Stephen Thompson, The Onion AV Club, September 27th 2004
Before, during, and after its bout with mid-'90s
superstardom, Green Day has spent little time deviating from its well-worn
sound and style. Its stock in trade generally entails little more than
simple, snotty, dubiously accented two-and-a-half-minute pop-punk songs:
Even its immediate follow-up to the 1994 sensation Dookie found the band
using the spotlight as a license to essentially remake its biggest hit.
After a four-year break between new studio albums, Green Day emerges from
cultural invisibility with far and away its most ambitious recording to
date. Given its predecessors' brevity, American Idiot feels overstuffed at
57 minutes, with 13 tracks—really 21, given the disc's two surprisingly
effective five-song, nine-minute medleys—covering subject matter ranging
from American politics to the more picked-over likes of suburbia and
self-flagellation. The observations don't always dig as deep as they're
meant to, and buzzwords occasionally stand in for insights, but American
Idiot finds Green Day both shaking up its formula and applying it in novel
and unexpected ways.
Given the group's place in the pop-music universe—elder statesmen to the
kids, umpteenth-generation followers to the actual elder statesmen—Green
Day needed to make a smarter, better, more inspired pop-punk record this
time around. American Idiot, in all its messy sprawling, is just that,
functioning better as a whole than as a collection of would-be hit
singles. It's tempting to chalk Green Day's newfound vitality up to
backhanded compliments like "maturity" or "aging gracefully," but really,
the band just sounds refreshed and inspired, for the first time in ages.
Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen, Paste Magazine issue 13
As good as Green Day has always been at cranking out
irresistibly anthemic pop punk, you always got the feeling they had
something bigger in ’em if they would only grow up a bit and really go for
it. 2000’s Warning exhibited a maturity and reach that suggested they were
on their way, but it was a mere tease compared to American Idiot, the
band’s first truly great album and the first punk-rock opera of the new
millennium. As pretentious a concept as that might seem, Green Day pulls
it off brilliantly, using the characters Jesus of Suburbia, St. Jimmy and
Whatsername to capture the essence of how it feels to be alienated in
contemporary America. Billie Joe Armstrong writes and sings with newfound
wisdom and depth, and the music evokes both the predictable (Buzzcocks,
Who and Kinks) and the unexpected (The Beatles and Beach Boys). But
there’s nothing derivative about Green Day now; love ’em or hate ’em,
they’ve crafted a unique brand of rock.
Johnny Loftus, Pitchfork Media,
September 24th 2004
Green Day were always innately suburban.
THC and apathy themed their 1994 single "Longview"; their breakthrough
album, Dookie, was a precocious jumble of power chords and smart aleck
prurience, a blend of The Descendents and flinty Buzzcockian spark. They
didn't have any answers-- they just wanted weed and entitlement. That cul
de sac selfishness and bratty pose carried through to the sugar-pap
mallpunks Green Day spawned on the backslide of the 90s; unfortunately,
the trio's undeniable early flair for songcraft did not.
In 1999, pop-punk exploded with the arrival of Blink-182's Enema of the
State, and the brand gleefully deteriorated from there, bottoming out in
the young and hopeless days of a dollar-store post-millennium, where the
suburban trash culture that Billie Joe Armstrong once dismissively
skewered has blended dangerously with a shifty political climate, causing
volatile upheavals in blue collar comedy and bicameral nimrods. Now Green
Day are back to pull the pin on the grenade.
2000's Warning only scored the band two modern rock hits, and in contrast
to the million-selling marks of previous records, was something of a
commercial flop. By this point, their hit-making, image-cultivating
offspring had bid them good riddance, and those disillusioned by Green
Day's populist stature were no longer listening. If they had been, they'd
have heard some of the grit and dynamics that gave birth to a much wider
sonic palette on American Idiot, the band's first album since, and
unquestionably their most ambitious to date.
As a songwriter, Armstrong's penchant for economy is still present-- he'll
never be a wordsmith or a magic melody maker. But Idiot's slicing power
chordage reaches to Green Day's old English and Cali punk influences with
tingling fingers, adds acoustic instruments without sounding forced or
contrived, and lyrically grapples with the cultural predicaments and
awkward shittiness of "subliminal mind-fuck America," circa 2004: "Now
everybody do the propaganda/ And sing along in the age of paranoia."
Armstrong delivers the title track couplet like a command at the
revolution day sock-hop, and its instrumental viciousness is enough to
shatter punchbowl glass.
Like Bad Religion, whose recent The Empire Strikes First was not only a
reaction to U.S. politics and culture post-9/11, but a powerful return to
cynical form, Green Day's dissent and frustration has inspired a new
strength of craft in them as well. Armstrong's frustration comes out in
seething anger: The ragged, rousing "Letterbomb" is both a melodic powder
keg and a blaring bullhorn promoting the destruction of complacency, while
the album's title track is energizing and provoking in the way effective
punk revivalism should be.
"Nobody cares," Armstrong screams shrilly in "Homecoming", one of the
album's two extended set pieces, and the line gets at American Idiot's
greatest feat, besides its revitalization of Green Day's songwriting.
Rather than preach, it digs out the fuse buried under mountains of
7-Eleven styrofoam trash, the cultural livewire that's grown cold in the
shadow of strip-mall economics. Armstrong's characters are just
misunderstood and disaffected individuals, told to get lost by a nation of
fair and balanced sitcom watchers. They're apathetic suburbanite kids,
grown up to find that life in the longview sucks.
"Jesus of Suburbia" and the accompanying epic "Homecoming" are American
Idiot's summarizing ideological and musical statements. Bookends, they
respectively establish and bitterly conclude the record's storyline.
