What happens to a punk band when their unique brand of rebellion rockets them from basement venues to the stadiums and headline festival slots of the world? The Offspring were some of the first in recent memory to answer this question: they were pilloried by their peers, denigrated by the conservative press as a negative influence on the youth of tomorrow, and felt a keen sting as their bright star burnt a little less bright by the year.
Likewise, everything changed for Green Day overnight in 2004 with the release of American Idiot, their world-beating album that cemented them as a household name and spawned a musical of the same name. Yes, a Broadway musical. Some might say that’s not very punk rock, but it would be wiser still to insist that high-jacking the world of musical theatre is incredibly punk rock indeed. However you look at it, the band reached highs that nobody ever thought they would achieve, and many were left asking the question: what next?
Green Day have been a band longer than this writer has been breathing air, and were a vital gateway artist for a generation of youngsters to the world of punk and rock proper - nobody can take that away from them. As it happened though, “what next?” turned out to be a perhaps inevitably disappointing follow-up in the form of 21st Century Breakdown and an ill-advised trilogy of ¡Uno! ¡Dos! ¡Tré!. It’s with a sense of relief then perhaps that Revolution Radio, whilst feeling a little like a pastiche of their forms selves, sees the trio steering a steadier course on more reliable ground.
It’s been clear for many years that Billie-Joe Armstrong is a song writing talent to contend with, but in his more advanced years he’s found a wistful sense of grandiosity that does indeed suit the world of musicals down to the ground. What his new style doesn’t suit quite as well is cutting-edge punk rock. Here then, we find a Green Day still searching for their new identity, edging towards glam with a Grease-lite version of the biting polemics against modern society that made their name . There’s a whiff of Guns’N’Roses about album opener ‘Somewhere Now’ that feels curiously nostalgic, spliced with Seventies prog as it is, and, oddly, it kind of works. Before you run off screaming into the setting sun, it’s worth noting that Green Day are all in their forties - they really shouldn’t be trying to write snot-nosed punk anthems anymore. There are a whole new generation of kids doing that much better than they’re still able to, so it’s refreshing to hear them reaching for something a little more grandiose and developed than three chords and one side of the truth seen through a very narrow prism.
The chorus of ‘Youngblood’ is packed with the kind of "whoah-oh"s that Fat Mike of NOFX has been lamenting for years, but is undeniably the earworm of the record. It even breaks down into a Stones and Beatles infused middle eight that homages surf and the sixties in a perfectly pitched arrangement that captures a delightful middle ground between proto-Green Day and GD2K16.
‘Outlaws’ has a sting of Green Day classic ‘Macy’s Day Parade’ about it that also feels steeped in the mythology of Bowie and more suited to their natural future direction, whilst at the opposite end of the spectrum ‘Still Breathing’ is a saccharine and somewhat tooth-grinding cultural appropriation of the likes of Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift that would have been better left on the cutting room floor.
It comes down to this: when Green Day are doing Green Day, they’re still doing it very well indeed. When they’re writing songs that would be better utilised in one of Billie-Joe’s musicals or sold on to pop artists, they’re at risk of becoming completely irrelevant in competition with their younger, savvier and better-looking contemporaries. As the saying goes, never argue with a fool - they’ll drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.
As they claw their way back towards a signature sound and creative direction, perhaps the trio should concentrate less on trying to sound relevant and take some advice from the millennials they seem intent on playing down to: just do you.
6Jamie Otsa's Score