Amongst the multitude of inspiring and successful rock albums released the 21st century there is one album (not single songs but the whole album) I can’t get sick of even though it was on so many radio stations over and over again: Green Day’s American Idiot.
The reason why I write this short review is because I’ve had this thought every once in a while the last couple of years – something must be very special about this album..
The change of style in Warning resulted in a decline of sold records. What do you expect after such a flop? An album characterized by a retrogression back to the roots of Dookie or Nimrod – but what did Green Day do? They took a huge step forward and created an innovative masterpiece full of changes and diversity. It is not just a bunch of songs but a rock opera with an ambiguous content. Also typical for Green Day - everything is packed with irony.
The album contains 13 songs, most of them are quite short with 2 exceptions (Jesus of Suburbia, Homecoming) which are everything but boring. American Idiot is characterized by a stunning diversity from the beginning to the very end. It has no weak point, nor does the listener want to skip a song. This diversity becomes apparent for example in an amazing intro as title song (“American Idiot”), convincing punk ballads (“Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” “Are We the Waiting”), non-stop punk (“St. Jimmy”) and 9-minute epics.
Furthermore, almost all of the songs can be interpreted in different ways especially in terms of politics. In “American Idiot” and “Holiday” in particular, Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt and Tré Cool clearly present their political views. Social problems are part of almost every song, most apparently in “We are the Waiting” and “Give me Novacaine”. Love and lovesickness are covered as well, best examples are “She’s a Rebel”, “Extraordinary Girl,” and “Whatshername”. Green Day want to make people think – and they are effective..
Besides these interpretations, American Idiot is a rock opera dealing with the way of life in the American society with Jesus of Suburbia as its main character. My interpretation of the story:
The current situation in America under the bad influence of media and propaganda is introduced to the listener in the first song “American Idiot”. The protagonist is presented in the second song, “Jesus of Suburbia”, named after a guy who grew up in the suburban area of a big city and who has to face all of its common problems. Finally, Jesus runs away from his home to search for meaning and purpose in his life. The story really begins in “Holiday” when Jesus arrives at the big city and puts American government and society into question. On the “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” Jesus experiences loneliness in this big city and with the phrase “walking down the line that divides me somewhere in my mind” the development of a double personality is indicated. This change of personality is taking shape in “Are We the Waiting” (“the Jesus of Suburbia is a lie”) and Jesus’ new identity for the first time appears in the correspondent song “St. Jimmy” - a confused criminal strung-out teenager rejecting the suburban life led by Jesus of Suburbia. His drug addiction (to forget his problems) is expressed in more detail in “Give me Novacaine.” Eventually, St. Jimmy is able to escape his loneliness when he meets “Whatshername“ – “She’s a Rebel” like him, addicted and aggressive. The song “Extraordinary Girl” shows the problems in their relationship and how especially Whatshername (who is outwardly tough but sensitive inside – a “mirror of herself”) has to suffer. “Letterbomb” is the climax of the story – St. Jimmy gets unsatisfied and bored with his new life/his new personality which makes Whatshername leave him. In “Wake Me Up When September Ends” Jimmy is alone again and he’s melancholic as he lost Whatshername. The story reaches its end in “Homecoming” when St. Jimmy finally becomes Jesus of Suburbia again (“Jimmy died today”) and ends up right back where he started. The only thing remaining is memories of his life as St. Jimmy and he especially misses the good times he had with “Whatshername.”
All in all, everything that is necessary to make music successful is included in this album and even more: fantastic melodies, harmony, rhythm, exciting change of tempo, and above all sophisticated lyrics and innovative ideas – it shows Green Day’s unmistakable instinct of how to make music!