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.