As falls from grace go, Green Day’s 2012 chastening was one for the ages: hubristic overreaching, self-inflicted exhaustion, an excruciating public meltdown leading to a raft of postponed tour dates and an entire trilogy of underwhelming albums that laid bare the scorched-earth extent of their burnout. What lit the match, however, may have been nothing more than a misguided surfeit of ambition. After two decades at the top of their game, Green Day seemed to believe it was no longer enough to simply be a band that released albums; they had to be a behemoth that made statements, even ones as unwieldy and confounding as ‘¡Uno! ¡Dos! ¡Tré!’.
Every great downfall deserves a redemption, however, and with ‘Revolution Radio’, Green Day now have theirs. There’ll be no Broadway musicals made of this album, no think-pieces devoted to unpicking its politics or meaning, but as a simple collection of songs, it’s as strong as anything they’ve come up with since 2004’s ‘American Idiot’. Thematically, Billie Joe Armstrong has said the album is about making sense of our chaotic times, but his own recent chaotic past can hardly be ignored: “How did life on the wild side ever get so dull?” the newly sober frontman ponders on opening track ‘Somewhere Now’, while on ‘Still Breathing’ he likens himself to: “A soldier coming home for the first time / I dodged a bullet and walked across a landmine”. Happily, sobriety seems to have sharpened, rather than dulled, his songwriting gifts.
Like ‘American Idiot’, ‘Revolution Radio’ arrives during a US election cycle, so a certain amount of topicality is to be expected: ferocious lead single ‘Bang Bang’ goes inside the psyche of a spree-shooter (and criticises the media for its coverage of those events) while the rabble-rousing title track was inspired by a Black Lives Matter protest Armstrong found himself joining in New York.
Admittedly, neither song contains much in the way of nuance (“You’re dead, I’m well-fed / Give me death or give me head” goes ‘Bang Bang’), but since when was that part of this band’s job description?
In fact, if there’s a defining characteristic of ‘Revolution Radio’, it’s Green Day rediscovering the joys of simply being themselves. There’s filler, certainly- ‘Troubled Times’ manages to be both heavy-handed and entirely forgettable, while ‘Youngblood’ lapses into the generic, by-numbers territory of their ill-fated trilogy- but there’s also an unmistakeable sense of purpose and economy that’s been sorely lacking for longer than they’d care to admit. Green Day have learned the hard way that bigger isn’t always better, but by dialling things back they’ve finally found a way forward.