Published Oct 05, 20162004's American Idiot marked a major shift for Green Day, but not just for the reasons normally cited. On that album, Billie Joe Armstrong was, for the first time, explicitly writing songs about people whose lives and experiences weren't necessarily his own. That's hardly a ground-breaking songwriting trick, but in rock, particularly punk, fans want to project an artist's personal truth onto their own lives. That's the implicit exchange even if, just as often, it's not actually the case.
On American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown, Armstrong's lifting of the curtain felt like a cursory detail, a concession to those records' overarching narratives. And the band's subsequent ¡Uno!, ¡Dos!, ¡Tré! trilogy already saw them step outside of themselves musically on a number of genre exercises, so it was no surprise that Armstrong's lyrics would follow.
There are no such grand visions or concepts for Revolution Radio, though. Their latest is the most Green Day-sounding Green Day record in a decade-and-a-half, one that sees the band playing to all their strengths musically. When you imagine what a new Green Day record sounds like, you conjure sounds like the mid-tempo strut of "Bouncing off the Walls" or the pointed rage of "Bang Bang." The album feels like everything a Green Day fan in 2016 could want.
The title track channels anti-establishment rage at the media, certainly a topic within Green Day's wheelhouse. Album closer "Ordinary World" comes from the soundtrack to a film of the same name in which Armstrong plays a fictional version of himself, while on "Still Breathing" he drops the veil completely, announcing his shifting perspectives in the track's opening lines: "I'm a child looking out on the horizon / I'm an ambulance that's turning on the sirens…" Through these constructed perspectives, the singer attempts to sum up the current climate in America by making an ineffable moment small and relatable. Unfortunately, these character sketches rarely feel real.
Green Day are a ridiculously successful legacy rock band whose members more than likely are rarely asked to confront the social and political struggles from which they're drawing inspiration. That's not to say successful artists can't empathize with the common man — hell, Bruce Springsteen's entire career is built off of his continued ability to channel lives of "average people" — but reading between Revolution Radio's lines,, Armstrong's desire to capture a cultural moment feels like political posturing. Coming from a band who could once wring albums' worth of material out of mid-20s ennui, his words feel like unearned platitudes from someone who's projecting what they think their fans want to hear, not what they feel deep in their guts.
Creeping in the corners of many of these songs are rare moments of personal vulnerability that prove to be its most affecting moments. Opener "Somewhere Now" seems to find Armstrong confronting his struggle to rediscover his artistic voice in its opening lines. "I'm running late to somewhere now I don't want to be," he sings, before concluding with a reference to his post-rehab sobriety: "How did life on the wild side ever get so dull?"
Though Armstrong does a decent job of speaking for the freaks and the rebels, Green Day's music is always at its best when he's speaking for himself, and Revolution Radio is no different. (Reprise)