Artist: Green Day
Album: Revolution Radio
In Brief: While it’s not as ambitious as American Idiot or 21st Century Breakdown, I appreciate the return to writing songs in that vein, and the result is a far more listenable record than their 2012 trilogy. While the subject matter is a mixed bag, I’m finding most of the songs to be quite cathartic in the midst of a post-election malaise.
I once considered myself an apolitical person. Someone who either wasn’t that personally invested in the stress of the election cycle that rolls around every 4 years here in America, but who at least tried to stay informed and see both sides of things rather than being blinded by partisan loyalty. It just seems better for the blood pressure to not get too personally invested, you know? But 2016 may have been the first year since I became old enough to vote where I couldn’t just shrug off things not turning out the way I had hoped. Maybe I’ve just become a different person – hopefully a more empathetic one – since my college years, when I thought it was fun to vote third party and say “Screw the system”, or my early adult years, when cold pragmatism and fear motivated me more than how my vote would affect others. That’s all a fancy way of saying that I’ve come to identify as more liberal than conservative, not to the point where allegiance to a political party could ever mean more to me than evaluating each candidate and proposed law on its own merits, but definitely to the point where I found myself really hurting for some of the people I loved and cared about when Trump won the election earlier this month. And there’s been some time in the weeks since to sort out a lot of those feelings, offer comfort and consolation to some of the people who I think will be harmed the most by our country’s decision, and at least try to understand how some of my friends and family members could actually see the guy as the lesser of the evils. But the morning after the election, when I was still pissed as hell and just needed to vent, I needed to put on some music that felt thematically appropriate. That’s why I’m bringing all of this up in a Green Day review. I’m sure you could find far more hardcore, angry bands in punk rock and several other genres that might do the trick for you. But for someone like me who tends to enjoy a fair amount of sonic diversity and – I’m not ashamed to admit it – pop sensibility in the music he listens to, Green Day’s Revolution Radio, a record released a mere month before the election which addresses a few of the uncomfortable issues already present in our society that are likely to get worse during the Trump administration, really fits the bill when I’m in that headspace of total confusion and frustration at what my country seems to have become.
My history with Green Day doesn’t really start until 2005, when I heard American Idiot for the first time and was wowed by the musical diversity and extreme catchiness of its songs, and more than a bit troubled by how tightly intertwined that album’s images of Jesus and religion in general were with the themes of rebellion and suburban decay. I think it was that record that ultimately challenged me, as a Christian, to see that parts of our society have this very false and damaging view of who God is and what relationship their faith should have to their love of country. I had always been uncomfortable with the assumption that seems to have taken root held in most evangelical circles that Christians must always cling to conservative political views or else be ostracized and have the validity of their faith questioned. Realizing that from a point of view outside of the Church, it’s hard to tell the difference between that sort of an exclusive subculture and the religion as a whole, made me understand some of the rather vicious attacks heard on both American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown, and despite the awkwardness as I navigated through that, I had a highly favorable view of both records overall. Then came the not-so-bright-idea for the band to release a trilogy of albums in 2012, which I did not like at all. I figured the old-school fans who were into the band in the 90s might rejoice at the return to a simpler/rawer sound, but I found a lot of the songwriting to be childish, and some of it even a bit sexist, to be honest. Musically, it was just all over the place – the kind of musical diversity that I don’t like because it never congeals into anything remotely resembling a unified statement. It was just Green Day cranking songs out as fast as possible, from what I could tell. I’m glad that ultimately, the band came to see the shortcomings of that experimental phase of their career, and while some might see the return to their 2000s sound and lyrical style on Revolution Radio as a bit of a retreat to what would keep them popular, in my mind it’s definitely a step up from what they were doing in 2012.
