This week marked my 21st birthday and increased degradation to my liver. Besides the obvious celebrations one makes on this birthday, I took a moment to look back on past birthdays. I remembered the first album I ever had which I received on my 12th birthday, nine years ago, Green Day’s American Idiot.
The album recently celebrated its ten-year anniversary. American Idiot was an international mega-hit, selling 15 million copies worldwide and five platinum singles. The album went on to become a Broadway musical.
The album was an event. It came out at the center of the Bush presidency, and it brims with political content and anger against the 43rd Commander in Chief. The lyrical content rages against the War on Terror, marriage inequality, and what comedian Kyle Kinane calls “the creeping oppression of the suburbs.”
The music is incredibly aggressive with masterful shredding by guitarist Billy Joe Armstrong and incredible drumming from Tre Cool. It comes on like a barrage of brat punk sound.
However, besides all of that, American Idiot is a true album. From start to finish, the listener is given a story of the Jesus of Suburbia and St. Jimmy. The album never strays from a central theme of rage in the post-9/11 United States. Every established artist releases an album, but most come out as a collection of songs rather than a full idea from start to finish.
Major full albums since Idiot include Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.a.a.d cityand Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs. Yet, none of them have sold even close to as well as Green Day’s tour de force because this album came at the end of the physical CD’s prominence.
Artists that now sell that well include Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, and Lil Wayne, but the content they provide will never be nearly as smart or as coherent as American Idiot. This was an album that we bought into, and in return, it actually gave listeners something to think about.
Well, how does it stack up now for me against the past ten years? I will listen to Green Day every few months or so. Their early work is great, and they released a follow-up album in 2009, 21st Century Breakdown, which is almost a carbon copy of Idiot. Following Breakdown, they released their Uno! Dos! Tre! trilogy, which went largely ignored. It is safe to say that Idiot is the height of Green Day’s career. They are still a great live band with a solid discography behind them, but it is unlikely that they will ever reach the same levels of critical and commercial success.
American Idiotstill holds up as a testament to this time in U.S. History. The suburbs still exist as the doldrums of American society. The lyrics about surveillance are truer now than in 2004. “Nobody Likes You,” a segment within “Homecoming,” makes more sense in the context of social media and the idea of “FOMO.”
Green Day was a very interesting introduction to music for me. There were years where I searched for a sound that came across as intensely as Idiot, yet nothing that hard came across as intelligently. I went through a phase of punk music for a year or two. I got into the Sex Pistols and The Clash, major influences for Green Day.
Eventually, I moved away from the intensity of Green Day. The intensity I find now usually comes through rap music with a much lower bar of lyrical content. My current punk favorite is Wavves. Yet, with all my love of very lowbrow rap music, I still appreciate a real album more than anything else.
My favorite album of last year was Vampire Weekend’sModern Vampires of The City, an album with a central theme about the existence of god. My current frontrunner for this year is Mac Demarco’s Salad Days, where the running theme is fighting against the pull of growing up. What Idiot gave me was a love for the album, a full piece of music you can spend an hour listening to and connecting with. It’s something we shouldn’t lose in a time where singles and radio hits run the industry.