What does it mean to be a revolutionary in 2016? What does it mean to be Green Day in 2016? How much of the former’s identity can be found in the latter? Can the latter somehow find a way to inspire or inform the former? These are the questions that dominate the lyrical narrative of Green Day’s twelfth full-length record Revolution Radio. A record on which a middle-aged and freshly sober Billie Joe Armstrong bares his soul to listeners unlike ever before, with frustratingly mixed results.
As with so much of Green Day’s work since the career-reviving American Idiot, Revolution Radio possesses many of the hallmarks that made Green Day THE breakout band of the ’90s pop-punk scene, with the lighters-in-the-air ballad’s like Still Breathing and Ordinary World, interwoven with pop-punk ragers such as Bang Bang and Revolution Radio and mid-tempo rock anthems to satiate ‘soccer mums and dads’, in the form of Say Goodbye and Troubled Times. It’s a soundscape not all that dissimilar to Nimrod, yet despite apparent best intentions it fails to connect in any meaningful way.
While almost everything on the self-produced effort (save perhaps for the meandering Forever Now) sounds somewhat like the Green Day fans grew up loving (or at least those that didn’t bail after Nimrod anyway), the absence of the intangible qualities that seemed to make peak era Green Day click, means that nothing quite hits with the same intensity as their earlier works, resulting in a record of rock radio fodder with a message that just doesn’t translate.
The ‘problem’ can be found in the four overriding questions posed at the start of this review.
Firstly, for a record named Revolution Radio it isn’t all that revolutionary, in fact save for Billie Joe’s direct emotionality, there’s nothing here that provides a shock to the system, either sonically or lyrically, with even the most overtly political song the anti-police-brutality pogofest Revolution Radio relying on implied rather than direct protest, which in an era where acts like letlive, Jay Z and Kendrick Lamar have their very direct gripes with the issue filling the airwaves, and #blacklivesmatter trending every day, just doesn’t cut the mustard like it once would.
Secondly, Green Day have arguably not been a punk or even pop-punk act for closing in on two decades, with the breakthrough brattish bravado of Dookie a distant memory, the band we are presented with on Revolution Radio is an odd hybrid of the best and worst of what has come before. Which is a shame because they remain superb musicians and songwriters. While nothing is as bad as Uno!, Dos!, Tre!, nothing is as good as even the worst songs on Warning and that career context is something that a lot of listeners will find hard to shut-off when listening to Revolution Radio.
This is just one of many ways in which Green Day appear to be a victim of their own success. As they’ve been living lives that are more and more distant from the struggles they’re trying to relate to, the impact of their social commentary has diminished, but so too, arguably, has their fans’ ability to relate to their more introspective moments.
So despite Armstrong’s best efforts to lay bare his humanity here, at times it still sounds insincere. Case in point: Still Breathing. It may just be that it’s simply harder to care about the emotional perils of middle-aged white multi-millionaires, but they were rich when they made American Idiot too, and that release didn’t suffer from the same disconnect.
It’s frustrating because you can sense that for the first time in a long while Armstrong, Tre Cool and Mike Dirnt are genuinely trying to deliver a statement with Revolution Radio, it’s just not clear they even know what that statement is.
This it the music of the streets Green Day long abandoned, filtered through the gated community cul-de-sac’s they now call home. Revolution Radio as whole just sounds like radio.
Green Day’s ‘Revolution Radio’ is out today.