So, I didn’t exactly come into this record putting Green Day on a pedestal. They’re not role models, they’re not the kind of musicians I’d want to be if I could be a professional musician, and I wouldn’t even say they’re one of my favorite bands overall. But when they strike a chord with me, it hits pretty hard, and in the better songs in this record, I’m getting that same feeling of being challenged but enjoying it that I did in the 2000s. Despite the title and a few very politically-charged tracks in its front half, I’m not even sure I’d consider Revolution Radio to be a political record through and through. A lot of the songs feel like more personal expressions of growing pains and nostalgia, some of it articulated with more maturity and some of it coming across as whiny filler if I’m honest with myself. But it starts strong and ends strong, reminding us that Green Day isn’t a one-trick pony. Their punk rock origins do come into play here and there, but for the most part I’m comfortable putting this into the category of pop/punk, power pop, or even progressive rock (especially since the long, multi-part suite as the penultimate track on the album has become one of their signature moves at this point).
It took me a few tries to really get into Revolution Radio, since it did feel like a bit of a retread at first, but going back and listening to it after the election really added a lot of gravity to several of its songs, that I might have dismissed as vague or overly dramatic beforehand. I’m gonna guess that they wrote a lot of these songs hoping for the best, but bracing themselves for the worst, and given that, I’m actually quite surprised that the anger and cynicism expressed in a few of these tracks isn’t loaded down with profanity like it is on most of their records. Only one track on this album actually drops the f-bomb, and that’s actually one of the happy ones, believe it or not. Some may feel like the band is going soft because of this, I’d imagine, but meaningful subject matter and having an actual reason to be upset has always mattered more to me than counting the naughty words with this band, so I’d say that maybe they’ve come up with a way to communicate their concerns without it immediately turning off a chunk of their potential audience. Dig into the lyrics, and you’ll realize that this doesn’t necessarily make the content family-friendly. With a band that feels the need to be honest about both the political climate we live in and the messed-up minefields in some of their own personal lives, I can at definitely say that I don’t hear much in the way of pandering here (despite what some may claim upon hearing their return to a way more radio-friendly sound).
1. Somewhere Now
A slow opening with a finger-picked acoustic guitar, hinting at more of a folk/rock sort of sound, is probably not the Green Day comeback you expected, but according to Billie Joe Armstrong himself, it’s his favorite way that they’ve opened an album thus far. (I can’t speak for all of their albums, personally, but out of everything from American Idiot up until now, I’d have to agree.) Much like some of the moodier songs from 21st Century Breakdown, like “Before the Lobotomy” or “Restless Heart Syndrome”, it makes the switch full-on rock soon enough, and the impact is strong when it gets there.Green Day hits the soft/loud dynamic pretty hard on this album, and it’s more than a bit of a cliché in modern, radio-friendly rock music, but this is the track that I feel utilizes it best. It seems to be about coming out of a rebellious phase in your life, being “all grown up and medicated”, trying to get back on track with your responsibilities and stuff like that. You can feel the tension between the calm parts and the energetic parts as his heart seems to rebel against his head. The political slant that a good chunk of this album is going to take is alluded to in the line “I put the riot in ‘patriot'”. If I break down the lyrics, this song comes out about 50% clever turns of phrase, 40% straightforward but relatable melancholy, and the remaining 10% is admittedly awkwardly written. Near the beginning of the song, the line “Where the future and promises ain’t what it used to be” really makes me cringe. (Subject and verb agreement, guys!) But overall, it’s easily my favorite thing that Green Day has done in the last seven years.
