When we last left our heroes, they had been left reeling from the lukewarm response to their ambitious 2012 album trilogy ‘¡Uno!’, ‘¡Dos!’, and ‘¡Tré!’ – a collection of records frontman Billie Joe Armstrong was later quick to denounce as having “absolutely no direction to them”, and simply an attempt to be “prolific for the sake of it”. And, in perfect 20/20 hindsight, both statements now seem like fair assessments: whilst there were a few gems scattered across the three releases (the anthemic ‘X-Kid’, the Elvis Costello pastiche ‘Stray Heart’ and the giddy pop of ‘Stay the Night’), they mostly came off like an expensive, three-album-long set up for the punchline of shoehorning the drummer’s name into an album title – and the less said about the toe-curlingly sophomoric ‘Fuck Time’, the better.
Their latest album ‘Revolution Radio’, then, is Green Day attempting to steady the course of their illustrious career, and prove that their brand of call-to-arms punk rock is still as important as ever in these uncertain times, where the threat of terrorism lurks around every corner and the spectre of President Trump looms large.
Opening salvo ‘Somewhere Now’ acts as a subdued, acoustic-led exposition, before crashing in with near-Tenacious D pomp and theatricality. An effective opener, it’s a jangly, optimistic number that paints Armstrong as more of a weary journeyman – he is, as easy as it is to forget, in his mid-forties – than the snotty political shit-stirrer we all know and love. Their most ferocious lead single in years, ‘Bang Bang’, follows; a comment on the USA’s recent spate of increased gun violence, the lyrics may be latter-day Green Day by numbers – “Give me death or give me head/daddy’s little psycho and mommy’s little soldier” – but its pure aural assault make the entirety of the preceding trilogy sound flaccid in comparison, and it shows they’re taking both making music, and their audience, seriously again.
From here on out, though, the album takes a messy turn, as if they can’t decide whether to settle into “political rock opera” or “bratty pop punk” mode. Tracks such as ‘Bouncing off the Walls’ and ‘Too Dumb to Die’ are both scrappy, deliciously power-pop throwaways, whilst the well-crafted but unremarkable title track – with its groan-inducing “legalise the truth” sloganeering and puns about the “anti-social media” – and ‘Say Goodbye’ are obvious attempts at edgy social commentary.
The album’s standout moments, however, prove to be two of the more ballad-like songs: the nostalgic ‘Outlaws’, anchored by Mike Dirnt’s restrained, rolling bass and full of doo-wop harmonies tailor-made to be shouted along with your arms around your mates at festivals, and the defiant ‘Still Breathing’, a lighters-in-the-air ode to perseverance through hard times.
With his all-too-public battles with addiction now ostensibly behind him, fans will no doubt appreciate Armstrong’s candidness on the latter; as the band’s sights have been set firmly on the universal and political in recent years, it’s refreshing to hear him aim closer to home and open up about his infamously turbulent childhood (“I’m like a son that was raised without a father/I’m like a mother barely keeping it together”) in a way that still seems sincere all these years later.
‘Revolution Radio’ is unlikely to become your favourite Green Day album, or usher in a third imperial phase for the band in the way their landmark albums ‘Dookie’ and ‘American Idiot’ did, but fans will at least be relieved to hear that they’ve still got it in them to make music that has something to say.