One of the most noteworthy aspects of the campaign trail this election season lies with the eagerness of rock musicians to step up and voice their political opinions through albums and concert tours.
Green Day, a band that has remained at the forefront of the alternative music scene since the mid-’90s, has also taken its turn at the political microphone. Four years since the release of their last full-length album, the members of Green Day went to the recording studio with renewed purpose and a clear intention of fully exercising their First Amendment rights.
The band’s deep frustrations and anger with the Bush administration and the Iraq war inspired them to create something different and explore another dimension of their talents. Thus, in the vein of Pink Floyd’s The Wall and The Who’s Tommy, the band has written American Idiot as a rock opera.
It is always a risk for an established band to step outside the lines, but Green Day upholds passion and sincerity over playing it safe. In an MTV interview, Billie Joe stated, “I think the problem with a lot of rock bands or pop groups or whatever is that they’re so afraid of damaging their precious careers. For me, I think it is something that can enrich mine: ‘Yeah, I supported this. This meant a lot to me.'” The album wastes no time getting to the point, and opens with American Idiot.
The song’s catchiness and ability to stand alone has contributed to its widespread radio play. However, it serves as an effective prologue to the rest for the album, hooking the listener with its barb towards the general ignorance that results from mindless allegiance to the media.
The second track, “Jesus of Suburbia,” is a nine-minute opus containing five cohesively transitioned parts. It is here that the protagonist of the opera identifies himself: “The Son of Rage and Love / The Jesus of Suburbia.” This self-identity is continuously developed throughout the album. The most polemical track on American Idiot is definitely “Holiday.”
Armstrong’s talent for songwriting is blazoned through the song’s powerful lyrics: “Zieg heil to the President Gasman / Bombs away is your punishment / Pulverize the Eiffel Towers / who criticize your government.”
While these lyrics vilify President Bush as a cruel despot, it is the protagonist who feels that he bears unjust censure just because “(He) beg(s) to dream and differ from the hollow lies.” American Idiot lowers the intensity with slower songs like “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and “Give Me Novacaine.”
“Wake Me Up When September Ends” is a beautiful ballad written by Armstrong in response to his father’s death. It creates a sentimental moment of repose to reflect on “Becoming who we are / As my memory rests / But never forgets what I lost.”
Coming full circle, the second-to-last song is another five-part opus called “Homecoming.” It is a difficult task to adequately describe Green Day’s latest venture because each song is made richer through the operatic character’s odyssey through faith, disillusionment and acceptance.
American Idiot does have a specific political message and is probably not for those who cannot stomach a side of liberalism with their Cheerios, but regardless of one’s political leanings, the album can resonate with anyone who feels that the state of things, internally and externally, are not quite right. In 16 years, this is Green Day’s only album to debut at No. 1, showing that risky decisions can also be the smartest. In fact, Green Day is in the initial planning stages of turning this concept album into a full-length film.
Green Day will be on tour this fall with New Found Glory and Sugarcult.
By Michele Jeffers, The Observer, U. Notre Dame