media spreads the word, but it doesn’t directly help, so those on the ground are those making a difference . . . and the song warns that a time is coming where the fight might become physical. The upbeat melody and flippant tone in which its sung provide a contrast to the lyrics that make them stand out more from the dissonance.
Give me rage, like there’s teargas in the crowd
Do you wanna live out loud?
But the air is barely breathing
I’m fairly certain that’s clear enough.
I don’t have a lot to say about “Say Goodbye,” for a few reasons – it’s the cadence and partial recycling of “Holiday” from American Idiot. The urge to skip it was really strong, if only because it felt stale. It’s like American Idiot‘s Cliff’s Notes. The repeated lines of the refrain are good for driving music. Otherwise, it’s one of the few boring tracks on the album.
“Outlaws” is a song of longing. It’s a reflection on youth, the hellraising that lead singer/guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong and bassist Mike Dirnt would commit as teens. Listening to their early albums gives a sense of that same energy, the drive to do something bad, even if it’s minor, just because you can. The ignorance of such rebellion was freeing, and the wistful singing and slower pace are an ode to that loss. This song has been my earworm for the past couple of days.
I’ll plead my innocence
But that’s my best defense
When you are young
Originally titled “Concrete Dream,” the upbeat “Bouncing off the Wall” is an almost throwaway tune, meant to be random and break up the solemn structure of the rest of Revolution Radio. It’s fun, and that’s the crux of the seemingly-nonsensical lyrics. You don’t listen to this song to think, you listen to move. I’m going to piss off a few people, here, but I was reminded a lot of Eve 6 with this track. It’s so very 1990s.
‘Cause it’s all that I want
And I want to be free
I got Satan riding next to me
“Still Breathing” is this album’s emotional hit. It’s simple, not hard to sing along to, and the structure switches up enough that you’re forced to pay attention. In fact, I’ve been listening to each track while writing each blurb, but I had to turn this track off in order to be able to concentrate. A later track on the album hits the “acoustic, quiet, pensive song” requirements, but it doesn’t have the lyrical punch that “Still Breathing” does. For those at the end of their rope, this song reminds them, with a driving rhythm guitar and pounding drums, that if you’re drawing breath, you’ve still got a chance to get where you want to be.
I’m like a soldier coming home for the first time
I dodged a bullet and I walked across a landmine
Oh, I’m still alive
“Youngblood” is a simple, neo-punk ode to Billie Joe’s wife, Adrienne. The bridge reminded me strongly of something the Beatles would have sung – and not just because of the lyrics (which I’m including). This song is, well, cute. Loud, and cute. (I’m sorry, that’s it. That’s what I got out of it.)
I want to hold you like a gun
We’ll shoot the moon into the sun
“Too Dumb to Die” is another directly nostalgic song, in more ways than one. Early track sound? Check. Lyrics reflecting on youth and going against the grain? Check. There’s a direct comparison to workers going on strike, and their stubbornness, with the fear of basically following a goal to death, and it’s really awkward. I get it, but it feels really clunky. It’s fun if you don’t listen too hard to the lyrics.
Looking for a cause
But all I got was camouflage
I’m hanging on a dream that’s too dumb to die
I think “Troubled Times” can be summed up by just posting the lyrics, and again pointing out that this track, both musically and lyrically, wouldn’t be out of place on…wait for it…American Idiot:
What good is love and peace on earth?
When it’s exclusive
Where’s the truth in the written word?
If no one reads it
With “Forever Now,” we get our compiled album theme! Green Day loves these – summing up the feeling of the rest of the album, mixing up the music style, exploring aspects of previous songs (most obviously “Somewhere Now”), and driving home (in 7 minutes) the message that sh*t has to change, politically, socially, and personally. The lyrics point out that there’s too much going on, the majority of it sucks, and adulthood brings too many of these things to light. The burden of knowledge, mixed with having to follow a schedule that doesn’t jibe with your wishes, is frustrating. As the second-to-last track on the album, “Forever Now” is the closing paragraph of an essay on modern politics.
I never wanted to compromise
Or bargain with my soul
How did life on the wild side
Ever get so full
We finally get to the last track, “Ordinary World,” which is the one I was referencing as the “acoustic, quiet, pensive song.” It’s lyrically undemanding, and sounds like a sort of resignation after the rest of the album’s shouting to be heard. It’s like slowly having the air let out of Revolution Radio‘s tires. If this was intentional, well played, Billie. You’ve managed to perfectly capture outrage fatigue.
Baby, I don’t have much
But what we have is more than enough
As I said, if this is your first foray into Green Day’s discography, you could do worse. As I listened to the album multiple times, I found myself liking it more and more. It grew on me, which is not something I can say for all of their music. Perhaps some of the songs are a bit too on-point to be widely appreciated, right now, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was critically well-received for that same reason.
You can listen to some of Revolution Radio‘s tracks on Green Day’s official YouTube, right now, and I would encourage you to go ahead and purchase the album if you already enjoy them. I’m definitely going to be tossing my coins in their hat. Pre-order the album here. Revolution Radio releases on October 7.