Sunday, February 04, 2024

Vanquishing Personal Demons, Techno-Fascists, and The Ills of the World in General? Well, Here’s Your Soundtrack...

In case you weren’t sure which band this was, you’ll be in no doubt after track one, ‘The American Dream Is Killing Me’, which is fully in the 90s grunge-punk vernacular that launched Green Day into loveable grumpy social and emotional philosopher rock behemoth status, in orbit round the same black hole sun as Sound Garden and Nirvana, but with the (vital, timely and energizing) on-the-nose political commentary of the Manic Street Preachers.

And there’s lots on Green Day’s latest album, ‘Saviors’, for the kids who stayed on past those early grunge years, through the sonic vicissitudes of burgeoning megastardom, and brought their mothers along for ‘American Idiot’ and ‘21st Century Breakdown’

The music became more melodic, relying on variations of the vi-IV-I-V pattern that launched a bazillion pop and rock songs precisely because it’s so irresistible. And if Bob Dylan can play whole gigs where he uses none of his own songs’ original chords (much to the frustration of optimistic Shazamsters in the audience scrambling to catch up) – precisely because his lyrics are the main attraction – then Green Day have certainly earned the right to spotlight their trenchant commentary and put musical innovation on the backburner for a track or two.

And it is only a track or two. Songs like ‘Dilemma’ and ‘Suzie Chapstick’ are noteworthy for their striking displays of Californian nostalgia, resonating with the wistful progressions of The Beach Boys or Grandaddy. This feels like new psychological territory for the band.

15 tracks and a run time of 46 minutes will please fans left thirsty by 2020’s ‘Father Of All Motherfuckers’, but the songs are still short, punchy excursions into social angst. Pink Floyd took a different approach to social criticism, launching off into cosmic tripped-out expanses of musical time, but this album feels more being mugged by song.

The album cover of ‘Saviors’ is a photograph of a kid holding a rock on the streets of Belfast during sectarian violence that is gradually but not very smoothly fading into memory. Why this symbol now? Yes. That is a question that people have asked.

“I was sober, now I’m drunk again” begins the chorus of ‘Dilemma’, one of the standout tracks of this record, and one of several to return to the theme of alcohol abuse. “I don’t wanna be a dead man walking”. OK, Billy Joe, we get it. Alcohol isn’t helping anyone put their broken life together, and it isn’t solving the world’s ills. Maybe that’s why successive generations are drinking less, even if George Clooney and Ryan Reynolds and Bryan Cranston and Dan Aykroyd have put their hard-earned Hollywood dollars into hard spirits for non-celebrities to aspire to be allowed to consume.

And this is the most prominent personal, chemical / survival backdrop against which the album does its main work of actively resisting the bullshit machine at large. “Coma City (Coma City)”, begins the chorus of – can you guess? That’s right! Well done, you! It’s “Coma City”, another standout track in a solid album by the way: “Mask on your face / Bankrupt the planet for assholes in space”.

Yes, Elon, they’re talking about you. And you, Bezos. And Branson. (Not Shatner, obviously. He actually had a genuine emotion when he finally went up for real. I hope he’s OK.) Gil Scott-Heron called it during the Apollo missions: “I can’t pay no doctor bill / but Whitey’s on the Moon.” 54 years later, we’ve still got unequal access to healthcare, and we’ve still got assholes in space. (Very much looking forward to gifs of Musk looking sad cut with multitudes righteously chanting that lyric at Green Day’s 2024 tour which will feature not just this album but also ‘Dookie’ and ‘American Idiot’ in their entireties.)

‘Coma City’ continues: “A gun shot, gun shot heads / Shooting in the distance / It’s on your face and hands / With no resistance”. The tragedy of this lyric is that it could refer to any city in the US, to any of the daily massacres in America’s gun-addled past or present, to life in Ukraine or Gaza, or to the modern condition in general. We’re all in the same industrialized post-truth state of numb surrender.

Worth thinking about.

John Weston


Image: ‘Savior’ Official Album Cover

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