This is the first in a five part series dedicated to the top five rock artists of the decade, 2000-2009. The criteria used to determine this list were: (1) Quality of Music, (2) Quantity of Released Material, (3) Diversity of Media, and (4) Roles of Artists/Band Members. Look for new posts coming soon!
By Chris Moore:
The fifth entry on this list, Green Day is a strong candidate for top band of the decade, if only for their impressive return to the forefront of popular punk/rock music over the past ten years. Even in their heyday, Green Day did not acheive the recognition that they have in the past six years.
Who could have predicted that a trio of ostensible knuckleheads like Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt, and Tre Cool would be headlining the concept album revival in the mid-2000’s, complete with a rock opera/musical adaptation set to the tunes of American Idiot?
[Is that the sound of crickets?]
Without argument, Green Day was one of the most successful bands of the nineties rock revival, carving out their reputation by way of the punk rock genre. It was a bit of an exaggeration to have titled their best-of disc International Superhits!, but their music did appear on many different charts in many different nations over their first decade as a band.
And, for better or for worse, if you turned on a radio in the nineties and listened long enough, you couldn’t avoid hearing songs like “When I Come Around” or especially “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life).” The latter was the song that ER character Jeanie Boulet chose to sing at the funeral of a friend.
When one of the most popular dramas of the decade chooses your song at the peak of their own popularity, that’s saying something…
WARNING AND A LOW POINT
Which brings us to THIS decade. I would be hard-pressed to find another group from the nineties in their genre that have had such staying power as Green Day. Bad Religion? Not so much. Chumbawamba? A one hit wonder. The Offspring and Rancid? Well, they’re still around, but they certainly haven’t acheived the mainstream success that Green Day has.
That is, if you discount Warning, their first studio album of the decade.
Any way you look at it, Warning is a low point in their career, failing to ascend the charts, make sales, and receive positive reviews in the characteristic manner that their previous albums had. Two years after Warning, things weren’t looking any better with them supposedly “co-headlining” a concert tour with Blink 182, but actually opening each night.
This all amounted to a great deal of evidence that Green Day had peaked and this was their descent into obscurity.
A SETBACK BECOMES A COMEBACK
As they returned to the studio to work on their next album, Cigarettes & Valentines, things weren’t looking any brighter. Near the end of their sessions (according to Armstrong), the master tapes were stolen. There weren’t even rough mixes remaining.
So, what does this band decide to do in a moment of crisis?
Start from scratch.
That’s right: Green Day decided to start from scratch. Although a song or two from the aforementioned doomed album would make its way into live sets, the band started over, taking this as an opportunity to approach their new album from a different angle. So, they broke out their guitars and began writing, working together in new and better ways than they had before.
The result? Only their most critically acclaimed, highest-selling album to date, American Idiot.
AMERICAN IDIOT & 21ST CENTURY BREAKDOWN: A CONCEPT ALBUM REVIVAL
Green Day’s mentality following the loss of their master tapes brings to mind Conan O’Brien’s final lines from his closing statement last month on The Tonight Show: “Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.”
I’ll just come out and say it: I’ve never been a big fan of American Idiot. I think I’ve missed something in the translation of the lyrics, and I’ve been told that the at-times-boneheaded lyrics that I am turned off by are, in fact, purposefully constructed in order to make a statement about the average American. Perhaps. What makes me believe this is true, and what makes me nod my head in American Idiot‘s direction even if it won’t appear on my iPod any time soon, is that the album is so carefully constructed. One flip through the CD booklet will reveal an overarching concept, artwork, and other notes that were cleverly compiled and arranged to create a whole that is stronger than the parts. I won’t go comparing it to the first seven records of the Moody Blues — the industry standard for excellent concept albums — but I will say I have great respect for the band’s intentions.
Their follow-up album? 21st Century Breakdown is an even more expansive concept album that tackles the question: What will we do when our national slogan can no longer be “Change We Can Believe In,” and must instead be (hopefully) “Change That Has Already Taken Place and A Society That We Are Happy With”? This is an interesting question indeed, particularly for those of my generation who defined their coming of age by being in opposition to all that George W. Bush’s presidency represented. As we “graduate” into a different, potentially better society in 2012, what will we do to avoid the pitfalls of the previous presidency and its perspectives?
A mere year into Barack Obama’s term in office, we have already begun tackling the question: How long is too long to wait for that change we believed in? Some are patient, some are less so, but 21st Century Breakdown makes an interesting statement on these essential questions, particularly on an emotional/intuitive level.
SIDE PROJECTS AND ADAPTATIONS
Amidst all this standard studio album work, Green Day has also been able to thrive in a number of different ventures outside of traditional band output. They have released a Billboard Top Ten live album, a platinum-status greatest hits compilation, a B-sides/rarities collection that broke the Billboard Top Thirty, and worked their way into the retro market by preparing a Green Day vinyl box set.
Outside of the band, Armstrong, Dirnt, and Cool have formed such side projects as The Network and the Foxboro Hot Tubs, both successful to different degrees and certainly indicative of a band hungry to record, produce, and play new music in a prolific manner.
Then there is the rock opera/musical based on the story told through American Idiot, certainly a unique addition to any band’s list of tributes.
And so, at decade’s end, Green Day has reasserted themselves in what can only be described as an impressive manner. It took me until 21st Century Breakdown to really appreciate their work, and I can only hope that the coming decade will be every bit as successful in terms of not only popularity but also quality!