2. Bang Bang
The lead single feels to me like the right way to throw a bone to the band’s old-school fans without forsaking the growth they’ve been through over the last few decades. Sonically, it’s a throwback to Green Day’s early punk sound, while the lyrics quite clearly address a problem that’s become more urgent in modern-day society (though it’s been around since well before Green Day even existed, to be fair). This one tries to get inside the mind of a mass shooter, someone who figures they’ll go out in a blaze of glory and score their fifteen minutes of fame, and what influences might lead a person to decide this is the most meaningful legacy they can leave for the world. Reality TV might contribute to it (“The leading man in my own private drama”), as well as an overly harsh parenting style (“Daddy’s little psycho and mommy’s little soldier”). Putting it in the first person was a smart move, as it makes the audience more likely to examine what we can do to stop a kid from growing up to see the world this way, rather than just looking at the person from an outsider’s perspective and moralizing about how awful they are while simultaneously adding to their infamy. The entire band is really on point here, from Billie Joe’s relentless guitar riffing to Mike Dirnt‘s energetic bass and background vocals, and especially Tré Cool‘s awesome drum fills. Irreverence and social consciousness never sounded so good together.
3. Revolution Radio
The title track, while not as strong as the two openers, does a pretty good job of depicting both the chaos and the solidarity inside a crowd of protestors. How well you respond to that will likely depend on your opinion of civil disobedience and whether it actually helps to get a message out or whether it just paints a certain cause or movement as a bunch of troublemakers and criminals. It’s something that I’ve been challenged to re-evaluate in the weeks following the election, I guess. The commentary on how social media plays into this, and how protests are often seen but the method eclipses the message as news of these incidents are passed along, feeds quite well into the theme of half-truths being spun as factual news that comes up a few times on this album. With a siren-like opening guitar riff and some absolutely amazing drum rolls, the band is once again in top form, so the main reason I’m not giving this one amazingly high marks is because the chorus seems a bit more pedestrian than the hard-hitting refrains from the last few songs. I feel like more aggression and less easygoing melody is really needed to sell the anthemic chorus here, which I know is weird when I’m simultaneously praising Green Day for knowing their way around a good pop hook – it just depends on the mood a song is trying to convey, I guess. The thing’s packed with interesting lyrical imagery to the point where I can definitely say they went for striking lyricism over an easily singable chorus.
4. Say Goodbye
The crunchy, bouncy beat of this song is quite similar to “Holiday”, which isn’t a bad thing since that’s one of my favorite Green Day songs. It’s got a taunting, sing-along sort of quality to it, which puts a bleaker spin on the otherwise superficially pleasant line “Say goodbye to the ones that you love”, which loops throughout most of the song. Following up on both the prevalence of gun-related crimes in our country as described in “Bang Bang”, and the possibility of well-intended protests turning into violent clashes with law enforcement as hinted at in the title track, comes the sobering realization that living in a land dominated by the love of weapons means it’s our loved ones who will pay the price. It’s not explicitly stated in the song, but there’s a strong implication that this hits anyone visually stereotyped as a criminal due to the color of their skin the worst. And that’s not to say that the song means to be anti-police when it sneers “Say hello to the cops on patrol/Say hello to the ones in control”; I think it has more to do with the mentality of our society trending toward a police state where minority voices seem to be silenced based on the assumptions made by a few bad eggs who are supposed to be charged with keeping the peace, more often than those voices are listened to. A bit of a repetitive track, but a solid and hard-hitting one nonetheless.
My brain tends to sort Green Day ballads into two camps rather quickly. One camp is the stuff like “Somewhere Now” where it’s got some complexity and turns some interesting corners, doing something beyond what you’d expect from the genre. The other camp is the stuff like this song, which reminds me of “21 Guns” in how unsubtly it hammers home a chorus full of power chords, like they’re trying to ram a multi-format radio hit down our throats. I don’t hate any of Green Day’s music for happening to be radio-friendly; I just hate some of their more obviously formulaic attempts to do so. This one seems to defy expectations at first, by backing off suddenly from its loud opening chords to a very quiet verse filled with little other than a soft bass line. But once the chorus comes in, I feel like I’m being smacked with the force of a thousand anvils. There’s some wistfulness to the melody, but it’s wasted on lazy rhymes and a weird sense of nostalgia for a youth spent causing trouble and busting up suburbia. It might have fit well into the narrative of an album like 21st Century Breakdown, where the protagonists were political dissidents in love with each other or something like that, but coming after songs that are so clearly about the price paid by socially conscious individuals mischaracterized as criminals, this feels especially tone-deaf. Plus, The chorus’s insistence that they are “Outlaws of redemption” and “Outlaws of forever” is just lazy phrasing. Whatever’s redeeming or lasting from this story, it’s lost on me as a listener.