Musically, they roll rapid-fire through vignettes of enormous drum fill
rock, plaintive piano, Johnny Rotten impressions, and surprisingly strong
harmonies. "Suburbia" references the melodies of "All the Young Dudes" and
"Ring of Fire"; "Homecoming" surveys both the Ramones and the Police's
"Born in the 50s"; and both songs owe their form and pacing to The Who.
The album does drag on occasion-- the labored pacing of "Wake Me Up When
September Ends" is a little too much, the price of ambition. But then
there's "She's a Rebel", a simplistically perfect anthem of the sort the
band's vapid followers (or their handlers) would likely muck up with
For all its grandiosity, American Idiot keeps its mood and method
deliberately, tenaciously, and angrily on point. Music in 2004 is full of
well-meaning but pan-flashing sloganeers whose tirades against the
government-- whether right or wrong-- are ultimately flat, with an
overarching sense that what they're saying comes packaged with a spoil
date of November '04. Though they do fling their share of surface insults,
Green Day frequently look deeper here, not just railing against the
political climate, but also striving to show how that climate has
negatively impacted American culture. Ultimately, American Idiot screams
at us to do something, anything-- a wake-up call from those were once
shared our apathy.
Richard Smirke, January 6th 2005
Number 35 in Playlouder's Top 50 Albums
of 2004, an international chart topper and currently appearing in the
upper echelons of annual polls across the globe, since its release back in
September of last year Green Day's seventh studio album has proved to be
their most well received since 1994's multi-million selling 'Dookie'.
A pretty remarkable feat when you consider that this is a band who once
sang: "You're just a fuck. I can't explain it. Cause I think you suck."
And who, in 'American Idiot', have bravely attempted to create a 57-minute
rock opera encompassing one man’s anger, alienation and disillusionment
with contemporary America. The simple fact of the matter is, however, that
regardless of its political aspirations or messily conceived overall
concept, 'A.I.' (as absolutely no one is calling it) is simply a
fantastically catchy punk rock record that nearly four months on from its
original release has lost none of its initial punch.
The rollicking title track kicks things off with aplomb. Billie Joe
rallying against "the subliminal mind fuck America" with all the anthemic,
radio friendly bombast of an amphetamine-fuelled Busted. 'Jesus Of
Suburbia' immediately follows and quickly sets about introducing the
album's grandiose ambition. Consisting, as it does, of five separate mini
songs that all breathlessly bring together chugging skate punk, primal
stadium rock and glockenspiel assisted pop to form a seething, epic
'Boulevard Of Broken Dreams' you're no doubt already familiar with, and in
terms of standout singles it forms something of a highlight. But of equal
note are also the roof-raising 'Are We The Waiting' (complete with a truly
gigantic, multi-layered chorus), rousing anti-war tirade 'Holiday' and
sumptuous acoustic ballad 'Wake Me Up When September Ends.'
There are several duff tracks, certainly. And, sure, as a whole 'American
Idiot' can easily be criticised for its simplistic, occasionally naïve
sixth form lyrics, all round pomposity and general adherence to the
group's tried and tested formula of punchy three-chord pogo-pop. But it's
still a wonderfully entertaining, polemical punk rock record. The fact
that it was created by three thirty-something millionaires who've pretty
much lived the American Dream and still found themselves with a great deal
to complain about, merely accentuates Green Day's continued relevance
Tim O'Neil, Pop Matters, October 15th
Growing Up Without Getting Old: Green
Day and the Art of the Unbelievable Comeback
What the hell happened?
I mean it. I really wasn't expecting this. If you say you saw this one
coming, you're lying. In all seriousness, who thought Green Day had it in
them to deliver one of the best rock albums of the year?
Bands that have been around this long aren't supposed to be this
creatively strong. Sure, every now and again there's a fluke like R.E.M.
or the Flaming Lips, a band that continues to produce good music two or
three decades after their initial success. But mostly, once a group hits
their peak, it's a downhill slide. It's exceedingly rare to find a group
capable of releasing their best album a decade after their commercial
peak. Who in the hell thought Green Day would be that one-in-a-hundred?
Green Day is a group that showed every indication of being on the cusp of
diminishing returns. Their last album, 2000's Warning, was released to
mediocre reviews and middling sales. There was definite conflict in
Warning's material, as the group's hard punk edge seemed increasingly
at-odds with their steadily maturing songwriting acumen. Words such as
"Beatle-esque" were bandied about by confused critics. Was this the same
group that went Top 20 with an ode to serial masturbation? Was this the
same Green Day who followed up their relatively poppy major label debut
(the 10-times platinum Dookie) with the spitefully claustrophobic
There were four long years between the release of Warning and American
Idiot, and in those four year's you could have been forgiven for believing
that it looked as if Green Day might be close to the end of their strange
and unexpected ride. The inevitable hits package (2001's International
Superhits!), and the inevitable odds-and-sods compilation (2002's
Shenanigans) did little to dispel the notion that the group was treading
Which brings us nicely to American Idiot. To say that this is a creative
renaissance for the group would be a gross understatement: the fact is
that with this album Green Day have finally cemented their position as one
of the best rock outfits of their generation. I don't think that even
their most enthusiastic fans could have predicted how fearsomely good this
album would be.
Of course, every new Green Day album brings with it the perpetual
kvetching over the soul of punk. Those who thought that punk died the
moment Dookie hit the streets will find little hear to change their minds.
