It’s been a good ten or so years for Green Day. Their career path since the release of the multi-platinum selling Dookie boasts the type of longevity comparable to some of music’s most able of servants. And the reason why perhaps Green Day have gone with the ups and downs relatively unscathed is their seeming reluctance to find a formula to their success. Unlike their counterparts of the 1994 explosion, they have never once written a song reliant on a pathetic suburban cliché stretched thin over the course of several albums. And while the Offspring seems to have fallen by the wayside, this Berkeley-bred trio continues to challenge not only their own limits, but test those of their listeners (some of who have been on the journey since the early days when Billie Joe and company were still named Sweet Children).
There have of course, been a few bumps and bruises along the way. The difficulties of writing a successful follow-up to a massive album is one well documented, and some may be quick to point to 1995’s Insomniac as rushed work; heavy on the noise, a few choice melodies, and little discernible ingenuity of any kind. But no matter how comparatively “unsuccessful” that album was standing next to its predecessor, there is no doubt that Green Day never wanted to write a “Pretty Fly (For a White Guy).” Thank God. And instead of looking to recapture previous album sales, they went away after an exhaustive schedule in 1996 to recoup and inevitably, write a bunch of songs that would begin their solidification as premiere artists rather than one-trick ponies and/or gimmick hounds. What subsequently followed were albums that made clear their intentions of musical growth; experimenting with styles (from “Hitchin’ a Ride,” to “Time Of Your Life” to what would make up the majority of their well conceived Warning album) while never once forgetting their principal means to success.
And so four years on from Warning comes American Idiot, their “punk rock opera;” and as the description suggests, their most elaborate, ambitious, and concentrated effort to date. Easily surpassing Warning on almost all accounts, this lavish production is one of introspection, critical deconstruction, and a dose of life’s weary tales that come across as urgent as it does potent. From the brash commentary of “American Idiot” and the breakneck speeds of “St. Jimmy” (packed to the brim with Billie Joe’s trademark vocal sneer), to the marathon medley of “Jesus of Suburbia” (or as listed early on, read: “Jesus Of Suburbia: City Of The Damned / I Don’t Care / Dearly Beloved / Tales Of Another Broken Home / Jesus Of Suburbia” and clocking in at nearly ten minutes), its clear that Green Day show no reluctance in stepping forward to previously uncharted territory. Even though the medleys (yes, there’s two, both topping nine minutes) are the very antithesis of the punk rock norm (tested several years ago by NOFX’s The Decline); they are both grandly visualized (only at times can they both feel rather overdrawn- due prominently to the stretched nature of their disposition), and provide the album with its most challenging efforts.
Nevertheless, the eleven other numbers on here are simply put; bloody brilliant. A selection of crème de la crèmes boasting the kind of wisdom that reminds listeners of mainstream punk’s less maligned qualities- that punk on the radio can be without the shrill bellyaching of emo diarists (the reserved reflective nature of “Wake Me Up When September Ends” and the mournful lament of “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”), without the alienating mutinies of judgmental overthrow (the very Clash sounding “Holiday”), and without the glossy sheen of rockstar wannabes. It’s rewarding to note that the album possesses plenty of concurrent themes and characters that weave in and out of the songs. And like any great production, it transpires with the sort of fluidity and grace associated with the very operatic theme suggested by American Idiot’s description.
To pluck an apex point of the album, one need not venture any further than “Give Me Novacaine.” An authoritative track that comes off as a cross between “Macy’s Day Parade” and “Brain Stew” with brief moments that can perhaps be best depicted as a “punk rock luau.” It’s just another in the many choice moments reflective of Green Day’s perceptive understanding of their career; that growth and strong roots go hand in hand. And unlike the Good Charlottes of the world and/or the recent misguided breaking-out-of-cocoons of the Blink-182s, Green Day have never once forgotten about either of them. It feels like forever, but mainstream punk music can finally fly their flag with a little dignity again.