Green Day – American Idiot (2004)

green-day-american-idiot-2004

It’s a bit tempting to peg Green Day’s sprawling, ambitious, brilliant seventh album, American Idiot, as their version of a Who album, the next logical step forward from the Kinks-inspired popcraft of their underrated 2000 effort, Warning, but things aren’t quite that simple. American Idiot is an unapologetic, unabashed rock opera, a form that Pete Townshend pioneered with Tommy, but Green Day doesn’t use that for a blueprint as much as they use the Who’s mini-opera “A Quick One, While He’s Away,” whose whirlwind succession of 90-second songs isn’t only emulated on two song suites here, but provides the template for the larger 13-song cycle. But the Who are only one of many inspirations on this audacious, immensely entertaining album. The story of St. Jimmy has an arc similar to H?sker D?’s landmark punk-opera Zen Arcade, while the music has grandiose flourishes straight out of both Queen and Rocky Horror Picture Show (the ’50s pastiche “Rock and Roll Girlfriend” is punk rock Meat Loaf), all tied together with a nervy urgency and a political passion reminiscent of the Clash, or all the anti-Reagan American hardcore bands of the ’80s. These are just the clearest touchstones for American Idiot, but reducing the album to its influences gives the inaccurate impression that this is no more than a patchwork quilt of familiar sounds, when it’s an idiosyncratic, visionary work in its own right. First of all, part of Green Day’s appeal is how they have personalized the sounds of the past, making time-honored guitar rock traditions seem fresh, even vital. With their first albums, they styled themselves after first-generation punk they were too young to hear firsthand, and as their career progressed, the group not only synthesized these influences into something distinctive, but chief songwriter Billie Joe Armstrong turned into a muscular, versatile songwriter in his own right.

1 American Idiot
2 Jesus of Suburbia: Jesus of Suburbia/City of the Damned/I Don’t Care
3 Holiday
4 Boulevard of Broken Dreams
5 Are We the Waiting
6 St. Jimmy
7 Give Me Novacaine
8 She’s a Rebel
9 Extraordinary Girl
10 Letter Bomb
11 Wake Me Up When September Ends
12 Homecoming: The Death of St. Jimmy/East 12th St./Nobody Likes You/Rock
13 Whatsername
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