Punk purists are perhaps the most loathsome gnats in all of creation. If
you want to get technical, you can argue all damn day over whether or not
the Ramones were really a punk band, or whether or not the Clash sold out
when they went big, or whatever. Quite honestly, life is too short. Sure,
we can all respect the Dischord records crews and their unswerving
dedication to some pure Platonic ideal of Punk-with-a-capitol-"P". But
honestly, most people just don't care. Call me a heretic all you want, but
there's a reason why most punk bands worth their salt eventually change
and grow. Punk is a journey, not a destination. If you want to record the
same brutally raw and punishingly fast tracks over and over again, go
ahead and have fun. But if that's all you want to do for the rest of your
life, you're pretty weird.
But the fact that a bunch of noise fetishists wanted to turn punk into
thrash metal's grim and ugly kid sister can't erase the fact that so many
of the early, seminal punk groups were nothing if not adept pop
songwriters. The Ramones wanted nothing more than to create a genuine
tribute to the Bay City Rollers and the Ronettes. From the very beginning
the Clash had a crystalline songwriting talent that belied their angry
exterior. The Damned were obviously having a good time. The fact that
smart art-pop groups like the Talking Heads and Blondie have as much of a
legitimate claim to punk credibility as Sham 69 or the Buzzcocks has
always meant, to me, that punk was only ever a state of mind. You can hem
and haw about whether or not Blink 182 or Sum 41 are punkers or poseurs,
but at the end of the day it only matters to anyone insecure enough to
perceive the dilution of an arbitrary generic idealization as a personal
threat. If Sum 41 think they're playing punk music, does it make your
Minor Threat CDs any less enjoyable to you? If it does, that's an
extremely petty worldview you've got there.
In any event, there are few things less "punk" than a rock opera. The very
phrase connotes a level of pretension and premeditation that is alien to
even the most generous conception of the genre. Certainly, Tommy is a
classic, and the Who are considered among the progenitors of punk . . .
but still. Concept albums as a whole are tricky business, and when you
take the final step dividing concept from narrative, you are entering
hoary pastures. There's blessed little air between Dark Side of the Moon
and Tarkus. When I heard that Green Day were doing a "punk rock opera", I
have to admit I thought it was a joke.
But it wasn't a joke. Apparently, the four years between albums were
difficult for the group. They found themselves unhappy with the mixed
results of Warning, riven by resentment and unsure whether or not to even
continue. But the strangest thing happened: instead of allowing
dissatisfaction to blow the group apart, they sat down and talked. Unlike
fellow Bay Area natives Metallica, they didn't need a $40,000-a-month
shrink to work through their problems.
The group's increasingly ambitious songwriting was openly addressed. The
group wanted to place the straight pop which had begun to blossom on
1997's Nimrod and which had taken a more prominent place on Warning into a
cleaner synthesis with the aggressive punk of their early material.
Basically, the group realized that they needed to manage the almost
impossible task of embracing a more mature sound without sacrificing their
youthful vigor. Amazingly, they have achieved this precarious balance on
The album begins with the title track, one of the disc's harder punk
tracks. It starts the album off on the right foot, with the group's
familiar sound on display for longtime fans, as well as a blast of energy
for newcomers. The second track, "Jesus of Suburbia", is the first of two
nine-minute suites, containing five movements each. Obviously, the point
of reference here is the Who's immortal "A Quick One (While He's Away)".
The Who were able to pull off the rather absurd premise of a ten-minute
long operetta based almost entirely on their musical prowess. They
couldn't help but rocking, regardless of whatever the hell they happened
to be rocking about. Green Day have discovered the same kind of infectious
confidence on "Jesus of Suburbia". You don't notice that the track is nine
minutes long, because each distinct suite has the energy of a distinct and
coherent song. Every couple of minutes they lurch into another section,
turning on a dime and heading off in another direction entirely. It's
Before I received my copy of American Idiot, I saw a half-hour television
performance that the group recorded for the Fuse network. They performed
every note of "Jesus of Suburbia" with perfect precision, perhaps even
shaving a few seconds off the total playing time. They needed an extra set
of hands to tackle the layered guitar parts, as well as to handle the
stunt xylophone during "Dearly Beloved", but considering the complexity of
the music it's impressive that the only needed a single set of extra
hands. Although Green Day have always been an impressive live band, they
have now evolved into something else entirely, tackling these dizzyingly
complex movements with the exact same level of reckless enthusiasm with
which they have always tackled their hardest and most unforgiving punk
tracks. "Jesus of Suburbia" is just a damn fantastic piece of music,
probably the best thing on American Idiot. I find myself wanting to listen
to it over and over again, repeatedly pressing the back button on the
Windows Media Player like a chimp pulling the lever for his food pellet.
The rest of the album is pretty damn good, too. The melancholy melody of
"Boulevard of Broken Dreams" will stick to the inside of your skull like
salt-water taffy. "Give Me Novacaine" is a soft-hard bruiser of a track,
with a sweet acoustic pop verse set against a sludge-drenched punk chorus.
It almost sounds like half of "Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)" welded
to half of "Geek Stink Breath" -- and as unlikely as that sounds, it
works. There are even the soft, muted sounds of a Hammond organ purring
softly as the track slides to a sweet close.
"Extraordinary Girl" is another early favorite. It's one of the least
typically Green Day tracks on the album, with a strange retro-'60s vibe
that almost reminds me of the Bangles with a tad more of a Carnaby Street
vibe. "Letterbomb" features a brief cameo from Le Tigre's Kathleen Hanna,
and it is also one of the album's most incendiary tracks. This could
easily be a hit in the vein of "Basket Case" or "Nice Guys Finish Last". I
am still a bit torn on "Wake Me Up When September Ends". It's one of the
album's most heartfelt and affecting tunes, but it's also the one most
likely to end up used at the end of an episode of Dawson's Creek, or
whatever show the kids are watching these days.
But at the end of the day, I really can't accuse Green Day of having
compromised anything for the sake of recording more accessible pop music.
