Friday 20 May 2016

Green Day - American Idiot

"Do you have the time, to listen to me whine?"

When those words spewed out out my radio in 1994, my answer was "Yes I do - Bloody Hell, that is good".
"Basket Case" was one of those songs that sort of re-calibrates your mind, and you realise that this is the music you have been hankering for amongst a turgid mass of normality with the occasional glint of inspiration.

As is often the case at moments like this, things could get expensive (or relatively anyway, because in 1994 I had less disposable income than a very poor rodent who lives in an ecclesiastical building).
Fortunately, the back catalogue wasn't that big.
The parent album 'Dookie' was procured and played - it was good, but not great. Nothing making me go "oh, this is what I've been looking for". Leastways, there was nothing which had the room spinning and vision blurring Scooby Doo style like "Basket Case".
Going backwards, 'Kerplunk' was admirable punk thrash, but nothing knocking the earth of it's axis.
Maybe "Basket Case" was a one-off, and the best/strongest the band were going to do.

'Insomniac' (1995) and 'Nimrod' (1997) were definitely worthy additions, but still not "there".
'Nimrod' shifts the sound slightly from all out thrash to a more contemplative style. Still making noise, but now doing against a more purposeful backdrop (does that make any sense?).
'Warning' (2000) marks a definite shift of style and persona in the band. Like 'Nimrod', it has still got the urgency but the band is growing to incorporate more ideas, styles and arrangements. Problem was the audience wasn't moving with them.
'Warning' is either a great album which sets the base for what happened next, or a band desperately trying to break free from it's roots and find a new audience, and not really achieving either. As a result, it is a competent and generally listenable album, but the frustration exudes from the tracks and sort of misses the target as a result.

The relative commercial failure of 'Warning', the ensuing relationships in the band, and the attempts to find/rediscover their audience started to leave the band floundering somewhat, certainly in the UK where they pretty much disappeared from view. Coupled with the release of the compilation 'International Superhits' the following year seemed to mark a sort of stop point. Whilst sales of the compilation showed there my well be an audience, nothing more was really expected - not least what came next.

Returning to the studio in 2003, a succession of demos were created and recorded in preparation for a new album. The story is that these recordings were stolen from the studio and the entire Project was dumped - this may very well be the case, but none of these recordings have ever surfaced, which brings up the debate did they ever exist or is it just an urban myth?
Whatever the truth, after indulging in that great American staple of "Group Therapy" to air their grievances and seek a resolution, and consultation with their producer, it was decided to start again.
After the loss of the previous demos, and soul searching discussions within the band of how best to continue, each member went away and created mini-songs (around 30 seconds/1 minute in length) against no particular backdrop or theme.
This brought the band back together, as they were stitched together to create a sort of min-epic song in 3 or 4 movements. Two of these tracks ("Homecoming" and "Jesus Of Suburbia") formed the core of the new album, along with the recently penned title track. This had the effect of bringing the band back together as a unit, and accepting their position in the scheme of things (they were no longer snotty punks in a garage, but were now on the verge of being "rock stars", and they felt they were capable of it. Albeit without the commercial success, massive stadium audience or back catalogue to support it).
The title track was written and the shape/story of the album started to form. It may sound ambitiously daft, but the intent was to produce a Punk Rock Opera. Further encouraged by producer Rob Cavallo, more songs were created and inserted into the thread. What came out was probably the best and most complete work the band had produced.

In autumn 2004, Green Day returned to my ears when I heard "Letterbomb" on the radio. As I recall, it sort of washed over me a bit - I knew of them still, but hadn't really paid attention to what was going on.
And then a couple of days later, it was there again - something about it appealed, not in the same way as "Basket Case" 10 years previously, but enough to make me go and buy the parent album.

'American Idiot' purchased and played, but beyond "Letterbomb" I was vaguely non-plussed.
But the songs stayed in my head, and whilst not a result of repeated playing, there was just the moment where I thought "have I missed something, or been too harsh?". I played it again, followed the rough outline of the concept/story (albeit a fairly loose strand), and BANG - now I get it.
And I kept getting it - the more you listen, the more you enjoy it.
Critically, certainly in Q and many other publications, it was hailed as the Album of 2004. And it hung around longer than that. Indeed, off the back of it's success, Green Day became one of the biggest, most recognisable bands on the planet - even getting a Weird Al Yankovic re-working (that's when you know you've arrived).

OK, the album is often called a Punk Rock Opera (indeed, I called it that above), but (with my musical snob head on) this is Punk for people who don't really know what Punk is. Also the "Rock Opera" bit - there is a loose storyline to it, but none of the tracks are truly dependant on the others. Each track can stand on it's own.
In short, what you have here is a wonderful slab of loud Rock, and very probably the best of the mid 2000s.

So, where next?
After the Live albums, the critical and commercial acclaim, the thing to do is go back in the studio and bring out a successor that is equal or even better than before.
What they actually did was to continue with the concept idea, and produced '21st Century Breakdown'. The album is competent, but gets too caught up in the concept idea and as a result emerges confused, overwrought and (if I'm being harsh) decidedly average. And after that, at the end of 2012, were three separate albums released approximately a month apart - '¡Uno!', '¡Dos!', and '¡TrĂ©!'. Break these albums down and you have a very good single album, or a listenable double album. But a triple?

12 years on from it's release, Green Day may never surpass 'American Idiot',and then again why would they want to, or do they actually need to?
It might be over-played and overly recognisable, but I don't think it is getting lost or in any way losing it's appeal. From the opening chords of "American Idiot" strap yourself in for a loud and bouncing hour of noise. And what more can anyone want than that?

Jesus Of Suburbia


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