Thursday, May 21, 2009

Time To Face The Music: Green Day, Pt. 1

I know that I had my Catholic confession just a few posts ago, exposing all my guilty pleasure and secret loves to the world at large, and I've only finally worked up the gusto to make what to some may be a startling confession...

I still like Green Day.

Even the new stuff.

Now, some people might not grasp the magnitude of this claim from someone in my position. An aging punk rocker who was there when Green Day threw Dookie at MTV. They acted as both my entrance into a punk rock world that completely shaped my worldview, as well as said world's representation of my chosen group. To this day, if someone from the straight world (i.e. not a total music nut) asks wheat type of music I like, and I'm naive enough to say "punk" (naive, in that most people usually cringe at that word, even in a post-Hot Topic landsape), I almost invariably get a "Oh, so you like Green Day then?" in return. However, this presence in the greater world came at the cost of credibility in the fiercely ethical and resolutely underground punk world. In my teen years, I even came to physical blows over this subject MULTIPLE TIMES having to defend my taste. Apparently, once Green Day is brought into the mix, fully authorized bands like Buzzcocks, The Undertones, and The Jam are inadmissable as evidence of "cred" (how's that for using a law metaphor for punk rock, Brent?)

Now, say what you will about Green Day's punk cred, but I'm bored with that whole topic. They were always a pop band at heart, but they were punk as fuck. Still are. Playing songs like "At The Library" and "Who Shot Holden Caulfield?" at Gilman St and not getting killed was their cred. Their never making a lazy album was their cred. If you're one of those people who list the Who and the Kinks as punk founders, you know that just by keeping integrity they're punk. Like those bands, once they've proven their "punk-ness" they can use a solid rep to go on to expand the template, so to speak. The Who Sell Out sure doesn't sound like "My Generation" or "I Can't Explain", but damn is it good, without the bloated excesses of late-70s Who. It's got a little excess, but it's just as much as it needs to float.

OK, so maybe I AM off track, but my point is that just cause something's a little excessive doesn't mean it's too much, and I say this cautiously, knowing that I'm on dangerous ground for a punk. But here's the thing... just because Green Day is huge, and I was into them the first go-round, doesn't mean that they weren't always headed this direction. People deride American Idiot saying that it's too big and populist and pandering... who were they pandering to? They were coming off Warning, their most Kinks/Costello like work, and it BOMBED. I remember it came out the same week as Radiohead's Kid A and I was mercilessly chided by the "serious rocker" dudes on my dorm floor. I stand by my choice. There was little-to-no demand for it, and such a strange concept would surely only market to hardcore fans who'd inevitably compare it to Quadrophenia and Zen Arcade and that would be that. But it got huge with the preteens... the very same people who hooked onto them last time.

It ain't the post-grunge '90s, no matter how much some of us sometimes wish it was (musically, at least...), and it's a different time. So the rock stars wear eyeliner now (again), and in post-emo pop there's a fair dose of bombast. Let's not forget that these boys almost invented mall emo... what were their hits except for lonely teens who were bored and pining for some punker chick?

Now I KNOW I'm rambling, but I'm following through with another Who comparision, and going so far as to say that Green Day are our generation's 70s Who. Soundwise, they owe a debt, but that's not what I mean. They can walk that line of populist blue collar fanbase for lofty, ambitious concept albums that are either loved or hated by critics. Their stuff stands out as being written by a really smart Regular Guy delivered by a bunch of Regular Guys. Kids love them, teen girls have pin-ups, older teens have great music that they can take on 2 levels, and old geezers like me have a band that they can listen to that they liked in their youth too.

Why all this? I just heard their latest album, 21st Century Breakdown, after a few months of mocking, references to how I USED to like them, dumbfounded stares when I talk about how I "liked them when I was your age". I was totally wrong. This is a great record. Passionate, hooky, and roaring. A step down from American Idiot, but only a little step, and they sure as hell had to come up with something good to even come close to that. I don't know what the hell the concept is supposed to be this time. But it's at least audible that we have characters and progression (which is more than can be said for most of it's type from the '70s). The playing is good, and it's tight, and it's forceful. This sounds VITAL, even if it's not. And I'm going to let myself fall for it.

This ain't their The Who Sell Out. This one is a bit more Quadrophenia. It's not Village Green, but it's certainly something like their Lola Vs. Powerman.... I'd be hard pressed to say that this is their peak, something that I feel is probably behind them. But seriously... have you LISTENED to Quadrophenia or Lola recently? They're great. Here's hoping I feel the same way about this album 30 years on.

[Tune in next week for my writeups of the Green Day side projects, now with more secret identities than you can shake a stick at! Shortly thereafter, we'll close out the series with a piece entitled "Why Am I Always This Way", delving deeper into my psyche than usual!]

1 comment:

  1. I bought "21st Century Breakdown" the day it came out. Which is weird because there was a long time where I wouldn't have touched a Green Day record with a 10 foot pole. I cut my teeth playing songs from "Dookie" in my first garage band, but after "Insomniac," they kind of lost me. I can't say I agree with your feelings about "Warning" (I don't care what anyone thinks, but "Kid A" opened me up to many new things).

    It was "American Idiot" that brought me back into the fold. The last band I ever expected to make a meaningful punk record made one that was well made and relevant. Who knew?

    The new record seems to have more Beatles in it than the Who, I think. There's some straight up George Harrison shit on that record. I wanted more heavy stuff, because "American Idiot" was a pretty refreshing kick in the ass. "21st Century" has good songs on it, but it certainly feels less focused.

    Keep writing, I do enjoy reading your stuff!