i have a hard time speaking about media that was formative for a lot of other kids who grew up in the aughts. when Green Day’s American Idiot came out in 2004, i was a sheltered christian child, exposed to very little secular media and i probably was a part of the culture that critiques like American Idiot levels. so with that context, let’s check out the album.

the record kicks off with the title track, American Idiot. without getting too much into the broader picture theming discussion i wanted to talk about in the wrapup, this track reminds me enough of Idiocracy’s brand of social critique enough to feel mildly uncomfortable for the duration of the song. which is a shame because this song slaps. it’s catchy as hell, the performances are fantastic, and there ARE some good lines here (“all across the alienation” is p goddamn good), but holistically i think the band’s critique of American social issues are reductive and incomplete. this album is conceptually a rock opera – certain track lean harder or softer into that, and American Idiot is more stage setting that plot. Jesus of Suburbia kicks off the plot proper with the protagonist, Jesus of Suburbia (this record uses religious imagery in the way Evangelion does, which i find hilarious), who’s a burnout in the ways that Green Day describe in their early records – smoking, drinking, laying the couch watching tv, alienated from the culture around him and mad about it. the track describes his life in Anaheim and his slow decision to leave home and find some meaning elsewhere. the movements here are not bad individually and seem to fit together well enough in the context of the plot. Holiday is another track that is only loosely connected to the plot and more connected to the cultural critique – and honestly i think this one’s stronger than American Idiot by quite a bit. some of the writing here’s a little edgy to be edgy (“sieg heil to the president gasman” in particular feel a bit… out of place), but i think its notable that very few artists were speaking as openly and plainly about their anti-war sentiment (see, for example of why that might be, the Chicks). musically, this one’s another catchy, stirring track. really dig this song, plus the transition into Boulevard of Broken Dreams is p damn smooth. i know this track is also supposed to tie into the plot and i do understand how it’s the main character being further isolated in his new environment but this, like Holiday, feels more disconnected from the plot. i am sure this song has haters, i know the track’s p damn emo and melodramatic, and i know this song was a bit overplayed in it’s day, but i like it. i think it’s neat. alright with most of the big singles out of the way and our protagonist sufficiently beat the fuck down, let’s develop some plot. Are We the Waiting is nice and stirring – it’s a nice affective rally after Boulevard. nice. St. Jimmy is the reaction by the protagonist, to develop a more extreme version of his vices and reckless impulses to shield him from the pain of loneliness. this track has some excellent licks (the way he delivers the “taste for the suicidal”? hell yeah), and i like the stronger musical shift to represent the new presence. Give Me Novacaine is a bit of Jesus still desiring an escape. pairing what might normally be perceived as a ballad with this strong desire to numb yourself is actually p successful.She’s a Rebel introduces the other major character in this story… Whatsername. i cannot believe Armstrong named his female character Whatsername. i get that this is probably meant to reflect on Jesus and his opinions about women at the time he meets her but like… still. so yeah she just manic protest dream girls her way into the story and Jesus completely swoons. this track feels a lot like St. Jimmy – probably reflecting similar beliefs, and transitioning out of a low point in the same way. fun track, generally. Extradordinary Girl and Letterbomb continue the plot and the song pair structure. Extraordinary Girl is a mellower track, describing the tragic end of the fast relationship between Whatsername and the parts of Jesus of Suburbia that are strongest in St. Jimmy, coming apart when his inner sense is revealed. Letterbomb is the more upbeat of the pair – the farewell from Whatsername’s perspective. based on what i’m seeing, Wake Me Up When September Ends is not intended to be a part of the album’s narrative, but i dunno. it feels as connected or disconnected as Holiday does, and it has a similar function to Boulevard of Broken Dreams imo. its a very nice and touching track. i understand how it got as popular as it did. Homecoming is the raucous finale to the story – St. Jimmy is no more, an old friend gets back in touch, Jesus returns home and settles down but doesnt find any fulfillment. Whatsername is the outro of the record – Jesus seems to have found something of a place in life but still feels the loss of his relationship with Whatsername. it looks like her not having a name is due in part to him not remembering it at this point in the plot. a pleasant enough way to button up the record.

faves – Holiday, Boulevard of Broken Dreams, When September Ends
dislikes –

musically, i enjoyed this record a lot. its a very loud, energetic, catchy, showing kind of punk rock, almost a stadium punk, if you will. absolutely fits the desire to create a narrative out of the record. the performances are decent to excellent here, not that i would expect much else from the band at this stage. i can see why cuts from this broke free from the narrative and existed on their own – Holiday is fantastic, Boulevard and Wake Me Up are both very good songs, and even with my issues below about American Idiot it’s a catchy track and it’s well written.

but, here’s my problem. some of my dissatisfaction with this record comes from baggage i’m bringing to it, which is two-fold. first – i think i was expecting a lot from it. i watched a discussion of Bush-era political protest music about a year before listening to the record, and it highlighted specifically the title track and Holiday as some of the only really commercially successful protest music of the era, and i think i just read into that and expected more of the record to be in line with those tracks. having spent time with the band’s work before this though, im not sure i shouldve been surprised. Armstrong has been writing about Gen X alienation through burnout and substance abuse and failed romance for a long time – it makes sense that when the band goes to write commentary on the state of the world those are the lenses they’d view things through. i just wasnt expect as much of the runtime and emotional payoff to be connected to a thread about romance, failed as it was. the album essentially says “America elected Bush so the state of the country right now is a lot of its people are Idiots (which is in like with, for example, the sentiments in Warning’s Minority), War Is Bad, now here’s a burnout and a story about failed potental”. it makes sense to critique the culture through a character portrait, i just dont find it particularly effective.

and i mentioned it before, but there’s a particularly liberal strain of critique that makes broad assumptions of the targets of its criticism and has was are charitably unintended deeper readings. i name dropped Idiocracy before, and without getting deeply into that, the movie has some assumptions built into its worldbuilding that have whiffs of eugencist thinking. this doesn’t have that kind of ramifications, for sure. i dont want to spend a ton of time here writing paragraphs about the supposed hidden evils of this record (because like, there aren’t), i just find the criticism shallow and counterproductive to the actual kind of work that would be needed to actually effect the culture, broadly. but again, i expect part of that is on me for expecting that kind of approach here.

on the whole, this was, at least, an interesting listen. it was such a huge presence that i’m glad i spent time with it, even if it didnt end up connecting with me.

American Idiot – 4/10

next time we’ll be checking out their 2009 release, 21st Century Breakdown.

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