Many people seem blindsided by the fact that Green Day is still making relevant music, but to me it came clear with the last album, Warning. For whatever reason, anytime an artist seems to hit their prime early (Counting Crows, Weezer, etc.) it's hard to accept that they'll ever make something listenable again, let alone gripping. Warning wasn't a groundbreaking record, but it was highly enjoyable.
Now comes American Idiot, which to those who haven't been paying attention seems like an out-of-nowhere return-to-form. It's easy to attribute this to righteous anger about our current times, especially in light of the lead single, American Idiot. If there's one good thing to say about the Bush administration it's that they've given us some great reactionary music. In fact no two lines can sum up the Bush approach to "protecting" the country better: "Can you hear the sound of hysteria / The subliminal mind-fuck America" By the way, I always want to add some well-placed background vocals the chorus after Billie Joe sings "o.k."
Holiday is another song in this mold, and features the great reproach: "Zieg heil to the President Gasman / Bombs away is your punishment / Pulverize the Eiffel Towers / Who criticize your government."
But despite appearances, the album is not strictly about the current times. In a more general sense it's a return to that hoary old concept of the rock opera. This means that there are character names that recur throughout the album (in this case, Whatsername, St.Jimmy, and Jesus Of Suburbia). This also means, in the grand tradition of rock operas, that the story is all but indecipherable. As far as I can tell, Jesus of Suburbia might be the same person as St. Jimmy. Both are disaffected youth. Whatsername is "symbol of resistance" and a rebel who's "holding on to my heart like a hand grenade" (we have a cover image!). Apparently she leaves St. Jimmy though, and he kills himself. That's about as far as I've gotten (seriously, someone needs be hired full-time to figure out the "stories" of both this album and The Honeydogs' latest).
But, like 10,000 Years, the album survives beyond it's rickety premise and thrives because of a thrillingly diverse sound. There are no less than 5 songs that represent a major artistic leap / departure for the band, including the ultra-harmonic and U2ish Boulevard Of Broken Dreams and the power-poppy would-be TV theme Extraordinary Girl.
What's been getting the most ink are the 9 minute song suites, Jesus Of Suburbia and Homecoming. It's nothing new for an artist to take several song snippets and marry them together. Of course, it goes back to The Beatles. A Day In The Life was one of the first multi-song songs (with the "I read the news today" parts belonging to John Lennon and the "Woke up / Got out of bed" bridge thanks to Paul McCartney). That was followed quickly by Good Vibrations. Artists from Matthew Sweet and XTC to The Who and Queen have done it since. Green Day do a good job with the idea, especially on Homecoming, which is nothing short of epic.
Instead of being surprised at how in-the-now the band is, I'm more shocked at how beautiful they sound. I was never a huge fan nor detractor of Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life) but two songs on here easily trump it. Wake Me Up When September Ends may or may not be about September 11th, but it's heartbreaking nonetheless, and the looking-back-without-anger closer Whatsername is so emo that under duress I might mistake it for The Get Up Kids.
Okay, so maybe I can give those surprised folks a bit of leeway, afterall Warning was not a groundbreaking record, but this one just might be.
Fave Song: Whatsername
Note: Word has it that the band are considering offers for a musical film version of the record. For reasons why this should NOT happen, check out Baby, I'm A Star.