They may have taken the world by storm in 1994, revitalizing punk rock for the mainstream, but Green Day long ago passed the torch to younger bands like Simple Plan and Good Charlotte.
So while their old pals in the Offspring continue to score simple radio hits, Green Day have chosen to write eclectic songs for themselves and not necessarily the masses. The handful of tracks from their upcoming American Idiot that they’ve screened for the press show a band exploring form and function as it toys with song structures and recording techniques. Yet no matter how hard Green Day strive to escape their past, they’re so in love with melody that even their nine-minute rock opera, “Jesus of Suburbia,” can’t help but be catchy.
The epic track encompasses a seemingly discordant range of styles including ’50s rock and roll, ’70s glam, ’80s power pop and ’90s punk. Easily the most ambitious piece Green Day have ever created, the song is broken into four sections: “I Don’t Care,” “City of the Damned,” “Dearly Beloved” and “Tales From Another Broken Home.” It begins with a rhythm and vocal structure that sounds like the Who covering Roy Orbison, and it gradually shifts into a piano-based melody augmented by guitars that slash through the mix. The pace picks up and the tune turns snotty as Billie Joe Armstrong snarls, “I don’t care if you don’t care” along with a soaring vocal harmony.
The next section is more riff-based with three-chord guitar punk savagery and typically bratty vocals. Then, just when you think Green Day are revisiting the glory days of Dookie, the guitars start to jangle and drummer Tre Cool plays a clanking glam beat over soaring “ooh-ahh-ooh” vocals and xylophone plinks. The opera starts to wrap up with a ripping rhythm, a flailing solo and a harmonized vocal that sounds almost exactly like Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.” Then it drops down with some delicate Elton John-style piano before building back to a colossal roar.
Other songs on American Idiot are also pretty unconventional even if they’re under four minutes in length. The title track sounds like a hybrid of Social Distortion and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, as semi-distorted guitars saw in and out of tumbling drums, a sing-songy verse and another harmonized chorus, the lyrics of which criticize the average complacent American.
“On Holiday” starts out like an exultant and upbeat outtake from Warning, with shuffling drums, strummy guitars and “Hey! Hey!” vocals. Then it turns mean and political. “Don’t criticize your government/ … Kill all the f–s that don’t agree,” Armstrong spouts sarcastically through a megaphone.
“Are We the Waiting” is the closest Green Day will ever get to Guns N’ Roses’ “November Rain” without being satirical. And “St. Jimmy” is a fast and tuneful homage to the Ramones that makes up in exuberance what it lacks in originality.
Finally, for those who long for the sentimentality of the band’s hit “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life),” Green Day offer “Wake Me Up When September Ends,” which might be sappy if it weren’t for the guitar dynamics that make the band sound like a cross between the Who and Teenage Fanclub.
American Idiot is due in September.