No band can send hopes crashing to the ground like Green Day can. After American Idiot proved itself to be the planet-conquering behemoth that it was, it felt as though the Berkeley trio dropped the ball a bit from then on. Sure, 21st Century Breakdown wasn’t awful as the band’s bratty, sneering punk was kicked well out of the way for bombastic arena rock, but then followed the gruesome threesome of ¡Uno!, ¡Dos! and ¡Tré!, an exercise in unfettered self-indulgence that barely had enough quality moments to fit one album, let alone three. It would be hard for Revolution Radio to be sink below that dark period, but early signs pointed to this being quite the return to form – lead single Bang Bang was a throwback to the band’s earlier, punkier days, and the album as a whole is said to be inspired by the present culture of confusion and uncertainty in the US á la American Idiot, just switching out George W. Bush for Donald Trump. But the question is, does the full product live up to expectations?
Well it depends what expectations you have going into it. If you’re after a career third wind to succeed Dookie and American Idiot, Revolution Radio isn’t the album for you. But if you’re going into this with the lowered standards that late-period Green Day albums demand, it’s good enough. It’s probably the band’s best post-American Idiot album, but that’s not saying much, and it’s still not much to write home about. That’s in no small part down the the production – for an album whose intent is to bite at the heels of America’s sociopolitical wrongdoings, Revolution Radio feels way too clean and slick. Obviously a healthy dose of polish isn’t a new thing for Green Day (just look at how the trilogy turned out), but when the subject matter is as true to the essence of punk as it can get, the impact gets diluted massively, not to mention the fact that most of these tracks fall into the same complacent, mid-paced groove that’s begging for some drive. It’s a consistent issue as well – Still Breathing could easily be an All Time Low song with its glossy guitars and Billie Joe Armstrong’s vocal timbre being almost identical to Alex Gaskarth, and the gentle epilogue Ordinary World clearly tries for a Guthrie-style folk ballad but becomes bogged down by its paper-thin acoustics and subtle, sugary twinkles that end up a bit too much. To give Green Day credit, there are moments on this self-produced effort that have some synergy between subject matter and sound – Bang Bang is the best example, a track written from the perspective of a mass shooter with an antsy punk riff that matches the chaos of the lyrics, but there’s also a darker stomp to Say Goodbye and Troubled Times that fits the discord and disenfranchisement presented through the lyrics. Revolution Radio is easily at its best when it goes a bit harder; it’s just a shame that, most of the time, Green Day are too reluctant to capitalise on these moments.
But looking past the production are the actual songs that make up this album, and this is easily where Revolution Radio shines brightest. There’s a lack of truly classic future hits amongst this twelve track affair, but there are definitely a couple here that could fill the interim between the extended “Wheeeey-oh!” chants that are Green Day’s live shows. The title track has the feel of big, triumphant arena-rock anthem that the band have become so adept at lately, and the power-pop bounce and sprinkled Americanisms of Youngblood are reminiscent of Last Of The American Girls in the best way. It’s also a surprisingly good album instrumentally too; vocally, Billie Joe Armstrong has admittedly sounded better given how he sticks to his softer mid-range rather the snotty sneers of old (though given that he’s now 44, that decision might be for the best), but the unexpected star of this album is drummer Tré Cool, especially with his rolling kit-work on the extended penultimate track Forever Now.
That’s probably the most frustrating thing about Revolution Radio – there’s a great album hidden within it, but only ever reveals itself in fragments. The rest of the time, we get Green Day trying to convince everyone that they’re still punks with a “stick it to the man” attitude, only to bottle it at the last minute with flimsy production that sees them still nestled firmly in the crowd-pleasing megastars bracket. It’s an improvement on what Green Day have been doing for the best part of a decade, but Revolution Radio only really proves that having something to say doesn’t always mean it’s interesting. The lyric “How did life on the wild side ever get so dull?” on opener Somewhere Now couldn’t be more pertinent.
For fans of: All Time Low, The Offspring, Sum 41
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Revolution Radio’ by Green Day is released on 7th October on Reprise Records.