Recess reviews: 'Revolution Radio'

Most of my friends make fun of me, but I don’t care. My Green Day fan bona fides are without equal:

  • I’ve spent American currency on every Green Day record since 2003’s “American Idiot.” Yes, that includes each installment of the group’s 2012 album trilogy “Uno” “Dos” and “Tre!”, which included a total of three defensibly OK songs.
  • I’ve produced a staging of “Green Day’s American Idiot,” the broadway rock opera based on the group’s music.
  • I’ve seen Green Day three times in person, and they’re playing DC during Duke’s spring break. There’s a strong chance I’m going to make it four.
  • I wrote a college paper (freshman year, but still!) that unironically compared the protest rock of the Vietnam era with that of the Iraq war era.
  • I still listen to “American Idiot” sometimes.

You are not reading the words of the average music consumer; I’m a 22-year-old Green Day fan. And I thought their new album, “Revolution Radio,” was pretty good.

Sometimes, when I’m in a supermarket or a Goodwill or a stadium sporting event (places that believe in 21st century Rock ‘n’ Roll), I’ll think to ask a friend his or her take on Green Day. The answer is almost always the same: “I liked them when I was 12.” It’s never meant to be a compliment.

Green Day offers plenty of ammo for people with this opinion. Each member of the pop punk trio is in their mid-40s, yet they’re still writing songs that propagate 90s Bart Simpson-esque tomfoolery: “Give me cherry bombs and gasoline!” Armstrong snarls on the record’s titular track over familiarly crisp drumming and crunchy melodic chords. How many millennials would recognize a cherry bomb outside the context of a game of four square?

Green Day appealed to us all as 12-year-olds because their music is fundamentally immature. Armstrong and bassist Mike Dirnt formed the band early in their high school years, a time when we all begin to recognize our powerlessness in the face of the world’s absurdity. For the better part of three decades, they’ve been punk-spewing variations on the theme of sanitized, suburban resistance. “Revolution Radio” is yet another oversimplified fart in the face of the proverbial Man.

This probably sounds like criticism; really, the triage’s arrested development is exactly what I find so endearing about “Revolution Radio.” The record is rife with pop punk comfort for the middle class misfit. In “Bang Bang,” Armstrong explores the psychology of kids influenced by the cyber celebration of the violent lone wolf. “Give me fame / Shoot me up to entertain / I am a semi-automatic lonely boy.” “Troubled Times” lampoons the hypocrisy of clinging to religion in a world torn asunder by extremism. Green Day may not thrive on complexity, but there’s some interesting stuff in here. Promise!

Even the embarrassing moments on “Radio” are kinda fun. At various points, Armstrong screams to “Legalize the truth” and sneers at the “anti-social media.” (Nice!) He recounts his father’s days in a union like a west coast punk Springsteen. (“What’s a union?” anyone born in the 90s asks). “Youngblood” is a carbon copy of old tributes to the female revolutionary like “Extraordinary Girl” and “Last of the American Girls,” but so what? If it works, it works.

Don’t listen to “Revolution Radio” expecting meaningful political advocacy. In an era of a painful national discourse (or perhaps lack thereof) about the systemic discrimination built into our criminal justice system, all Green Day can manage is “Say hello to the cops on patrol / Say hello to the ones in control.”

Even worse, the group spends an entire (albeit catchy) song, “Outlaws,” reminiscing about their days as youthful pranksters. “I'll plead my innocence / But that's my best defense / When you are young.” This ain’t 2003. Whether they run from this reality or engage with it, Americans are confronted daily with the truth that innocence is not an inalienable American right. Kids who look like 14-year-old Billy Joe Armstrong get to make youthful forays into petty crime. Kids who don’t constantly have to prove themselves “innocent” in every sense of the word.

Then again, wouldn’t you be a little confused if Green Day started pumping out meaningful political criticism? The 12-year-old punk in all of us doesn’t really know how to identify the world’s problems, but damn if there aren’t problems! As we become (hopefully) more aware of our surroundings, it can be a nice change of pace to pop in some simple-chorded jammers and scream to tracks that sound like “American Idiot” B-sides. So Give “Revolution Radio” a listen. Satiate your inner early teenager, vaguely aware that stuff is bad, but unable (and let’s be honest, unwilling) to do anything to fix it.


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