Green Day - Revolution Radio (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Green Day

Revolution Radio (2016)


Green Day suffers from a Boom and Bust Cycle, whereby almost every commercially successful Green Day album is followed by a commercial failure, and Green Day learns the wrong lesson in the process.

It started with 1994’s Dookie, which, to this day, is one of the highest selling punk albums of all time and which rocketed the '90s punk revival into the mainstream. Unfortunately, 1995’s Insomniac didn’t have the same success, even though the only real difference between the two albums was that, where Dookie combined Green Day’s dark lyrics with ironically upbeat musical backing, Insomniac paired darkness with darkness, using a harsher sound and minor chords to tell Billie Joe Armstrong’s dark tales of misanthropy, fucked up relationships, and drug use.

In 1997, Nimrod wasn’t so much a success as a whole as much as it was responsible for producing one of Green Day’s biggest hits, an acoustic ballad that, to this day, is the clichéd choice for montage videos at weddings and graduations, mostly from people who fail to notice that the real name of the song is “Good Riddance.” In 2000, Green Day tried to do something really different with Warning. Warning is their best album, a fact that nobody agrees with me on because everyone else but me is wrong. Warning experiments in instrumentation and style to make something that sounds nothing like what we’ve come to know from Green Day. But when Warning became their biggest commercial failure, they reverted to their typical pop-punk sound and chose to experiment with content rather than with style, producing a big rock opera that actually does make some really bold choices, with two songs over 8 minutes long, and which made Green Day one of the few artists in mainstream music speaking out against the Iraq War.

When American Idiot launched them back to the prominence of their Dookie days, I think Green Day finally figured out the Boom/Bust cycle, and they decided to try to head it off by following American Idiot up with what is essentially a dumbed down clone of American Idiot, 21st Century Breakdown, and thus the Boom and Bust Cycle was broken. But then Green Day released their bizarre triple album, ¡Uno!, ¡Dos! and ¡Tre!, which was a weird choice that failed to pay off. Still, the triple album’s biggest flaw is simply that it’s a triple album, which is always a bad idea. Even if you’re The Clash at the height of your creativity in 1980, a triple album is going to end up with a lot of filler and will have a hard time holding the audience’s attention. However, if you cut the crap out of ¡Uno!, ¡Dos! and ¡Tre!, there’s an album or so of quality material in there that combines Green Day’s 90’s style, their 2000’s style, and some new things that they hadn’t tried before, making for their most innovative work since Warning.

And now that brings us to Revolution Radio. You see, Green Day has reached the point where they’re so commercial and so influenced by the market, that they’ve purged everything from their sound that hasn’t sold well, resulting in the safest record they’ve ever done. The album sounds like a watered down version of their American Idiot sound: classic Green Day with an extra heaping of studio gloss and all risks and experimentation removed. In the rare case that the album actually incorporates something that isn’t part of the classic Green Day sound—such as on “Say Goodbye”—it sounds like Green Day just turned on one of iHeartMedia’s alternative rock stations and copied what they heard.

It’s hard to tell if Revolution Radio is meant to be another rock opera or concept album, but Billie Joe Armstrong has stated that it’s supposed to be about the state of violence in the United States right now. Armstrong certainly seems at a distance from his lyrics, writing as if talking about characters instead of about himself. In addition to violence, much of the album, especially the title track, takes shots at the media. Ever since the Bush administration ended, the media has been one of Green Day’s favorite targets, as there’s virtually nobody on Earth who thinks the media is perfect, so the topic is like shooting fish in a barrel. However, Green Day seems incapable of seeing the irony in taking shots at the very industry that has made them millions of dollars, and if they see a connection between media and violence, it’s a vague one that they’d rather hint at than get down into the complexities of. “Outlaws” may possibly be the worst Green Day song ever produced, with Armstrong crooning over a slow ballad, again failing to see the irony in being a millionaire in his 40’s singing about what a badass he is.

The bright spots are few and far between. “Youngblood” is one of the most fun and bouncy pop songs Green Day has ever produced, even if it’s still guilty of many of the sins listed above. The album’s final two tracks almost redeem it, but end up being too little too late, with “Forever Now” echoing some of the longer, more epic tracks from American Idiot, even though it clocks in at a mere 6:52. “Ordinary World” sees Armstrong alone with an acoustic guitar with a song that would have fit in nicely on Warning.

I don’t take pleasure in trashing Green Day, as I was listening exclusively to my parents’ oldies station as a kid until the day I heard those big, beautiful power chords of “When I Come Around” at summer camp. They not only got me into punk, but got me into alternative rock and my own generation’s music in general. I owe a big part of my personality to them. Nor am I the kind of person who thinks all pop-punk and mainstream music is inherently bad. I believe it’s possible to make high art with pop-punk (Direct Hit!) and I believe it’s possible to go mainstream and maintain your integrity (Against Me!). But I believe that even mainstream artists need to learn things that the market can’t teach, and Revolution Radio is the result of Green Day listening only to the market. The commercial failure of Insomniac slowly purged the dark nihilism from Green Day’s lyrics, despite the fact that that darkness is what made Dookie great, and the commercial failure of Warning purged all attempts at musical innovation from their sound, despite the album’s positive critical reception. ¡Uno!, ¡Dos! And ¡Tre! attempted to resurrect some of those elements, but the triple album’s failure put the final nail in the coffin of Green Day’s experimentation. (“Don’t put out three albums at once,” however, was perhaps a good lesson to learn.) What we’re left with is a Green Day that doesn’t know who they are other than what record sales tell them they should be. Edgy, dangerous, dark, smart, innovative, heartfelt: these are all terms that have been used to describe Green Day at different points in their career, and none of them apply to this album. Everyone who accused Green Day of selling out when they went mainstream in 1994 had it all wrong: the selling out of Green Day has been a much longer, more gradual process that has culminated in the ironically titled Revolution Radio. To paraphrase Green Day’s new touring mates, Against Me!: This revolution is a lie.