By late 2012, when Green Day released ‘¡Uno!’, ‘¡Dos!’ and ‘¡Tré!’ in quick succession, the wheels were coming off. They were exhausted – Billie Joe Armstrong, so convinced that a break from the relentless album-tour-album cycle would cause them to lose momentum, insisted the trio rehearse up to six times a week. They were overwhelmed – every release since 2004’s ‘American Idiot’ had become bigger and more self-important. And they were without a leader – Armstrong’s drink-and-pills diet led to a very public onstage meltdown and subsequent stint in rehab.
Four years later, after the longest break in their career, they’re back. And a lot’s changed. Now sober, the singer, guitarist, and songwriter has relaxed a bit. Admitting to Q magazine the “directionless” trilogy was “prolific for the sake of it”, he’s called ‘Revolution Radio’ “not so much a makeover as a make under”. A back-to-basics album, that’s been compared to U2’s ‘All That You Can’t Leave Behind’, it’s a concerted effort to reclaim their signature sound – and goofiness. They decided, Armstrong told Rolling Stone: “Let’s be Green Day. Green Day is awesome!”
And on ‘Revolution Radio’ they really are. Recorded in secret at Armstrong’s own studio with no additional musicians and the trio self-producing, their 12th studio album is as lit up as the radio on its cover. Yes, there’s a familiar theme that runs through some of the lyrics – the problems facing the United States – but this is no concept record, just 12 songs that pack a punch.
The aggressive punk thrasher ‘Bang Bang’ (dealing with the spate of mass shootings), a title track relentless enough to match lyrics like “Scream with your hands up in the sky/ Like you want to testify”, fun ‘Dookie’ throwback ‘Bouncing Off The Wall’ (complete with those familiar “hey” chants), those neanderthal beats of ‘Too Dumb To Die’, and fizzy ‘Youngblood’ don’t sound like the work of men in their 40s, 30 years into their career.
Even the more dynamic tracks – like ‘Somewhere Now’, with its acoustic guitar intro; the slow-burning ‘Still Breathing’; the dark, foreboding ‘Troubled Times’; the rose-tinted nostalgia of ‘Outlaws’ – have choruses explosive enough to demolish the stadiums they’ll no doubt be filling.
But old habits die hard: the album ends with a three-part epic and the prerequisite ballad. Yet the expansive ‘Forever Now’ sounds immediate rather than self-indulgent, while ‘Ordinary World’ swaps the lavish orchestrations that overwhelmed the quieter moments of ‘21st Century Breakdown’ with little more than an acoustic guitar and Armstrong’s vocal. Like the rest of ‘Revolution Radio’, it’s raw but real.