You know, if I can start this review off with a small anecdote, I tend to get a bit of flack for calling myself a Green Day fan. Sure, some of the more recent output may not be up to par, namely the retread in 21st Century Breakdown and the misguided “trilogy” in 2012, but I still hold the work that this enigmatic pop-punk (at one time, anyway) band from the East Bay did in the 1990s and early 2000s in pretty high regard; I mean, I can consider American Idiot to be a top-five all-time album, without question. And for some, it may seem like that was the peak of the band, with everything coming afterwards suffering from the law of diminishing returns; it’s certainly a fair argument to make, but I like to believe in the benefit of the doubt with bands and artists. After all, Revolution Radio was a fairly strong return to form for the band, so maybe this new album of theirs can keep the positive momentum afloat. And it’s only 26 minutes long, shorter than some of the prog-metal suites in my music library, so this shouldn’t be that bad of a listen, right?
26 minutes later…
Okay, was this just a Foxboro Hot Tubs album in disguise?
Allow me to start this discussion with one lone question: what should we, the public, expect from Green Day in the year 2020? That’s a question I’m not entirely sure can be answered. However, while it’s clear that we will never get an album full of a youthful punk endorphin rush in 1994’s Dookie, or an album like the politically-charged rock opera opus of 2004’s American Idiot, it’s incredibly difficult to pinpoint what to expect from a band like Green Day, a band that’s coming up on 34 years of activity and a band that’s now thirteen albums deep with their catalogue. So what do you do when you’ve run the gamut across an illustrious career of highs, lows, and everything in between – do you go for a lasting moment of impact, or a collection to embrace in the current moment?
Across the 10 tracks of Father of All…, Green Day has taken a calculated turn into creating an album that blends elements of of power-pop and garage rock, churning out their shortest album to date – barely over 26 minutes in total – and an album that, while it has all of the intention of being a rock club jam, it unfortunately suffers from a case of “in one ear and out the other.” The first track and first single, the title track, sounds less like Green Day and more like their alternative rock radio contemporaries, be it Portugal. The Man or the Black Keys, and that is something that Green Day should never try to emulate. If it’s not Billie Joe’s strange falsetto vocal approach that turns people off, then the overabundance of hand-claps layered over Tre Cool’s drum beats certainly will; consider that a trend that absolutely needs to fade away, be it in rock or reggaeton or country – fingersnaps and hand claps need to GO AWAY.
So why try and create an album that’s formatted like a garage jam, in a day and age when the current news cycle continues to be ignited over and over and is demanding some kind of musical rebuttal? Quoting an interview with Apple Music, “I think we live in just a time of complete and total chaos,” says Billie Joe Armstrong, “or else we’ve always been, but now it’s turned up to [President Donald] Trump. So it’s just trying to reflect what’s going on. And it’s not really writing political songs, but just writing the [things] you see every day.” Granted, while the tracks on American Idiot were not entirely a rebuttal of the George W. Bush administration, the verbiage and layout of its title track and “Holiday” have enough to serve as a strong rebuttal that doesn’t come across as either self-serving or pretentious. It’s hard to feel the same way on some of the tracks from this album, as the music distracts from some of those messages. Going back to the title track, as it lives with the message of how “rock has lost its balls,” there’s a message regarding the very real concern of climate change with the lines of “choking up on the smoke from above” and “I’m possessed from the heat of the sun.” They feel more like throwaway lines in the grander scheme of the track, and the same can also be said on the track “Oh Yeah!” with the line “burning books in a bulletproof backpack,” a message regarding the unfortunate crisis of mass shootings in schools that gets undercut by the Joan Jett (and Gary Glitter) “Do You Wanna Touch Me” samples in its chorus.
Now, this may sound like I’m going on a big “this is bad because it’s different” tangent, but I’m really not. I’ve gone on record by saying that, in shorter terms, different does not equal bad. Only bad equals bad, and it’s all a matter of the approach taken by the band and the individual(s) behind the mixing board. For this album, Butch Walker took the helm, and if that name sounds familiar, that’s because he’s previously done work with Fall Out Boy on their past three albums, and has also worked with Weezer for their albums Pacific Daydream and Raditude. Don’t mind that sudden screaming, it always happens when Raditude gets mentioned. Producers tend to have much more of a say in a band’s sound than one would think; look no further than 21st Century Breakdown, helmed by Butch Vig, when compared to a bulk of the band’s work with Rob Cavallo. The production on Father of All… does stand out amidst the band’s catalogue, at the very least, but it stands out by being much less punk rock and more along the lines of garage rock, with some ‘60s rock blended in parts as well. When you have this approach, lyrics become less of a focal point in favor of the musical direction; “Meet Me on the Roof” is fueled by crunchy guitar riffs and a stripped down drum beat, “Stab You in the Heart” is centered around a rockabilly groove, and “I Was a Teenage Teenager” is driven by Mike Dirnt’s pulsing bass groove – a pulse that unfortunately grows repetitive a bit too quickly.
There are a few solid good points to be made on this album, though. “Sugar Youth” is approached like it could have been a cut B-side from American Idiot, right down to the vocal inflection in the chorus that is very reminiscent to the track “She’s a Rebel,” and while “Graffitia” has a similar approach, reminiscent of the better cuts from 21CB, it unfortunately wanders off with a fade-out that prevents it, and the album, from reaching any kind of closure. And for an album that’s only 26 minutes long, it feels strange to say that there wasn’t enough to it. Father of All… has all of the intention of being an album full of positive energy, but the end result just doesn’t have enough to it to warrant any kind of lasting impact, be it in the long-term or in the moment, even if you tend to hear “Fire, Ready, Aim” during hockey games on TV. It’s far from being the worst Green Day album, but it’s not an album that I can call one of their best either. It’s just an album that sits in the ethos for those who are so inclined to give it a listen. And at the end of the day, it’s only 26 minutes long. It’s a lot more accessible than the 2-hour trilogy of 2012, for sure.
“Stab You in the Heart”
“I Was a Teenage Teenager”
“Father of All…”
Verdict: Give it a listen and see how you feel. But proceed with caution, it’s not your typical Green Day album… unless “typical” means 2012-era Green Day.
Father of All… is available from Reprise Records/Warner Music on CD, vinyl, and digital download, and is available for streaming on all major platforms.