There goes my street cred.
I remember the first time I realized I was too old to like Green Day anymore. I was fourteen. But seriously, I don’t know how many of you doubters have spun your dusty old copy of Dookie lately. Let’s get past the songs you still can’t listen to because you overdosed on them (if I hear “Basket Case” one more time …) and focus on the music. “She” is one of the best pop songs of the ‘90s, and Tre Cool is a massively underrated drummer. He can make the most pedestrian song good, and he pushes his band mates forward like few in his position could. Dookie is often overlooked because of its terrible, terrible influence on lesser bands; would there even be a Sum 41 or Blink 182 or Good Charlotte 34 without Billie Joe? But that doesn’t mean it’s not a great pop record.
American Idiot won’t quite stand up the same way Dookie has, but it is, at last, its worthy follow up, something the group’s last three albums couldn’t achieve. After a lackluster post-Dookie career, including the Prom Song — I mean “Time of Your Life” — Green Day hid their faces earlier this year for the positively silly and oddly invigorating Money Money 2020 under the name Network. Whether that was the jolt they needed I don’t know, but American Idiot is as strong a set of songs as your likely to ever hear from Billie Joe and company from now on.
A lot of fuss has been made about the album’s concept — it’s a “rock opera” — but American Idiot works best on a song-by-song basis. “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” seems to be the hit, and it’s a strong single with a heavy ‘80s influence that doesn’t weigh it down. Similarly, “Novocaine” has a good Hawaiian vibe, and “Rebel Girl” pulls in some of the stronger punk influences that have shown up in the band’s work.
The two monsters here are the song suites “Jesus of Suburbia” and “Homecoming.” Each is divided into five songs and clocks in at over nine minutes, making them the longest Green Day songs by about, oh, eight and a half minutes. But they never seem boring, particularly “Jesus of Suburbia,” which might be the album’s best song. It pulls together four or five of the strongest pop melodies here into one cohesive structure.
The only misstep is the title track, which, despite solid lyrics, is far too similar sonically to the band’s earlier work to be taken seriously. The album’s ambition has been mentioned a great deal, but the band has, oddly enough, been penalized more than praised for overreaching. The lyrics aren’t revolutionary, the structure isn’t genre-bending, and no one will change their political affiliation over American Idiot. But just because a band takes itself seriously doesn’t mean you have to. Put on American Idiot, sing as loud as you can, and forget for just a minute that you’re too old for this shit.