Green Day - American Idiot (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Green Day

American Idiot (2004)


Okay, so here's the thing--this is an album that is composed by the three members of Green Day and released under the Green Day moniker, but outside of the title track, the album isn't really a Green Day album. With Green Day albums, you can hit shuffle and still be happy with the results. With Green Day albums, you can listen to one song on repeat over and over again without any regard to the other dozen or so tracks. There aren't themes to Green Day albums; they're simply collections of really good pop-punk songs.

But American Idiot changes all that, as the band's first foray into the ever-so-dangerous market of rock operas. And while those words may conjur up images of anything from Meat Loaf to the Who, odds are you've never thought of Billie Joe Armstrong as penning a modern day Madame Butterfly like Rivers Cuomo did, or some stupid fucking album about space babies or something like Coheed And Cambria did. But here's the thing: The band pulls it off. Almost completely.

American Idiot, outside of the blatantly anti-Bush title track, tells the story of Jimmy. The story arc follows Jimmy's childhood from the start of adolescence (with the five-part, nine-minute "Jesus Of Suburbia") through his death, whether it be physical or metaphorical (the five-part, nine-minute "Homecoming"). While the tracks three through 11 are labeled individually, it's rather obvious that any number of these could be slammed together into another multi-part epic, as the majority of the songs bleed together both thematically and musically, as in the "Give Me Novacaine"/"She's A Rebel" pairing.

As the album plays out, the listener hears Jimmy become disheartened on the "Boulevard Of Broken Dreams," question his existence in "Are We The Waiting," develop an ego in "St. Jimmy," turn to drugs with "Give Me Novacaine," fall in love with an "Extraordinary Girl," suffer an emotional loss in "Wake Me Up When September Ends," and wrestle with what he has become in the multi-part "Homecoming" (which features the only real blunder on the record, the awkward "Rock And Roll Girlfriend;" also, if you miss the "Geek Stink Breath" rip-off in the song's second part, "East 12th St." you're deaf). The only other flounder is album closer "Whatshername," which seems to never find its footing throughout its four-minute running time. The disc just sort of... ends. It's awkward, but everyone gets a mulligan.

Armstrong's lyrics come off as almost autobiographical at times, with the spitting of "Saint Jimmy / that's my name / and don't wear it out!" over a rip-roaring punk rock instrumental. It's almost as if he's writing this album about his own maturation over the band's 10-plus years under the public eye. "Are We The Waiting" may be the most anthemic song Armstrong's ever written, and "Give Me Novacaine" will probably win the title for the hardest-rocking-yet-vocally-introspective he's ever been. As for the overall sound of the album, it's very similar in production to both Warning and Nimrod, perpetuating the "stereotypical" Green Day sound. "Holiday" could have easily been wedged in-between "Church On Sunday" and "Blood, Sex and Booze," and "Wake Me Up When September Ends" is pretty much "Macy's Day Parade Part Two." But frankly, there's not a damn thing wrong with that. It should also be noted that "Extraordinary Girl" is probably the most romantic pop-punk song Armstrong's penned since Dookie's "Pulling Teeth," and "Letterbomb" sounds like it could've been a B-side from the same album, if not for Billie Joe's outstanding vocal performance.

But here's the one giant flaw with the album--it's nearly impossible to listen to and enjoy on a track-by-track basis, mainly because it's not just a collection of songs; it's an album, and should be treated as such, with a true sit-down listen for the 57 minutes it clocks in at. Breaking the songs up into separate listens only makes the listener suffer, as it's like reading a cliffhanger novel but skimming over the last page of each chapter; you're only cheating yourself.

So yeah, it's not a Green Day album; it's an album recorded by Green Day as the accompaniment to the best rock opera you'll never see on Broadway. And it sounds phenomenonal. Abso-frickin-lutely phenomenonal. The only question is, where does the best power trio of the past decade go from here? I don't have the foggiest idea, but after seeing that they could be this ambitious and still succeed, I'll back them wholeheartedly.