Green Day returns to pop-punk roots on ‘Revolution Radio’

Reprise Records/Courtesy
Green Day Revolution Radio | Reprise Records
Grade: B

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In the untethered hellscape of political chaos and clown attacks that 2016 has morphed into, now might be the time for some grounded familiarity to latch onto. Luckily, Green Day is back with a new album — Revolution Radio is simple, no-nonsense, brashy punk at its finest. Thank God.

The 12th release by the East Bay trio is a seamless amalgamation of the techniques that put them on the map — the Dookie-esque three-chord pop-punk structure with no frills, and the requisite political commentary of American Idiot, albeit muted. Where American Idiot was a firebrand of anti-conservative rhetoric, Revolution Radio, despite its title, feels content to point out how much we’ve fucked everything up without offering much hope for fixing it. Maybe Green Day has determined there’s nothing left to be done.

Green Day is one of those bands that has steadfastly refused to lose relevancy by reinventing itself with each subsequent release, seemingly trending towards ever more grandiose statements until the burnout accompanying the ill-conceived triple-release of ¡Uno! ¡Dos! ¡Tré!, which, despite having the buried seeds of a great album, overwhelmed with content and failed to make a strong impression. Paired with an onstage rant and meltdown in 2012 that led to Billie Joe Armstrong entering rehab, it was up in the air whether the band could reset and return with the gusto it had always managed to hold onto in the past.

The result of those tumultuous events is, perhaps surprisingly, the most sonically and thematically focused album Green Day has produced in years. If anything, Revolution Radio is “revolutionary” about how welcome crisp, straightforward pop-punk is right about now.

The album is more internal than external; it is self-reflecting in the style of Dookie, but Billie Joe Armstrong and company has grown up considerably and is tackling slightly more complex themes than boredom-driven masturbation. And its fanbase of disaffected youth in the ‘90s has grown up too, into the debt-ridden, mostly jobless, fucked-over-by-the-baby-boomers and disenchanted adults of the new millennium.

The effortless power chords and distilled vocals speak to a mature understanding of exactly how those early ‘90s punk progressions spoke to that fanbase, and the stark, self-reflecting lyrics display a powerful willingness to engage with listeners on a personal level. On “Forever Now,” Armstrong candidly admits: “My name is Billie and I’m freaking out / I thought before I was now I can’t really figure it out.”

In a more metaphorical sense, “Still Breathing” is perhaps the most personal song on the record, as Armstrong compares himself to an ambulance turning on its sirens, a soldier coming home and a junkie tying off for the last time. His references are sobering, but the song is a defiant one. Armstrong is still breathing, Green Day is still kicking, and neither is giving up on the dream that started in Berkeley almost 30 years ago.

That dream might still be alive for Green Day’s fans as well, but as welcome as a sense of normalcy is right now, Revolution Radio is an act of treading water for the band itself. The album feels like it was produced out of the desire to make a “Green Day album,” in particular a Green Day album colored by its early era. For a band that has shifted itself into new genres and modes on every new album, the complacency with brushing off the riffs and styles from Dookie for another spin feels weird. It’s a “Fuck you, I’m from Oakland” return to roots, as Armstrong sings in “Youngblood,” but as much as long-term fans might appreciate the nostalgic trip to their favorite Green Day era, the band’s forward direction now seems murky and unclear. Retreading ground, even stylistically, is antithetical to Green Day’s penchant for reinvention.

The result is that Revolution Radio feels a bit stuck. They’re great tunes, but they won’t have the cultural staying power of “Basket Case” or “When I Come Around,” if only because those songs were definitive of a foregone era. Still, they’re fun and they’ll be a blast live. For Green Day and its fanbase, that might be enough.

Contact Imad Pasha at [email protected].