September 30, 2004

Green Day

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The last time Green Day released a CD, 2000″s Warning, nobody at Cornell, with the exception of a few Van Wilders, had ever taken a course here. And that”s exactly what listening to a punk-rock album entails: flashing back to high school. I mean, gritty heartbreak, fast, chaotic drumming, and pissed off vocals are as associative with high school as the SATs, pom-poms, and school dances. And now the Berkeley threesome returns with their long-awaited American Idiot. Like so many of us bitterly encountering entrance exams for graduate school, Green Day carries their high school angst dating back to Dookie”s ‘Basket Case’ and Nimrod”s ‘Hitchin” A Ride’ while simultaneously expanding into an unpredictable direction: the rock opera. Yes, folks, front-man Billie Joe Armstrong and his two sidekicks have constructed a pair of rock songs that span nearly ten minutes a piece. Such iconoclastic style bears the question: Do these guys really think they”re Queen?

The answer of course, is no. Here, Green Day sounds good, damn good, but they have not achieved anything worthy of comparison to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’ However, with the two five-part songs ‘Jesus of Suburbia’ and ‘Homecoming,’ Green Day has definitely shown that they weren”t just looking at their old yearbooks since 2000. Each member in the band has reached his early to mid-thirties. This album shows it as they have reached a mid-life identity crisis in tackling an array of different musical styles in the thirteen songs. Opening with the title track, ‘American Idiot’ is the first-released single and no doubt would fit well on any of their previous recordings. Political, grungy and simple, it also reminds us that Green Day recently contributed to the compilation album, Rock Against Bush. Kerry would be proud. And like Kerry, once this album has passed its first of two rock epics, it flip-flops. Nearly every track shifts between the old school and a much more interesting and recent sound. Tracks such as ‘St. Jimmy,’ ‘She”s A Rebel,’ and ‘Holiday’ simply echo past recordings, yet Green Day emerges with real genius in songs sounding softer with a trace of minimalism. ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams’ is melodic, slow and sung by an overly heartbroken Billie Joe. Much of the album shows a slight shift into the emo-alternative movement that has been headlined lately by bands such as The Stills and Death Cab for Cutie. ‘Boulevard’ carries right into ‘We Are the Waiting,’ which is simply more nostalgic then The Breakfast Club. In its lyrics, the song refers back to the first opera, ‘Jesus of Suburbia.’ Do these guys really think they”re the messiah of the everyday suburban rock scene? Who knows, but it”s nice to see some cocky lyrics outside of rap.

There certainly is symmetry in the construction of the album. The second and second-to last songs are the five-part anthems. In between them is a give-and-take on where Green Day has been and where they are now heading. The first song is the headlining track and the last song, my personal favorite, closes the album on a seemingly perfect note. ‘Whatsername’ features a tremolo guitar, clean, soft-edged progression, and its lyrics serve as an epilogue to the album”s theme of simultaneously experiencing our adolescent years and moving past them. ‘I remember the face but I can”t recall the name / Now I wonder where what”s-her-name has been,’ and ‘Forgetting you but not the time’ are verses that are as inquisitive as they are dejected about the nature of accepting that a party was a just party and a girl was just a girl. In their magnum opus American Idiot, Green Day has come to terms with the fact that, no matter how much they emulate the punk-rock belief or the double-edged sword of freedom that high school entailed, they have graduated.

Archived article by Dan Cohen
Red Letter Daze Staff Writer