Fire Note Says: Keeping it real even though we all have grown older!
Album Review: “I’m like a child looking off in the horizon,” sings punk trio Green Day’s singer/songwriter Billie Joe Armstrong at the midpoint of the band’s new album. “I’m like an ambulance that’s turning on the sirens/Oh I’m still alive.” By the time you’ve listened to Revolution Radio from start to finish a few times, you’ll be grateful that this band, this artist, has weathered the storms and found their way back.
It’s been four years since Green Day released three albums in quick succession, with the catchy titles !Uno!, !Dos!, and !Tre!, and then Armstrong had a very public break-down at one of those pop radio station festival concerts in Las Vegas. Of course, rehab followed, they shortened the tour supporting those records, all pretty good examples as the band’s capable musicianship and Armstrong’s ability to work in a variety of pop/rock styles, radio singles faded and sales slumped. In 2015, Green Day was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Green Day broke into the mainstream when their third album, Dookie (1994), spurred on by the radio dominance of singles like “Longview,” “Basket Case” and “When I Come Around,” went on to sell 10 million copies, revitalizing interest in punk rock in the mid-90’s. Success raised serious philosophical questions about the nature of “punk,” and how can you claim to be an authentic punker if you’re a millionaire? But Green Day jumped comfortably from those cramped Warped Tour stages to filling arenas when 2004’s American Idiot took them to major rock stardom, inspiring a Broadway musical of the same name and winning the Grammy for Rock Album of the Year.
While 2009’s 21st Century Breakdown was similarly successful, you could begin to feel the strain in Armstrong’s writing to keep his vision expanding, taking on ever more political themes, writing more serious song cycles, at times losing their way, missing the forest for all the trees. Although the three albums delivered in 2012 didn’t fare that well commercially, you could feel Armstrong & Co. returning to simpler songs, hookier melodies, briefer bursts of pure pop delight.
And, the payoff here on Revolution Radio are songs that capture the band’s youthful energy and angst, but rock with a musical maturity and depth that eluded their earlier releases. In “Outlaws,” Armstrong sings of being “forever young,” and in the next song he’s “Bouncing Off the Wall.” The sound reverberates with that same love of the late 70’s Clash, Sex Pistols and The Ramones, but you can also hear echoes of early 70’s music from the likes of The Who, The Kinks, and song-craft in the vein of next generation punks like The Replacements.
Looking around at the explosive world we share, Armstrong’s not the first to point out that these are “Troubled Times,” but in the album’s title track, he’s looking around for “cherry bombs and gasoline” to fight fire with fire. Armstrong may have found his way to sobriety, but in “Youngblood” he remembers “getting’ drunk and falling into hedges.” He exhibits a bit of a split personality, at one point he’s “Too Dumb to Die,” and in “Somewhere Now,” he sings, “Hallelujah I found my soul… Congratulations I found myself.” In truth, the real Armstrong is best identified as the kid in “Forever Now,” who’s “never learned to read or write so well/But I can play guitar until it hurts like hell.”
Bassist Mike Dirnt and drummer Tre Cool step up aptly, rocking the rhythms to suit Armstrong’s songs, providing the harmony vocal “oohs” on the third part of “Forever Now,” which reprises the opening track “Somewhere Now.” The trio lock into solid rhythms rooted in their earliest musical foundations, with enough rhythmic novelty and changes in pacing and tone so that songs don’t start running together.
On the disc’s first single, “Bang Bang,” the title track, and “Say Goodbye,” you get a sense of the Ferguson riots and the struggle for racial justice that Armstrong has mentioned in interviews, but as in the past the political is personal, and the reasons to “rage” are everywhere in this somewhat “Ordinary World,” the disc’s closing acoustic track.
All this to say: Green Day is back, and as potent as ever. Maybe not as funny and silly as they once were, growing up does that to a person, even rock stars, but no less interesting or compelling. They manage to keep it fresh by keeping it real.
Key Tracks: “Bang Bang” / “Say Goodbye” / “Bouncing Off the Wall”
Artists With Similar Fire: Blink 182 / The Offspring / The Clash
Green Day Website
Green Day Facebook
– Reviewed by Brian Q. Newcomb