Every so often, pop-punk bands grow up. They get sick of singing about the girl next door and their bike, and start digging a little deeper. Green Day has decided to do that on American Idiot, a full-on theatrical concept album that might make you think, while still holding on to the band’s core following.
American Idiot is the story of “St. Jimmy,” the “Jesus of Suburbia,” (or is he?) and “Whatshername,” his lost girl. It opens with the blast-off punk of the title track, a clap-along anthem in which you can feel the anger of kids ready to boil over. Two five-part songs bookend the album, switching tempo while extending a particular theme, and then closes with “Whatshername,” a classic pop lost-love song with a twist. In between, the album ranges from straight-up punk rock, ‘50s-ish rhythms, theatrical ballads, and choruses that sound like the ghosts of youth, to full-on stadium rock anthems.
Billie Joe’s gift for wordplay has only become better here, exposing not the major issues of the Bush years (war, terrorism, job loss), but the alienation and anger of a generation growing up with little hope. Their music has only become better, more polished, and gone beyond punk—they’ve got a piano and saxophone listed in the credits, and Kathleen Hanna (Bikini Kill, Le Tigre) lends her voice to “Letterbomb.”
Green Day could’ve continued coasting on their Dookie fame, turning out generic records still a little better than the hundreds of love-and-teen-angst pop-punk bands, but they didn’t. In stepping outside of the rules of their “scene,” they’ve created a statement that the Establishment would do well to hear. The kids are pissed off and unhappy, and they’re not going away, they’re getting smarter.