So, Green Day are back, are they? With yet another rock opera about How The World Is A Bit Messed Up And Stuff And How America Is, Like, Evil? Well put my hair in gelled-up spikes and tweak my undercarriage if that’s not going to set my world alight… especially when the below video shows just what the Bay Area trio used to be like.
It’s not even a question of a punk band ‘selling out’, because that’s about as spurious an argument as it’s possible to imagine. And it’s not a case of a punker-than-thou, this-band-was-better-in-the-early-days-when-they-were-on-Lookout because even the biggest cynic will admit there were some belters on ‘American Idiot’.
It’s that the Green Day of 2009 are eminently hateable, three self-proclaimed spokespeople for a generation that didn’t ask to be spoken for who ramble in broad strokes and who’ve turned into as much of a commercialised product as everything they used to rail against.
Hell, if The Killers acted in the way Billie Joe and co do, no one would bat an eyelid. And there’s no doubt that ‘American Idiot’ was, on the surface at least, a brave statement in a time when they didn’t have to make one.
But in the intervening years they’ve deliberately moved away from what made them so beloved – you ask any honest punk rock fan how they got into their favourite music and a fair percentage of them will reply, as I would, that 1994’s ‘Dookie’ played a huge part. I had it on tape and remember playing ‘Basket Case’, rewinding it and playing it over and over and over because, as an 11-year-old in a small town in a pre-internet world, it sounded like the purest definition of awesome.
Of course, I’m not suggesting they keep trotting out odes to wanking as in ‘Longview’, because that’d just be embarrassing. Yet on ‘Nimrod’ Bille Joe displayed an older, cynical, much more crabby side that, when allied to a rawer sound that managed to be just as catchy, proved they could grow old disgracefully and stay just as relevant as ever.
And that’s not even mentioning the much under-rated ‘Insomniac’, a dark, paranoid punk rock classic that contains some of their finest work – ‘Panic Song’, ‘Brain Stew’ and ‘86’ in particular.
And then when ‘Warning’ rolled around it all seemed to go… wrong. Billie Joe kept talking about how he wanted people to hear Green Day songs and immediately think of Elvis Costello and The Who, with the result that and even the most ardent fan couldn’t find much to love on the album.
Despite having one of the most recognisable radio hits of the entire decade in ‘Basket Case’, ‘Minority’ and ‘Warning’ seemed tailor-made for the drivetime FM market in the worst way possible: where once they dictated what was and wasn’t pop they seemed to be following trends and writing painfully turgid rawk tunes that said, well, nothing in particular. If you can sit through to the end of the below video without your mind wandering then you might be dead.
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Then ‘American Idiot’ suddenly ate the world and within what felt like the space of a few months, Green Day had reinvented themselves. A whole new generation of kids – who went to their shows for ‘Holiday’ and ‘American Idiot’ and remained silent for ‘When I Come Around’ because they didn’t know it, which is pretty cool if you think about it – discovered them and the really, REALLY big leagues came calling.
Duets with Bono (fucking Bono! Going from singing about cocks in ’94 to singing with a cock a few short years later, what a career trajectory!), countless MTV specials and more than a few enormo-shows confirmed them as one of the biggest bands on the planet. Fast-forward another few years and here we are again. ‘21st Century Breakdown’. And yet…
America has changed, the world has changed. There’s nothing worse than a band who believes their own hype, and that’s exactly what Green Day appear to be doing. Like a reformed drug addict who can’t shut up about how much better life is now they’re clean, Billie Joe seems to think that after writing a couple of socio-political couplets he’s now qualified to pass judgment on an entire generation.
A nation of slackers just like him grew up and created some of the best art – music, films, literature – this modern era has ever seen; he himself provided some brilliant close-ups on what it was like growing up a forgotten geek in middle-class America, and now he’s part of the establishment.