Does it make you feel old knowing that ten years ago one the most iconic rock albums of the 21st century was released? I’m talking about an album that completely changed the landscape of rock music and especially changed the landscape of punk rock. Can anybody guess which album I’m talking about? Yes? Well if you guessed Green Day’s American Idiot then you are correct.
It is actually scary to think that American Idiot is ten years old. I was only eight years old when the album was released; well I was actually seven as I’m one of those lucky people whose birthdays are in November. Nevertheless, I still remember my brother coming home one day with a CD. I was oblivious to it because at that age I wasn’t really interested in music and was rather more engrossed the latest escapades of Harry Potter and his friends and the best strategy in which to sack the city of Rome in Age of Empires. He threw the CD onto the home stereo system and began to blast what still to this day is one of my favourite punk rock records. The opening riffs of “American Idiot” found their ways it into every nook and cranny of our house, and of my heart but at the time I did not know at the time how intrinsic this album would be to my musical growth.
I’m now seventeen and am turning eighteen -which is when you become an adult in South Africa- in less than two months. I have not sat down and listened to America Idiot in full, and on repeat, for a very long time. I feel that the thirteen year old version of me would be very mad at me right now, seeing as the album was the anthem of my first year of high school – six years after the release of the album. Sitting here and listening to American Idiot while writing this review brings back waves of nostalgia. The album got me through primary school, the first few years of high school and everything in-between. It is has seen my good days, my bad days, my days were I hated the world and the days were I felt worthless. I was asked recently to compile a list of the ten most influential albums in my life, and like any music fan I was hard-pressed to compile this list but the first album that came to mind that I was certain about was American Idiot.
Let’s face it; every single teenager growing up in the 21st century, with an interest in alternative music, was exposed to this album in one form or another. Whether it was in some compilation album that had “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” stuck in between other brilliant rock anthems, or on some anti-Bush compilation where “Holiday” may have been found nestled alongside the unbridled anger of punk youths. Hell, you may have even been exposed to the album through Kerrang’s mediocre cover album. Sorry Kerrang but you don’t let 5 Seconds of Summer, Falling Reverse and Escape The Fate cover parts of the greatest punk rock opera the world is ever going to hear – and probably the only one we’ll ever hear. American Idiot was the anthem to our teenage angst and rightfully so considering that the album rather covers problems that most teenagers face: love, loss, pain, suffering, drugs but maybe not the war part – no wait, even teenagers we affected by the complete fuckery in the Middle East. Considering the current state of affairs, it is a good time for Green Day to write another punk rock opera.
American Idiot shaped modern rock music. I know there are a lot of people who like to rip off Green Day and insult them for being a mainstream punk band, but it is virtually impossible to find any faults with America Idiot. Even if you did, you’d be mocking the very music that you currently listening to seeing as there is a very good chance that Green Day had an influence on that music. From the initial explosion of guitar and the angry whine of Billie Joe Armstrong’s voice on “American Idiot” you just knew that you had just started listening to something that was jammed full of emotion and meaning. You’re led into the three piece rock ballad of “Jesus of Suburbia” which is in every bit a fists in the air and sing-along song as it the true beginning of the storyline behind the album. I mean who didn’t chant “I don’t care if you don’t / I don’t care if you don’t/ I don’t care if you don’t care”? ‘Holiday” bursts open with complete frenzy and sustains it till the very end of a very angry anti-Bush rant. We need more songs like these and less songs about anacondas and getting shit-faced. “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”, if you did not sing this at the top of your lungs and play the air version of every instrument preset on this song then I’d probably say you have not lived. It is often ripped on for being the most popular Green Day, but hey, if a song is good then it is good and this particular song is bloody brilliant. Those guitar riffs, those drums and do I have to say anything about Armstrong’s vocals?
“Are We The Waiting” was that typical moving song thrown into the middle of the album to provide a break from all the excitement, but I don’t think Green Day realised at the time that they had created one of the most perfect songs for a crowd to sing-along to. That seamless transition into “St Jimmy” is what always blows my mind. Even when stuck into an old CD player the changeover is instant and you’re immediately hitting with those rapid snarls of guitars and once again Armstrong’s angry snarling whine comes into play as you’re introduced to the antagonist of the entire record: the infamous St. Jimmy. “Give Me Novocaine” was a dark hint to Armstrong’s battle with substance abuse, but it made for a beautiful ballad that was then rudely interrupted by the vivacious “She’s A Rebel”. There is something about the opening guitar riffs of “Letterbomb” that make me think of nearly every single generic pop punk song that has been made to date and then also some truly brilliant punk songs. Then again we cannot forget about the daring socio-political commentary that the song made regarding life. “Wake Me Up When September Ends” is a song that brings a tear to my eye each time I listen to it. It is impossible to deny the beauty of this song and especially when you know that it is Armstrong coming to terms with his father’s death, who died when Armstrong was young. The constant transition from an acoustic bridge to the heart-pounding guitar riffs sort-of creates the atmosphere of both anger and heartbreak while the lyrics demand to be sung-along to.
What else could possibly be said about American Idiot? It is an album that influenced a generation of rock music. It was so good that people demanded that it should be turned into a musical and be taken to Broadway – where it performed pretty well. There are also rumours of it being turned into a film. It is a shame to think that soon there will be a generation growing up that may never know about this album – mainly because it will be down to us as their elders to introduce them to the wonders of punk rock in the 21st century. I’m never going to forget the first time I heard the album, despite being too young to understand what it was about and I will forever be grateful for its existence. Except perhaps for the bit where 5 Seconds of Summer cites the album as being one of their main influence – then why the hell aren’t you a punk band? Long live St. Jimmy.
Punk rock | Reprise Records