Arguably the biggest rock album of the ‘00s, Green Day’s American Idiot turns ten this year. A decade after its original release, American Idiot is still loved by fans, respected by musicians and applauded by critics today, so we’re giving it an updated re-review in order to celebrate one of modern punk’s most iconic albums.
‘American Idiot’ introduces the album, taking no prisoners as the classic riff stands alone, demanding attention, before the rest of the band kick in. The political stance behind the album doesn’t shy away, making Green Day’s message unmistakable within the very first line. The guitar solo, though not particularly complex, still manages to overwhelm and consume the listener, drawing you into the album so fiercely that it is impossible to tear yourself away.
What comes next bewilders everyone- who would have expected Green Day to pull an epic punk-rock opera like ‘Jesus of Suburbia’ out of the bag?! The first taste of true storytelling, ‘Jesus of Suburbia’ reveals the full concept behind American Idiot, introducing characters in a run-down suburbia rebelling against the life they know. From the first movement of rage-fuelled ‘Jesus of Suburbia’ to the rebellious ‘I Don’t Care’ to the bouncy ‘Dearly Beloved’, as well as all the slices in between, the whole track is just mind-boggling.
Another political bomb is dropped in the form of ‘Holiday’, which is almost an anti-manifesto told with music. The third verse is a perfect fist-in-the-air moment, and shows a glimmer of the punk roots that Green Day have developed so far from with this album. This track then merges into ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams’, which feels like a much more personal, emotional track that comes from the heart rather than the head. While it still has plenty of gritty riffs, it’s a much gentler track from the band.
‘Are We the Waiting’ slows the pace down, and the rhythmic, repetitive beat may fool you into a false sense of calm, but when the abrupt end suddenly leads into the fast and furious ‘St. Jimmy’, you soon snap out of it. ‘St. Jimmy’ has everything- rolling drums, staccato guitar and Billie Joe Armstrong’s snarling vocals, all of which create a startling contrast to the previous track and bring you back on the album’s journey.
The next two tracks follow a similar pattern; ‘Give Me Novocaine’ is a gut-wrenching emotional insight into the downfall of the Jesus of Suburbia character, and is probably a painful reflection of the substance abuse noted in singer Billie Joe’s own life. It is soft, drawn-out but never, ever boring. Again, the calmness of ‘Give Me Novocaine’ is cut short by the switch to ‘She’s a Rebel’, a sharp, snappy song that has catchy pop-punk written all over it.
‘Extraordinary Girl’ is the black sheep of the album, sounding like nothing else on American Idiot. The lengthy drum intro has you wondering what is coming up next before it jumps into the bouncy body of the track- although lyrics such as “She’s all alone again, wiping the tears from her eyes / Some days he feels like dying, she gets so sick of crying” aren’t quite as light-hearted as the beat might suggest.
If you want a down ‘n’ dirty, rock ‘n’ roll track, look no further than ‘Letterbomb’. An explosive four-minute eruption of angst, tension and relief, it is an outburst of everything the characters have been holding in up until this point. The crackling distortion paints a picture of the desolate wasteland in which the emotions of this album are left hanging after the track has finally detonated. This feeling pushes on into ‘Wake Me Up When September Ends’, which is the most personal track on American Idiot. Conflict, death and grief are explored in this track, blurring the lines between the band’s real lives and the journey of the characters within this concept album.
The second extended song of the album is ‘Homecoming’, with another five movements expressed over nine minutes. We’ve come to expect almost anything by this point of the album, so it might not have the same awesome effect as ‘Jesus of Suburbia’, but it still pushes the boundaries of song-writing further than most bands would even attempt. The idea of a rock opera is complex and baffling, but with the irresistible beat of ‘The Death of St. Jimmy’, the cute guitar riff of ‘East 12th St’, the sing-a-long wail of ‘Nobody Likes You’, the little taste of crazy from drummer TrÃƒ© Cool in ‘Rock and Roll Girlfriend’ and the poignancy of ‘We’re Coming Home Again’, Green Day make it look easy.
The album ends on the understated sound of ‘Whatsername’. It’s a bittersweet song, giving the impression that perhaps the Jesus of Suburbia character is content now, although there is a note of sadness too difficult to ignore. It’s a surprising end to such an epic album, but it somehow suits the Green Day style to just say what needs to be said, put down the guitars and walk away.
It may be ten long years since its release, but there is no doubt that American Idiot is still impressive, still relevant, and still amazing!