Rather like T.S. Eliot's epic modernist poem, The Waste Land, the album's fragmentary,...
Richard Banks 2004
Listening to Green Day's rendition of Queen's "We Are The Champions" at Reading Festival this year, it seemed unimaginable that the same trio of hyperactive upstarts responsible for 1994's Dookie could take on stadium rock and get away with it. But, after listening to American Idiot, it makes perfect sense for the Californian punks to adopt Freddie Mercury's rally call for their own cause; if ever there were a time for the suburbs of America to unite against ennui and apathy, it seems, that time is now. Power to the people...
That, essentially, is the crux of American Idiot, Green Day's seventh studio album. Four years in the making, it's the story of the alienated, de-motivated Average Joe living under Bush's administration and the American media. 'Where have all the riots gone?' frontman Billie Joe Armstrong sings, '...the television's an obstructionist.' As far as content is concerned then, the album's political discontent is nothing new; topical, sure, and undoubtedly poetic, but not groundbreaking.
In terms of shape and form however, American Idiot takes an audacious leap from today's pack of punk-poppers. It's a narrative driven 'concept' album framed by two nine-minute, five-part tracks. Rather like T.S. Eliot's epic modernist poem The Waste Land, the album's fragmentary, hazy story revolves around several enigmatic characters, held together by themes and images that recur throughout its thirteen songs. The tales of "Jesus of Suburbia", "St. Jimmy" and "Whatsername" are loosely woven together, united by 'rage and love'.
Musically, Green Day have matured beyond belief since their debut LP, 39/Smooth (1990). Their trademark power-chord beef and manic drumming may now be tempered from time to time by the sound of church bells, piano and glockenspiel(!), but the band have never sounded so damn vast. "Are We The Waiting" resounds with jaw-dropping, eye-watering beauty, while the centrepiece harmony four minutes into "Jesus Of Suburbia" sends an inspirational shiver up the spine. In fact, only on "Boulevard Of Broken Dreams" do Green Day trip up - tone down the distortion and exchange Billie Joe's adenoidal vocal for Liam Gallagher's and the track could easily belong to Oasis.
This isn't the first time that punk-rock has transcended its three chord, two-minute boundaries. Sew together American Idiots two nine-minute bookends and you'll equal NOFX's 18-minute epic The Decline (1999). Nevertheless, this is truly inventive and emotive stuff, and arguably Green Day's best work to date. Champions, indeed.