With American Idiot
, Green Day
have achieved what a lot of high-profile, critically-acclaimed bands have tried and failed to do: create a great album about the post-9/11 era. An ambitious concept album about a suburban kid’s response to his world, American Idiot
is a loud, angry, confused record that’s perfectly in keeping with out turbulent times. Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong hasn’t just written his best series of songs since his band’s 1994 breakthrough, Dookie
– he’s managed to turn current events into universal laments without coming across as strident or preachy.
Writing in Character
Rather than addressing the world’s ills from the perspective of a successful rock star, Armstrong has smartly hidden in the persona of a young Northern California kid trying to come to grips with what he’s seeing on the news and noticing in his daily life. In this way, American Idiot feels removed from the smug self-righteousness that’s plagued so much celebrity hand-wringing over the Bush administration’s mistreatment of civil liberties and the Iraq War in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Instead, the narrator (known as Jesus of Suburbia) feels like a recognizably angst-filled teenager scared and bewildered by the adult world. Using this device, Armstrong gets to reclaim the anonymous every-brat voice that he used to such good effect on early Green Day albums before he was famous.
A Focus on Songs Instead of Concepts
Concept albums are often overly intellectual and hopelessly pretentious. Thankfully, American Idiot – despite its occasional song medleys that further the plot – focuses on tunefulness first and foremost. In truth, the best songs, while connected to the overall theme of America’s growing disillusionment, work on their own terms, emphasizing punk and pop hooks that make them extraordinarily accessible. The title track is all high-octane guitars and bad attitude, while “Wake Me Up When September Ends” is a moving ballad about the death of Armstrong’s dad – one of the few moments that’s pointedly autobiographical on American Idiot. Even if you’re disinterested in political lyrics, the album’s crushing propulsion and melodic power are a constant aural delight. And if you happen to agree with Armstrong’s point of view, then American Idiot will offer a ton of great sing-along songs that will allow you to vent your frustration.
A Story Without a Happy Ending
American Idiot swings for the fences on its two medleys – one near the beginning of the album, which sets up the album’s story, and one near the conclusion, which offers a resolution of sorts. “Jesus of Suburbia” follows our protagonist as he rails against his boring surroundings and dreams of escaping to the city. Later on “Homecoming,” he grows unhappy and decides to return home, although it’s unclear whether the return to his roots will offer any relief. By offering no tidy resolution, American Idiot seems to acknowledge that just like this teenage drifter, we as a nation still don’t know how this chapter in our history will play out. That could be a deeply distressing sentiment, but in the hands of Green Day, it becomes a stirring act of defiance against complacency. The Jesus of Suburbia has run out of options, but maybe we haven’t yet.
“Boulevard of Broken Dreams”
“Wake Me Up When September Ends”
Release date – September 21, 2004