Written by Silas Valentino
Revolution Radio arrives just in time as idiots run rampant in America. The 12th album from this little California power punk trio called Green Day thrusts politics onto the kitchen table and demands intervention with finger-pointing lyricism executed by choppy power chords. Following a decade of back-to-back rock operas and fast-break triple-album releases, Green Day prepare Revolution Radio with a conventional format. No overarching storylines or frills, just 12 songs steaming with fury.
Or as Billie Joe Armstrong succinctly sings in the album opener “Somewhere New”: “I put the ‘riot’ in patriot!”
This bombastic introduction into Revolution Radio quickly defines characteristic that will be repeated throughout the LP’s 45 minutes. “Somewhere New” begins with a Who-esque acoustic guitar plucking that’s so reminiscent of “Behind Blue Eyes” it makes you wonder if Armstrong actually shares this shade of pigment. (He doesn’t; he has green eyes.) Green Day have never shied from revealing their influences from The Clash to The Kinks to The Replacements and now it’s ever-so clear just how prevalent The Who’s three-chord power structures are to The Green Day’s sound.
Speaking of sound, the audio clarity of Revolution Radio is so crystal and concise it could transform shabby computer speakers into Bose-worthy stereos. As Armstrong sings the final line in the first verse of “Somewhere Now” the sonic quality of the song quickly shifts and is enhanced, as if the standard “Wall of Sound” technique was reimagined as a wool blanket of aural comfort. The band recorded the album in their Oakland studio OTIS and the proof of expertise is in the sound.
The accusations begin on the following track, lead single “Bang Bang.” Detailing our culture of mass shootings through the viewpoint of a murdering perpetrator, Armstrong enlists empathy as his ammunition for discussing such a problematic issue. “Shoot me up to entertain/I am a semi-automatic lonely boy,” he sings, all in a manner that coerces the listener to almost momentarily pity the monster. Armstrong exhibits true grit by giving the narrative of this song to a demonized and overlooked member of our society. Although it’s a truly disturbing gander, you must appreciate the songwriter for this controversial and fleeting perspective.
Next in line is the title track “Revolution Radio” which was reportedly inspired when Armstrong found himself marching in a Black Lives Matter protest in New York City. Nothing like the pulsating momentum of contemporary social activism to outline your melodies. He poses rhetorical questions (“Do you wanna live out loud?”) and condemns the modern lifestyle (“The dawn of the new airwaves for the anti-social media”) but accomplishes this without airing on the side of preachy. Plus, the chorus is effortlessly catchy.
The LP’s hidden gem nestled between the political outcry is the dumb-yet-fun “Youngblood” that boldly rhymes “supernova” with “cherry cola” all while maintaining a straight face. While the tune won’t garner any strong lyrical acclaim (though the imagery in the line “I wanna hold you like a gun” is surprisingly sleek) it’s a chipper love letter to Armstrong’s wife that even manages to get a show-stopping nod to the city of Oakland. Propped against an album of furious political passion, “Youngblood”’s momentary detour into silliness and glee is a pleasant sidestep.
Standing tall as the album’s most ambitious track is the near seven-minute epic “Forever Now” that rips a game-winning technique originally used by John Lennon in “Happiness is a Warm Gun” (whereas the songwriter tapes together multiple extracts of uncooked verses and song ideas to create mosaic music). There are three parts to “Forever Now” (including a quick callback to “Somewhere Now”) but minced melodies make up the mortar to the structural bricks. One brief moment even recalls the bar chord blues of Everclear’s 1997 hit “Father of Mine.” Despite the fact that Revolution Radio is not a rock opera album, “Forever Now” captures the concept in a single song.
Guarded by the anonymity of their own recording studio and through the clout of being one of today’s most successful rock bands, Green Day was able to record Revolution Radio in secrecy. This freed up their creative process and alleviated much of the pressure. That being said, surrounded in a cone of comfort, the trio opted for an abrasive record that challenges before rewarding you with tasty pop hooks only to then demand your attention, not just to the music, but to the world that influenced it.
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