Off Key with Eric. D: Green Day

Eric D'Orazio

Before all you followers of late ’90s MTV start freaking out, let it be said that today’s punk rock movement has gone to the dogs. With pop-punk bands like Sum 41 and Good Charlotte helming the genre, the music has become way too whiny and uninspired, not to mention more focused on appearance than performance. The guys in Green Day know this, and have hence returned to save the world. Again.

Whereas they brought back punk’s credibility with 2000’s “Warning,” so they do the same four years later. But instead of utilizing an experimental record to drown out unworthy usurpers, they take it to the old school with a rock opera. Appropriately titled “American Idiot,” the new record focuses on the life and times of Jesus of Suburbia, an average punk in suburban America. Moving amidst issues of politics, friendship, love and suicide, the album stays true to Green Day’s style. However, it also comes across as much more ambitious through its sound and content, making it the band’s finest album to date. But don’t take my word for it. The proof is in the pudding, and it’s hard to resist.

Kicking off with the massively popular title track, the political side of “American Idiot” is the first to shine through. Placing focus upon the “age of paranoia” in which we live, Green Day pull out all the stops to unabashedly rile President Bush, citing his “redneck agenda” and poor stance on gay rights. Aside from that, the song itself merely serves as the background for which the band builds their story of “Jesus of Suburbia,” the album’s next song. Separated into five sub-sections, the track looks into the mind of that suburban savior, from being “born and raised by hypocrites,” to living on “a steady diet of soda pop and Ritalin,” to eventually running away from home and the pain it holds. All this, plus a nine-minute track time, give the song an air of mastery that few have seen coming from Green Day.

The next eight songs on the album come across in a tightly knit, successive manner, playing off one another to an excellent degree and forming larger pieces of music overall. The first of these are the simultaneous second singles, “Holiday” and “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.” The first part is Green Day’s ode to the war in Iraq, and how Jesus of Suburbia is fearful of the government’s dispassionate attitude towards the dire situation there. The next part deals with the main character’s own situation after having left home. He finds himself emotionally dead and alone, hoping that “someone out there will find me.”

The same feeling of dejection continues into the magnificent “Are We the Waiting,” but finds resolve in “St. Jimmy,” a character who comes across as Jesus’ best friend and closest confidant. Acting as “the resident leader of the lost and found,” St. Jimmy makes it a point to be “a teenage assassin executing some fun,” all the while assisting his new friend through his emotional turmoil. Soon enough, those problems resurface by way of “Give Me Novacaine,” which looks into the undying regret Jesus feels for having left home.

Though things look pretty sad up until then, the album goes in a more lighthearted direction with “She’s A Rebel” and “Extraordinary Girl.” Both songs focus on the main character’s love for a girl only known as Whatsername, who makes him feel all but tongue-tied and liberated. Yet in the latter song, Jesus lacks the courage to initiate an ongoing relationship with that girl, thereby adding to his frustrations and making her cry. This situation eventually leads to “Letterbomb,” where Whatsername proclaims “I can’t take this town, I’m leaving you tonight.”

In response to the massive rejection dealt to Jesus from his girl, not to mention most of his friends, Green Day bring about the album’s best song. Called “Wake Me Up When September Ends,” it is the emotional nadir of “American Idiot,” dealing with being drenched in pain again, not forgetting all that was lost and how “20 years has gone so fast.” From there, Jesus reaches an epiphany, realizing that the only way to straighten out his life is to head back home. Hence, the album’s next song, “Homecoming.”

Standing out as the album’s second nine-minute song, “Homecoming” is also separated into five sub-sections. Focusing on the rejection of his rebellious life, the suicide of St. Jimmy and running home “as soon as my feet touch ground,” Jesus of Suburbia finally accepts his real home and actually finds comfort in the thought that he is where he belongs. He eventually settles back into his old life, gets a new girlfriend and only at the end, with “Whatsername,” does he reminisce over the girl he left behind, wondering “did she ever marry old what’s his face” and making a point to “burn all of the photographs.” So, the album brings about a life-affirming finale, and everything turns out superb in the suburbs.

When all is said and done, it remains a baffling irony that Green Day has made their biggest success on the 10th anniversary of their last massive record, the 10-million selling “Dookie.” But whereas “Dookie” got them earmarked as the next Ramones, “American Idiot” sees them doing something completely different.

With the new record, they’ve literally made a rock masterpiece, one that combines the power of The Who’s “Tommy” with the potency of The Clash’s “London Calling.” Truth be told, the album is perfect, flawless in every possible way, reflective of the society into which it was released and deserving of the number one spot it held on Billboard upon that release. Though The Killers may have the album of the moment and Ash may have the album of the year, Green Day has landed the album of the decade. What else would you expect from the most successful punk rock band of all time? Maybe now those pop-punk bands will learn a thing or two.