6. Bouncing Off the Wall
This song works its magic with another unapologetically bouncy power-pop riff. It’s more lighthearted than a lot of the material on this album, feeling like a bit of an eleventh hour addition just to throw something fun in there, and as far as songs about the irreverent sort of youthful rebellion go, I think this one works a lot better. Nothing terribly profound here, just a bunch of neglected kids hopped up on Ritalin, acting out to get the attention of the adults who write them off as evil and don’t want to take any responsibility for their actions. It’s a good song to rouse the crowd. Billie Joe’s searing guitar work is top-notch and adds a lot of edge to the otherwise very poppy surroundings.
7. Still Breathing
This might be one of the darkest songs on the album, but it’s easy to miss that at first, due to how effortlessly it takes off running, with its fast-paced rhythm building into a strong wall of sound, as if to say that the thin line between life and death might be too much of an abyss to slow down and ponder at length. The verse lyrics seem to describe various kinds of near-misses – a child stepping out into the street without paying attention, a soldier dodging a bullet, a drug addict stopping just short of overdosing, etc. There might be a bit of survivors’ guilt in Billie Joe’s realization that “I’m still breathing on my own/My head above the rain and roses”, when so many other lives have been cut short unnecessarily. It’s not the usual musical mood for a song about grappling with your own mortality… but on the other hand, it’s catchy as hell, and I’m not gonna complain about that one bit.
This is a peppy, upbeat song – probably the one unabashedly happy tune on the album – that seems to deliberately echo “She’s a Rebel”, another one of my favorite tracks from American Idiot. Billie Joe has a thing for rebellious women, and I believe this one’s about his wife, as I’d expect a lot of his love songs are. I like the overall mood of the music and attitude of the song – as described here, she seems like the type of person with zero interest in playing pretend for anybody. I just hate the way he describes it. Pretty much all the lines here are cringeworthy – “She’s a loner, not a stoner”, “I wanna hold you like a gun/We’ll shoot the moon into the sun”, “I’m a rough boy ;round the edges/Getting drunk and falling into hedges”, etc. The best way he can think of to sum up her devil-may-care attitude is to have her respond “F*ck you, I’m from Oakland!” when asked if she’s restless. So yeah, this is the one track where they decided to bring out the old effbomb on this album, and they wasted the impact that it could have had in a far more emotionally-charged lyric. There’s a guitar solo near the end that threatens to save the day, but for the most part, this song is trash and I think she deserved a lot better.
9. Too Dumb to Die
Oh, come on, Green Day. I don’t need yet another muted opening that makes me fiddle with the volume. And now you’re going to pack an actual verse of lyrics in there, too? Then speed up and take the song in a completely different direction, and expect me to think that first verse mattered at all? Ugh. More nostalgia for the goold old days of being suburban hoodlums seems to kick in here: “Smoking dope and mowing lawns, and I hated all the new trends.” This time I feel like there’s some attempt to bridge the “rebel without a cause” nature of his youth with the more socially conscious rebellion he sings about nowadays – a few lines like “Don’t cross the line because you’ll be a scab, not a martyr” pique my interest. Unfortunately, the song doesn’t do as much to stand out musically, and comes across a bit like filler, to the point where I’ve lost that interest by the time the over-driven guitar solo kicks in. Green Day’s usually pretty good at exceeding the perceived limitations of pop/punk, but this one for the most part plays by the rules and reminds us why we tend to see it as a limited genre.
