American Idiot is the seventh full-length album from legendary punk-rockers Green Day. Their first album after a four-year hiatus, it propelled them back into superstardom after 1994’s Dookie first brought them to prominence. American Idiot has since become synonymous with the band; that is, you can’t have one without the other making it what it is today. But what is it about American Idiot that remains so important within the context of Green Day?
American Idiot is one of those rare albums where every single song has a purpose, a place, an unchallenged feeling of fervor as a representative of the album’s overall message. While the album is partly a political manifesto and partly fictional bildungsroman, songs on the album contribute to both facets while individually standing out as some of Green Day’s best work.
From the beginning riffs of the title track to the final outro of Whatsername, American Idiot never loses its charm or wit as it progresses through all thirteen tracks. The American Idiot track, in addition to Holiday, are more politically charged than anything Green Day has done before this, with lyrics such as “Television dreams of tomorrow/We’re not the ones who’re meant to follow” mirroring desensitization of the Bush-era in which the album was released.
Artistically speaking, American Idiot stands easily as Green Day’s magnum opus. Interwoven throughout the album is the story of the Jesus of Suburbia, a disenfranchised youth growing up in post-9/11 America. Frustrated with the broken state of his small town, he leaves to become his own man in the midst of political angst, told in the nine-minute epic Jesus of Suburbia. For more on the complete narrative embedded within American Idiot, check out IGN’s review of the album.
Stadium rock anthems like Boulevard of Broken Dreams and Wake Me Up When September Ends, meanwhile, contribute heavily to the album’s anger while simultaneously feeling like singles. That’s not to say they stand out from the rest of the album in that way – on the contrary, they feel perfectly placed within the album’s story.
Apart from the album’s singles, each and every song feels like it has a story to tell. There’s the joy of returning home in Homecoming, another nine-minute track. There’s the pain of moving on from love in Whatsername. There’s the longing for validation and meaning in Are We The Waiting. Every feeling of anger, pain, happiness, sorrow, it’s all found in this album. And each song articulates those feelings with perfect execution.
To say that American Idiot is still a classic album would be a vast understatement. American Idiot remains, to this day, one of the greatest albums of the 21st century for a number of reasons.
Having released roughly six weeks before the 2004 Presidential Elections, the album made its mark as a vehement anti-Bush dialogue. Several songs from the album, most notably Holiday, explored the band’s political anger toward the Iraq War with inflammatory lyrics such as “Coming down like an Armageddon flame/A shame/The ones who died without a name.” In response to criticism about their music, frontman Billie Joe Armstrong would often clarify that “This song is not anti-American; it’s anti-war.” A B-side from the album, Favorite Son, would be featured in Rock Against Bush, Vol. 2, a compilation album from other punk artists.
“We were in the studio and watching the journalists embedded with the troops, and it was the worst version of reality television,” Armstrong said regarding the album’s topicality. “Switch the channel, and it’s Nick [Lachey] and Jessica [Simpson]. Switch, and it’s Fear Factor. Switch, and people are having surgery to look like Brad Pitt. We’re surrounded by all of that bulls–t, and the characters Jesus of Suburbia and St. Jimmy are, as well. It’s a sign of the times.”
Commercially, American Idiot would become the band’s first No. 1 album in the United States, and would go on to sell over fifteen million copies worldwide. The album also marked a comeback for the band after the commercial disappointment of 2000’s Warning and their subsequent near-split. With this comeback came a reinvention of sorts – a reinvention of sound, of image, and even of the band’s interpretation of punk rock; the band’s other major success, 1994’s Dookie, can’t claim to have nearly the sophistication nor the commentary that American Idiot offers.
The band would go on to further explore their political monologue in their follow-up album, 2009’s 21st Century Breakdown. Though it didn’t see the massive success of American Idiot, lead singles Know Your Enemy and 21 Guns still see their share of radio play today.
Twelve years after its release, American Idiot is still held in high regard. The album has left behind a currently-touring Broadway musical of the same name, a Kerrang! tribute album, and a currently in—progress Hollywood film.
Green Day’s latest album, Revolution Radio, releases today alongside NOFX’s First Ditch Effort and Sum 41’s 13 Voices. Three singles from the album – Bang Bang, Revolution Radio, and Still Breathing – have been released.
Revolution Radio is the band’s first album in four years, serving as the follow-up to their UNO, DOS, and TRE album trilogy in 2012.
Next week’s review: Megadeth’s “Peace Sells…but Who’s Buying?”