American Idiot – Gone But Not Forgotten

2 Aug

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“Can you hear the sound of hysteria? The subliminal mind fuck America.”

American Idiot dates very badly. It screams of 2003, when Americans were beginning to question the War on Terror and the anti-Iraq movement was in full swing. Its lyrics are an anti-Bush hymn. However it wasn’t until recently that I realised it was 10 years since it actually came out. This meant it was an entire decade since I first bought (or more accurately borrowed from a friend and didn’t give back) my first CD. Obviously, I had to go back and see how it stood up. The surprising answer is very well.

At its heart, it was a concept album exploring the journey of a character called Jesus of Suburbia, a messiah for the anti-establishment movement. He experiences the ups and downs of the American Dream before returning home. It has such a clear narrative that it was even turned into a successful musical of the same name.

It was surprisingly lyrically complex and ambitious. For a stoner punk-rock group who often wrote about masturbation, teen culture and drug use, a political epic was unheard of. By all accounts, the political themes arose by accident. The band were stringing short, 30-second songs together and happened to like the result. They did it again and these became the epic 7-minute songs Jesus of Suburbia and Homecoming that bookend the album’s narrative, a far cry from their usual short, catchy garage-pop songs. Filling in the blanks, the band created a complex story that explored the themes of rage versus love; blind, destruction-filled rebellion or commitment to your beliefs and ethics.

The title song American Idiot also became a surprise hit, and why not? Besides its angry attack on the state of the country in 2003, it’s a rollicking good rock song. Unlike their follow-up album, which packed in as many meaningless buzzwords as possible, the lyrics were a sharp criticism of the air of paranoia and propaganda that had followed 9/11. I didn’t understand all of the lyrics when I first heard it but it still struck a chord with me. It’s a political ‘fuck you’ the Sex Pistols would have been proud of.

And then there’s that song, which every emo/punk of a certain age knows – Wake Me Up When September Ends. Writing about a time shortly after his father’s death, Armstrong captures the desire to disconnect yourself from the world. It was an emotional ballad that was deeply personal and reminded the world the band had a softer side.

Although the band’s recent hattrick of albums Uno, Dos and Tre flopped, this politically charged album will stand the test of time. With the ambivalence the current NSA revelations are receiving, it’s good to look back to a time when Green Day brought political rebellion into the mainstream, They made it cool to care and that’s no easy these days.

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One Response to “American Idiot – Gone But Not Forgotten”

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  1. jamiewaller2 - August 7, 2013

    […] Originally published on Music Court. […]

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