The fact is that they suffered for the right to write whatever the hell
kind of songs they want. The group almost imploded from the stress of
trying very hard to be two things at the same time: an orthodox punk group
and a burgeoning power-pop outfit. Ultimately, the only way they were able
to make it through was by realizing that they weren't going to be happy
unless they accepted the fact that their muse wanted them to go in some
expansive directions. It's the same thing, really, that happened to the
Clash and Wire and so many of the best punk bands throughout music
history. They reached a point where they realized that the rigid
strictures of punk were standing in the way of doing what they wanted to
do. Not everyone can be the Ramones, and really, who else has ever
approached that kind of Zen purity with their abrasively minimal
songwriting? I'm glad Joe Strummer and Co. didn't give a second thought to
these things before they recorded London Calling, and I'm similarly glad
that Green Day were able to settle the matter in such a way as to enable
them to record American Idiot.
What is that? There's no way American Idiot deserves to be mentioned in
the same sentence as London Calling? Well, don't get me wrong, the album
isn't that good, but that's not saying much considering that by any
measure London Calling is considered one of the top-five rock albums of
all time. Sure, Green Day aren't quite in that league (who is?), but they
are definitely playing in the major leagues.
The "Homecoming" suite which closes the album is, while perhaps a bit less
cohesive than "Jesus of Suburbia", all the more maniacally inventive. Mike
Dirnt and Tré Cool actually get to sing a section each. Dirnt's piece is
an odd piece of punk-rock chamber music with martial drums, while Cool's
bit is just a crazy piece of roadhouse rock and roll which reminds me of
what Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band would sound like if you stuffed
them all in a closet together and made them huff modeling glue out of a
paper sack before they went on stage. It all builds to an impossibly
preposterous and almost comically grand finish. While the influence of the
Who is pervasive throughout the album, this track wears the influence most
plainly. It didn't initially impress me as much as the rest of the album,
but after a few listenings it has grown on me considerably.
The album ends with "Whatsername", a plainspoken and painful evocation of,
well, growing up. Billy Joe sings "I remember the face but I can't recall
the name / Now I wonder how Whatsername has been" with the honest emotion
of someone who has lived through the disorientation of growing up and
older and experienced the realization that the past can never be
reclaimed. "I'll never turn back time", he sings wistfully as the albums
comes to a close. It's as brutally affecting a line as I've heard all
Certainly, it doesn't really do you any good to try to follow the supposed
storyline: like Tommy, it only makes as much sense as you're willing to
suspend disbelief. But the fact is that despite some recurring motifs, the
album would hold up just as well if you had no idea there was supposed to
be any sort of common thread between the tracks. It's an album full of
brilliant tracks that somehow add up to more than the sum of their
individual parts. If there's ever a Broadway musical adaptation I'm sure
it will all make sense, but until that day you will just have to be
content with the album as is.
If, 10 months ago, you had told me that Green Day would release one of the
very best pop records of the year, I would have laughed. Nothing against
Green Day, but they have always been the underdogs. No one ever really
expected them to be so unbelievably popular as they were in the '90s. No
one really expected them to still be around and still selling records some
10 years after Dookie. The fact is that they are without a doubt the most
successful punk group of all time, with all the contradictory baggage that
such a dubious honor implies. They are also now one of the very best rock
bands currently working. American Idiot is a work of staggering ambition,
made all the more impressive by the fact that they make it all look so
damn effortless. Considering the fact that Billy Joe is still only 32
years old, it boggles the mind to imagine just where the band can go from
Rob Sheffield, Rolling Stone
Tell the truth: did anybody think Green
Day would still be around in 2004? Ten years ago, when they blew up into
the hot summer band of 1994, they were snotty little Berkeley, California,
punk kids who sounded ready to pogo off the face of the earth in
three-chord tantrums such as "Basket Case." Between Billie Joe Armstrong's
adenoidal snarl and Tre Cool's maniac drums, Green Day seemed like a
Saturday-morning-cartoon version of The Young Ones, three cheeky monkeys
who came to raid the bar and disappear. But here they are with American
Idiot: a fifty-seven-minute politically charged epic depicting a character
named Jesus of Suburbia as he suffers through the decline and fall of the
American dream. And all this from the boys who brought you Dookie.
American Idiot is the kind of old-school rock opera that went out of style
when Keith Moon still had a valid driver's license, in the tradition of
the Who's Tommy, Yes' Relayer or Styx's Kilroy Was Here. Since Green Day
are punk rockers, they obviously have a specific model in mind: Hosker
Do's 1984 Zen Arcade, which showed how a street-level hardcore band could
play around with storytelling without diluting the primal anger of the
music. On American Idiot, the thirteen tracks segue together, expanding
into piano balladry and acoustic country shuffles. The big statement
"Jesus of Suburbia" is a nine-minute five-part suite, with Roman-numeral
chapters including "City of the Damned," "Dearly Beloved" and "Tales of
Another Broken Home."
American Idiot could have been a mess; in fact, it is a mess. The plot has
characters with names such as St. Jimmy and Whatsername, young rebels who
end up on the "Boulevard of Broken Dreams." But the individual tunes are
tough and punchy enough to work on their own. You can guess who the
"American Idiot" is in the bang-up title tune, as Armstrong rages against
the "subliminal mind-fuck America" of the George W. Bush era: "Welcome to
a new kind of tension/All across the alien nation." Green Day have always
swiped licks from the Clash, even back when they were still singing about
high school shrinks and whores, so it makes sense for them to come on like
Joe Strummer. The other Clash flashback is "Are We the Waiting," a
grandiose ballad evoking Side Three of London Calling. "Wake Me Up When
September Ends" is an acoustic power ballad, a sadder, more adult sequel
to "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)." Even better, there are punk ravers
such as "Give Me Novocaine," "Extraordinary Girl" and "Letterbomb," which
bites off a big juicy chunk of the Cheap Trick oldie "She's Tight."
Since rock operas are self-conscious and pompous beasts by definition,
Green Day obligingly cram all their bad ideas into one monstrously awful
track, the nine-minute "Homecoming," which sounds like the Who's "A Quick
One While He's Away" without any of the funny parts. But aside from that,
Idiot does a fine job of revving up the basic Green Day conceit, adding
emotional flavor to top-shelf Armstrong songs. They don't skimp on basic
tunefulness -- not even in the other big nine-minute track, "Jesus of
Suburbia," which packs in punk thrash, naked piano, glockenspiel, Beach
Boys harmonies and a Springsteen-style production number about a 7-Eleven
parking lot where there are some mystical goings-down indeed. Against all
odds, Green Day have found a way to hit their thirties without either
betraying their original spirit or falling on their faces. Good Charlotte,
you better be taking notes.
Kevin Forest Moreau, Shaking Through.net, October 10th
When it was announced that the California-based punk-pop
trio Green Day was getting set to release a concept album that addressed
the current political zeitgeist, there was good reason to be intrigued --
and perhaps a little worried. This is a band, after all, that first came
to national prominence a decade ago with an album named Dookie, and a
crunchy, pithy single ("Longview") about apathy and masturbation. Green
Day has remarkably evolved over the years into a tight, smart purveyor of
punk-ish, radio-friendly anthems ("Basket Case," "Brain Stew," "Walking
Contradiction"), but that kind of resume doesn't necessarily suggest
itself as a solid foundation for an excursion into the murky conceptual
waters of the "rock opera."
The good news, then, is that American Idiot -- the band's first proper
album of new material since 2000's Warning -- isn't the mess it could have
been (and, at times, seems to want to become). In fact, it's a bracing,
eye-opening and even -- dare we say it? -- fun record. Given that Idiot is
built around the perennial punk themes of political discontent and
personal and social isolation, "fun" might sound like an odd description.
But singer, lyricist and bandleader Billie Joe Armstrong keeps those
themes largely abstract, which actually helps immensely. By wrapping
itself in such familiar trappings, American Idiot avoids the topical
speechifying of, say, late Roger Waters-era Pink Floyd, or even Steve
Earle's last couple of records.
And that's a good thing, because American Idiot works best not as some
grand, self-important "statement" record a la Genesis' The Lamb Lies Down
on Broadway, but as an energetic, musically ambitious pop-rock record that
employs its expanded vistas in the service of animating punk's well-worn
thematic underpinnings. The rousing power ballad "Boulevard of Broken
Dreams" traffics in clichés so threadbare ("I walk this empty street / On
the boulevard of broken dreams / Where the city sleeps / And I'm the only
one / And I walk alone") they'd be distracting, if we didn't know they
were meant to help paint a larger picture, rather than as sincere
This is best exemplified by "Jesus of Suburbia," an adventurous,
constantly shifting nine-minute suite full of hairpin musical turns that
allows Armstrong to voice classic punk motifs ("Everyone is so full of
shit / Born and raised by hypocrites;" "I lost my faith in this / This
town that don't exist") quickly and efficiently, before they become
grating. Just on the sheer amount of riffs and lyrical ground covered,
it's by far Idiot's standout track. And it solidly anchors Idiot's
aggressive, agreeable first half, from the anti-anthem title track to the
power chord-and-chorus-drenched "Are We the Waiting," up through "St.
Jimmy," a slice of Green Day's punk-pop at its scruffiest, complete with
some surprisingly effective "ooooh" backing vocals toward the end.
The precision engineering, musical scope and sheer determination of the
album's first six songs help to sugarcoat the somewhat medicinal taste of
the concept itself -- the necessary evil of the concept album. The story
of American Idiot isn't spelled out too clearly, but suffice it to say
that it revolves around characters with improbable names straight out of a
Who or Genesis album: Jesus of Suburbia, St. Jimmy and Whatsername, who's
both a rebel ("She's a Rebel") and, well, an "Extraordinary Girl."
After "St. Jimmy," however, Idiot loses a good deal of its engrossing
momentum. "Give Me Novacaine" (sp) is a perfectly serviceable Green Day
ballad touching on feelings of numbness and isolation -- a candidate for
the "Comfortably Numb" of the Warped Tour generation. "Extraordinary Girl"
and "Letter Bomb" are melodic enough but unremarkable, and the likeable
"Wake Me Up When September Ends" is another stab at radio-saturation
balladry, although it lacks the finely calculated impact of "Boulevard of
And then there's "Homecoming," another five-part suite, which more or less
wraps up what there is of the album's central plot. This is much closer to
the traditional, anticlimactic grand finales of many concept records. It's
not bad, per se, but it's nowhere near as exhilarating as "Jesus of
Suburbia," and only serves to remind us that there's a story going on that
we're not too clear about. "Whatsername" ties things up on an agreeable
enough note, helped by the fact that it could easily be shipped to radio
and MTV as just another lost-girlfriend number.
In fact, most of the more accessible numbers ("Boulevard," "American
Idiot," "Holiday") work best because they can be enjoyed outside of the
larger, ambiguous narrative. And that's as it should be, perhaps: It's
debatable whether Green Day's core audience would know exactly what to do
with its own Zen Arcade. American Idiot's conceptual shortcomings
ultimately don't sabotage the record beyond repair, thanks to the sheer
zest and inventiveness of its deftly maneuvered first half. And that's a
story worth telling.
Splendid Magazine, October 15th 2004
When you hear the concept behind
American Idiot, you might wonder what business Green Day have making a
politically-charged rock opera, and rightly so. Over the past decade,
Berkeley's snottiest sons have spat out one three-minute pop firebomb
after another, paying little heed to the world around them. After all,
their biggest hit is a song about masturbation boredom. But like many
other bands in this and every other generation, Green Day have surveyed
the landscape and decided they don't really like what they see, and
they've chosen to voice their disgust, albeit in far more grandiloquent
fashion than anything they've attempted before.
A sprawling twenty-two song opus, American Idiot isn't so much
meticulously crafted as it is unflinchingly audacious. It's certainly far
more than we should expect from the band at this juncture of their career.
They could have played it safe, but instead of resting on their tattooed
laurels they've handed us an album that spits in the faces of convention
and the current political regime. For the first time in their career,
they've taken a real risk. And the result?
Green Day hasn't sounded this alive and energized since Dookie, and while
their songwriting has undergone a drastic evolution, nine-minute sonic
labyrinths "Jesus of Suburbia" and "Homecoming" sport some of their
punchiest hooks in years, albeit buried within walls of superfuzzed
guitar, waves of muted piano and time-changes galore. "American Idiot" and
"Holiday" are vintage Green Day, right down to their furious three chord
verses and maniacal Tre Cool drum rolls. Billie Joe Armstrong tries
valiantly to channel Pete Townshend's revolutionary spirit in "Letterbomb"
and "We're Coming Home Again"; while his spitfire bluster is there in
spades, he falls a bit short in terms of songwriting and pure muscle. The
narrative, which follows the rise and fall of the fictional "Jesus of
Suburbia", is interesting, if sometimes difficult to interpret. At any
rate, it's far more ingratiating and sophisticated than, "When
masturbation's lost its fun / you're fucking lazy".
Some listeners will dismiss American Idiot as a cliché-ridden mess of
misinformed pomp-rock, but that really isn't the case. Green Day have
stepped far beyond their comfort zone to deliver an album that, while
imperfect, is representative of the times in which we live. (Perhaps more
importantly, it may be the world's first full-blown punk-rock opera.) Its
handful of shortcomings are forgivable -- think of them as speed bumps on
the long and frustrating road to total reinvention.
Ian Mathers, Stylus Magazine, November 1st 2004
he idea that there is any correlation between truth and
history is as patently absurd as aligning that abstraction with any other
field of study, but if the history of the “third wave” of “punk rock” (by
then firmly set into the sonic cul-de-sac it still languishes in) is
written with any compassion, Green Day have one hell of a re-appreciation
due. You can see it gathering force even now, scattered writers and fans
admitting that this band was, and is, far better and smarter than most of
their contemporaries. Those that haven’t made that jump, though, criticize
the band for creating something that you could only call rock and roll,
and not something more hardcore or esoteric. Or more accurately in their
words, they sold out.
Those people will hate American Idiot with even more passion and venom, if
they ever hear it in full. Which only further proves their irrelevance,
really; writing off Green Day for production values is ridiculous.
American Idiot is very conventional, yes, but what’s wrong with that? The
titular single is about as old-style Green Day as it gets and it’s pretty
state of the art. The rest sounds similarly magnificent, forces marshaled
just so, guitars zooming with precision. Oh, but Green Day are a punk
band, see; decent production is risky enough, let alone the clean surfaces
I’d hate for every album out there, or even every Green Day album, to be
this polished, but listen to the second half of “St. Jimmy” or the
ascending chords of “Extraordinary Girl” among dozens of other examples
and tell me polish doesn’t have its own pleasures. With the massed chant
of “Are We The Waiting” and the tender “Wake Me Up When September Ends”
the band’s range continues to expand, and the harsher tracks like
“Holiday” and “Letterbomb” are fiercely effective. Any given type of
production is no more intrinsically “meaningful” or “creatively bankrupt”
than any other; these songs could have worked nearly as well through a
four track recorder, but Green Day wanted something grander. If it didn’t
work so well that’d be one thing, but this is the type of album
impressionable teenagers fall in love with, crammed with melody and
variety and thrill.
And then there are the big songs. None of the parts of the
nine-minutes-plus “Jesus Of Suburbia” or “Homecoming” are throwaways, and
sandwiched together they both work, in fact are two of the best tracks;
witness the way the former dovetails briefly into calm with “Dearly
Beloved” before diving back into the indelible “Tales From Another Broken
Home” or the latter’s skillful placement of the surging “Rock And Roll
Girlfriend” just after the drum rolls of “Nobody Likes You”. Yes, there
are some overarching lyrical concerns spanning all of American Idiot and
there are those two five song suites, but as with the best “concept
albums” from the Who on down, the story takes a backseat to the music.
And, as for those conceits: This is not a record about Bush. He may very
well have been a catalyst, but what Armstrong grapples with here is life
in North America right now. Bush has arguably quickened the pace of our
descent into hopelessness and absurdity, but there is nothing here except
bits of “Holiday” that couldn’t depict the Clinton era. And when they sing
“This is our lives on holiday” there they don’t just mean the past four
years. It’s not even that much of a political album. The second half is
mostly personal, and the focus is always on more important things. You
definitely get the sense Green Day wants a particular candidate to win the
election, but that’s more because of who they are on American Idiot than
because they beat us over the head with it.
Instead there’s a pervasive feeling of being left behind, both by people
and by the world itself. ‘Whatsername’ hangs heavy over these tracks and
Kathleen Hanna pops in as her at the beginning of “Letterbomb” to singsong
the taunt that follows the narrator around (“Nobody likes you / Everyone
left you / There’ll all out without you / Having fun”). The suspicion that
she’s right haunts the rest of the album. When Billie Joe sings as St.
Jimmy, the Jesus of Suburbia, that “There's nothing wrong with me / This
is how I'm supposed to be", he’s lying; there is something wrong with St.
Jimmy and his posturing, but this is how he’s supposed to be according to
the world. St. Jimmy is deliberately a ridiculous figure, but one that
invites our sympathy; as events spin out of control, it’s hard not to
identify with him at least a little (especially if you’ve got your own
The one set of lines that best sum up the (lack of) ideology underpinning
this album are from the first part of “Jesus Of Suburbia”: “It says home
is where your heart is / But what a shame / Cause everyone's heart /
Doesn't beat the same”. There’s no judgment there, no attempt to privilege
one group over the others. The whole problem is that at times it seems
like all sides in the culture war that is modern North America wants
everyone’s hearts to beat like theirs. Green Day may be baring their heart
on their sleeve, but they’re not forcing it on anyone.
Teabag, Tiny Mix Tapes
After the less-than-mediocre proffering of 2000's
Warning:, Green Day began work on a new album, writing and recording
nearly 20 songs that were sure to satisfy the sweet-toothed teens and
twenty-something burnouts. But sometime during the mixing session, the
master tapes were stolen, forcing the band to scrap all the songs and
start all over. The timing, as bad as it seemed back then, may very well
have worked in Green Day's favor. Since the United States around the time
was just beginning its imperial excursion into Iraq, Green Day decided to
throw away the punk-pop rulebook and begin writing what would eventually
become its most artistic statement to date: American Idiot.
It doesn't take a political science major to decode what is meant by the
title (though, it would be good to point out that the word "American" is
used by Green Day in its generic sense, to indicate a citizen of the
United States). This hour-long "punk rock opera," as the press calls it,
is about American idealism in the 21st Century, a product of both four
years under the despicable Bush Administration and a lot of Dylan, Bowie,
and Clash in the stereo. Centralizing on a fictitious character named
Jesus of Suburbia, Billie Joe Armstrong drags this alienated personality
through various social issues, attempting to find positivity in
disenchantment, meaning in apathy. But what's most significant about the
album is not what Billie Joe is lyrically trying to convey (i.e. the Iraqi
quagmire, media control, age of paranoia/propaganda, ignorance in
suburbia, etc), but the fact that Green Day, a beloved pop band best known
for writing songs about teenage decadence and lugging "punk" into the
mainstream, is now taking its hand at politics.
Musically, Green Day has matured tremendously. Though still incredibly
slick and refined, Green Day branches out even further from the
pseudo-punk paradigm of Dookie-era songwriting to write something more
artistically equivalent to The Who's Tommy than Screeching Weasel's Anthem
for a New Tomorrow. In fact, the most exciting moments on the album is
when Green Day is overtly tackling new musical terrain, which is most
obvious on the two nine-minute tracks, "Jesus of Suburbia" and
"Homecoming." Aside from playing with structure, Green Day also adopts new
musical sonority through added instrumentation and experiments with
rhythmic contrasts, lending their music a much needed freshness in the
threat of musical staleness. Self-referential, unified, and insanely
catchy, American Idiot's positives outweigh its clichéd delivery and
ironic medium for corporate America critique.
Sure, this rather passé, sophomoric form of political delivery (rock as a
political voice) has been commodified and appropriated every which way,
but it does show just how far-reaching the wave of anger is spreading
throughout the mainstream. Never mind the fashionability of anti-war,
anti-Bush "leftists," who don't know the difference between Groucho and
Karl; this here album serves as yet another reminder that you don't have
to be a political pundit to garner some corrosive dissent. Though more
distractingly entertaining than intellectually stimulating, American Idiot
is, quite brilliantly, aimed toward the very American idiots it speaks of,
who are so caught up in their anti-intellectual, anti-thinking mentality
that it was only a matter of time a band as accessible as Green Day could
possibly wake them up from their seemingly perpetual, self-imposed denial.
Anyone doubting Green Day's current popularity 15 years
into their career might need reminding that, despite not having released a
record since 2000, they headlined the final day of this year's Reading
Festival. The Berkeley trio's upbeat, poppy punk—equally indebted to The
Kinks as The Ramones—shows no signs of fatigue, but has now been put to
blantly political use. Hingeing on two five-part epics, American Idiot
deals with the disillusionment and despair of the USA post-9/11, but fans
will be relieved to know that although it pulls few lyrical punches,
slam-dancing is still possible.
Piotr Orlov, The Village Voice, September 18th 2004
Pop-punk opera leaves mindless self-destruction behind
Upon returning from the RNC protests in September, I got the same request
for firsthand insight from everybody in Southern California: Who were
these "anarchists" the media and authorities regarded as a terrorist
threat, and what could they possibly believe in that warranted such fears?
Of course, explaining that the majority of overeducated, black-clad youth
with hardcore patches and motherless-child stares weren't so much
hell-bent for chaos as loudly agitated over their own desires—not knowing
what they wanted, crystal clear about what they didn't—lowered the pop
counterculture appeal their appearance on FBI watch lists had momentarily
elevated. Yes, they spent their downtime at seminars about post-capitalist
life and the fraudulence of American democracy; but this had less to do
with drinking a different flavor of Kool-Aid than with escaping what
they'd been taught in order to find out what they believed. Which always
seems a good step toward finding a solution.
Since many of these runaways are the indirect progeny of Green Day's
decade-long campaign to bring punk's various freedoms to the 'burbs, it's
hard not to hear the politically charged American Idiot as their tale—a
story of rebels without a clue actually looking for one. Though not too
deep a clue, since Billie Joe Armstrong's imagination outstrips his
encyclopedia of symbols and three-chord truisms. No matter, though!
Hearing an album that entered the charts at number one rail against a
"subliminal mindfuck America," a "redneck agenda," and "President Gasman"
while pretending that arena punk can actually have a semiotic roar, keeps
hope alive better than any nü-wavers playing dress-up agitprop ever could.
As a rock opera, Idiot is a mostly three-penny thrill. There is a pair of
five-part suites toward the beginning and end (more "A Quick One While
He's Away" than "Bohemian Rhapsody") outlining a loose plot about one punk
protagonist with a martyr complex (Jesus of Suburbia) and another who's a
self-destructive keeper of the flame (St. Jimmy). In between, there's a
girl (minor cameo by Kathleen Hanna), a possible death, and a narrative
arc for the phrase "I don't care," which sours from a reliable mantra of
raging punk apathy 10 minutes into the album, to a defeated declaration
("Does anybody care if nobody cares?") 10 minutes from its end.
Throughout, the atmosphere reeks of cinematic desperation, a pop nightmare
of familiar near-truths turned flashing neon slogans, like a T. Rex song
or a retro-apocalyptic Walter Hill flick.
In sketching this festering of fundamentalist American myths, Green Day
stretch beyond their (long outdated but publicly ingrained) image as a
couch-surfing mutineer cartoon. Already deep pop pockets are stuffed with
useful glam detritus—cribbing drama from Ziggy Stardust ("City of the
Damned") and the Paisley Underground ("Extraordinary Girl"), stealing
vocal melodies from Cheap Trick and Joan Jett throwaways—while rave-ups
are still available for those unwittingly stumbling upon "an opus." Fans
who gagged at "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)" won't take to the
power-balladry of "Wake Me Up When September Ends," but lay the new song's
mixture of rock and roll suicide and aging regret on a clean cultural
slate, and its self-evaluating anthemic reach gives it the charm of a
melancholy story about growing up.
Safe in the knowledge that one thing much of Green Day's audience can
already do is navigate the BS of any so-called truth, American Idiot
avoids attempts at fraudulent eloquence as adamantly as it avoids
espousing PSAs. That the rock opera ends with a flashback to an old
girlfriend ("Whatsername"), sounding lock-stock-and-singed-memory like a
Fountains of Wayne lament, speaks to Idiot being less about the hand
grenade on the album cover than about the grenade's heart shape. The messy
and always uneven compromise of everyday life and current events has no
winners or losers; it's just a state of chaos. Or, you know—anarchy.
Chris Heath, Yahoo UK, October 4th
Green Day have always been
self-explanatory, whether it's through their choppy power chords or mouthy
lyrics about not quite fitting in. They honed a three-minute formula that
wasn’t even theirs to start with and steered clear of weighty issues at
all costs. Don’t forget that the band’s name is slang reference to smoking
life away in a dumb haze. It explains why their songs usually dealt with
futile and mundane pleasures mixed with bad sex and equally bad drugs.
But bandmates Billie Joe Armstrong, Tré Cool and Mike Dirnt have clearly
spent the four years since the release of "Warning" examining why it
limped in, and rapidly out, of the charts. It wasn’t a bad album but
possibly the final stop of the slacker, weed-addled journey from punk
upstarts to elder statesmen of corporate rock. In truth, you could argue
they’d become a parody of themselves. Their future was uncertain.
So Armstrong was desperately seeking something to plug the void of
inspiration. Step forward George Dubya, whose misadventures have clearly
irked more than just Michael Moore. As the title suggests, "American
Idiot" is a volley of abuse and insight into the state of America and
Americans today but not in the snotty hit-and-run way you’d expect. On the
contrary, Armstrong can successfully deliver the dreaded ‘concept album’
precisely because he’s got his teeth into real concerns for once, to
blossom into the smart lyricist he’d always threatened to become.
Subtle and not so subtle references to the state of post 9/11 society lace
the album together. Redneck agendas, paranoia, anti-French sentiment,
alienation, patriotism, war, ill-advised political antics and suburban
rebellion are just a few of the themes explored giving the Johnny Rotten
snarl more bite, the serrated guitars more edge and the drum kicks more
And it’s not just lyrically that there’s more on show. Musically, there’s
expansion and exploration beyond three pumped-up chords. Nothing radical
mind but acoustic guitars sneak more airtime (“Give Me Novocaine”),
they’ve recorded a “Radio Ga Ga” stadium anthem (“Are We The Waiting”) and
there’s some Mexican zing ("Extraordinary Girl”) to offset the
unmistakable rattle of Green Day at their best.
Most people’s attention will immediately be drawn towards the two
nine-minute epics that bookend the album but there’s no need to approach
with caution. Mercifully they aren’t Grateful Dead wig-outs but
essentially five-part snapshots of classic ‘Day knitted together to weave
an engaging and loaded narrative.
Like an episode of the Simpsons, "American Idiot" works on many levels.
Not only does it contain Green Day’s finest songs (and choruses) to date –
no mean achievement given its their seventh album, 15 years into their
career – but it also scratches at the surface of political dissatisfaction
with nails sharp enough to leave a nasty scar. Style and substance in
So they’ve pulled it off, a contemporary punk rock opera. Sure, they are
far from struggling musicians putting their careers on the line by taking
on ‘the man’ but just because they are bankable stars, doesn’t dilute
their observations. While Springsteen, the Dixie Chicks et al continue to
snipe away at the Bush administration, it looks like America has found a
powerful voice that can actually claim to connect to today’s youth, not
just yesteryear’s aged idealists.
Green Day might be latecomers to the protest party but they could well end
up having had the most influence.