10. Troubled Times
After all that Green Day’s had to say since the American Idiot, days, “We live in troubled times” might be a bit of a “duh” statement. Having just that one repeating line as the chorus of this song made me overlook it for a while; it seemed rather uninspired. However, there are some good nuggets in the verses, particularly in the (once again, quieter than it needs to be just for the sake of a loud chorus) first verse: “What good is love and peace on Earth if it’s exclusive?/Where’s the truth in the written word if no one reads it?” Those two lines basically sum up how I felt about the election – the majority of America (or at least, the ones whose votes counted the most) basically said, “We only care about the well-being of people who look and think like us, and we don’t take kindly to you challenging the propaganda we accept as news.” Obviously that’s an oversimplification, but that’s how I feel when I’m at my most pessimistic, and Green Day basically called it before the election even happened, because the attitude was already prevalent in the months and even years leading up to it. Musically this one’s more mid-tempo, not as strong in the guitar riff department or in the way it stacks its lead and backing vocals (often the hidden strength of a Green Day song), so I appreciate what it’s trying to say, I just think it could have hit harder and more consistently than it did.
11. Forever Now
Here’s one of those multi-part suites that we’ve come to expect near the end of a Green Day album. It would seem old hat by now, but I love that they keep finding subtle ways to put a different spin on it. The first part, “I’m Freaking Out”, seems like unassuming pop/punk at first, finding Billie Joe at the edge of some sort of personal crisis, perhaps the fear of being misunderstood as a celebrity whining about society from a place of privilege, and as he stares into that abyss, the song shifts quite neatly on a dime into the second part, “A Better Way to Die”. This part rather quickly reveals itself to be a harder-edged reprise of the melody from “Somewhere Now”, but it’s not until the third part that they truly reprise the song with its original instrumentation, bending the melody ever so slightly and subtly altering the lyrics to give it new perspective: “When did life on the wild side ever get so full?” A shift from lamenting the past to demanding a better future (while not being entirely sure how to get there) seems to happen as one section of the song hands off to the next, which leads to a lot of threads coming together in the end as the refrain “I ain’t gonna stand in line no more!” intertwines beautifully with the “Somewhere Now” refrain, now re-written to drop the album title one last time: “I wanna start a revolution/I wanna hear it on the radio/I’ll put it off another day.” This probably would have had a lot of impact on its own even if “Somewhere Now” hadn’t opened the album as a distinct song unto itself, but having it come full circle like that adds a lot of value to both versions, I think.
12. Ordinary World
Since “Forever Now” wound down with the same acoustic guitar that opened the album, it seems like a gentle acoustic finale is the most logical place to go at this point. Green Day has of course done this before, most famously with “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)”, a song which I enjoy but consider to be a bit overrated. This one doesn’t seem to be quite as middle-of-the-road – it’s got a slight bit more melodic complexity to it and it doesn’t sound like the kind of thing where they’re pining for a crossover radio hit. It actually brings back the folksy feel of the opening track, to the point where I find myself yearning for a harmonica solo, as out of place as such a thing would probably sound to most Green Day listeners. It just has that sort of wistful, wide-open Midwest sort of feel to it. Unfortunately the lyrics do fall back on some tired rhymes, but for the most part I can get what Billie Joe is aiming at – he wants to know what he can leave behind to make the world a little less ordinary for the generations to follow. A side effect of the long, epic tracks often being second-to-last on Green Day’s more recent albums is that the closer can feel like a bit of a coda or an afterthought. This one expressed a bit of a broad sentiment, but nevertheless it’s a nice one to close the record on.
WHAT’S IT WORTH TO ME?
Somewhere Now $2
Bang Bang $2
Revolution Radio $1
Say Goodbye $1.50
Bouncing Off the Wall $1.25
Still Breathing $1.50
Too Dumb to Die $0
Troubled Times $.50
Forever Now $1.50
Ordinary World $1
Billie Joe Armstrong: Lead vocals, guitars, piano
Mike Dirnt: Bass, backing vocals
Tré Cool: Drums, percussion, backing vocals
LISTEN FOR YOURSELF: