They are back!
Green Day’s first studio release since the arguably over-reaching ¡Uno, Dos, Trés! Trilogy, Revolution Radio was unexpectedly announced alongside the release of premier single ‘Bang Bang’ back in August. Fast forward two more singles and a couple of months, and here we are – a long four-year, nearly five-year wait, during which it seemed both a number health issues across the band and their families, and Billie Joe Armstrong’s notorious breakdown at the iHeart Radio performance might spell the end for the punk rock band that has defined a generation, is finally over, and we can finally answer the big question: was it worth the wait?
“‘Somewhere Now’ falls somewhere between concept and stadium rock, with a little nod to The Who”
Opening the album in a more sedate way than is usual for the Oakland punks, ‘Somewhere Now’ falls somewhere between concept and stadium rock, with a little nod to The Who, who have been present in the band’s mythology since 1992’s Kerplunk. Retaining some of 21st Century Breakdown’s grandiosity, it is a big track, which is telling of the rest of the album as a whole. It still has huge ideas, a political agenda and whilst not officially a concept album it is cohesive and self-referential throughout, with key moments of ‘Somewhere Now’ recurring in later track ‘Forever Now’. After a less than punchy, but still powerful opener, Revolution Radio hurtles into first single, ‘Bang Bang’, which is easily the most visceral track of the collection. Armstrong’s internal monologue of a teen shooter is chilling, catchy, and goes hand in hand with the tightest, fastest rhythm section to date – an aggressive track that shows that they still have what it takes to be called punk.
“He’s been able to bounce back and become sober after the haze of prescription meds and alcoholism that led to his expletive-ridden meltdown”
The Clash-esque eponymous single follows, which wouldn’t be out of place on American Idiot. This is Green Day at their best, bemoaning post-modern America and its racial injustice, inspired by Armstrong’s own spontaneous campaigning during a Black Lives Matter march in New York. With a slightly more stadium blues vibe and an introduction a la The Black Keys, ‘Say Goodbye’ is a hard-hitting anti-military anthem, with a simple but brutal message conveyed by the single sentence chorus: “Say goodbye to the ones that you love…”.
“With tracks like ‘Bang Bang’ it is easy to forget that they are in their 40s, married and with children, not to mention the band itself is turning 30 next year”
Reaching the centre of the album we get a second nod to Kerplunk with ‘Outlaws’, a modern day sequel to ‘Christie Road’. It is perhaps here that their age starts to show, with a sentimentality and nostalgia for youth which can only come when it is long past. With tracks like ‘Bang Bang’ it is easy to forget that they are in their 40s, married and with children, not to mention the band itself is turning 30 next year, thus ‘Outlaws’ serves as a reflection of their heritage, as much as a reminder of their current status. ‘Bouncing Off the Wall’ follows, an upbeat, free sounding song, which is both simple and fun – it isn’t serious or angry, nor introspective and reflective, it’s simply a loud, punk rock tune that demonstrates some of the fun found on earlier pre-American Idiot era Green Day.
The third single is a celebration of sobriety and acceptance. ‘Still Breathing’ is Armstrong’s thanksgiving tune that he’s been able to bounce back and become sober after the haze of prescription meds and alcoholism that led to his expletive-ridden meltdown. A slower more considerate tune, it has a similar power to 2004’s ‘Give Me Novocaine’.
“‘Troubled Times’ is an outcry against the darkness of intolerance, hate politics, terrorism, division and war and all the other evils that punctuate current events”
To steer the album away from self-indulgent moping, however, ‘Youngblood’ is a classic punk rock love song, dedicated to Armstrong’s wife. This swings into another Old School style track in ‘Too Dumb to Die’, which is a phrase that has crept in here and there throughout the last 5 years of Green Day albums, and charts Billie Joe’s early days, and how it has led to this point, with an honest humility and more than a little confusion surrounding the question of how the hell did we make it to this point?
Moving back to the anger driving the earlier section of the album, ‘Troubled Times’ is an outcry against the darkness of intolerance, hate politics, terrorism, division and war and all the other evils that punctuate current events. In spirit with this ‘Forever Now’ is another protest song, reprising part of ‘Somewhere Now’, some of Billie Joe’s internalisation, powerful political statements and satire, and clocking in at just under 7 minutes it is the closest to a modern ‘Jesus of Suburbia’ or ‘Homecoming’ that Revolution Radio has to offer, and is perhaps the perfect summary of the album as a whole, tying together the seemingly underlying themes of anger at the political establishment, personal scrutiny and nostalgia for lost youth.
Finishing off the album is an acoustic masterpiece, written for Armstrong’s starring role in the film of the same name: ‘Ordinary World’. It is understated, but its strength is in this simplicity. It rounds off a complex album on a happy note, a reassurance that not all is bad, and that there is a beauty in the ordinary day to day, which we mustn’t forget.
Overall Revolution Radio is a flawless offering for an older Green Day, who are settled but retain their edge. It is a well thought out album, which sounds more mature, and it is easy to tell that the band were not under any pressures to appeal to a certain audience, or to sound a specific way within an external producer’s vision, or to pedal out a certain amount of songs. It is the sound of the band as they want to sound, being self-produced and making music that it is clear they were excited to write and to play. Ultimately, shedding both the rock-opera and less than meaningful love song approaches that punctuated their last 5 albums (Idiot – ¡Trés!), Green Day has struck a perfect balance, which manages to be fun, serious, angry, angsty and humble, but the real winning factor in all of this is that there is no higher artistic purpose, just a simple collection of songs which are cuttingly relevant, and in keeping with the Green Day that long-time fans have come to love.
Image courtesy of Green Day via Facebook