Green Day was never supposed to be one of the biggest bands in the world. The trio’s apathetic songs about suburban life — smoking weed, boredom, self-loathing — backed by simple chord progressions that any middling guitar player could have created, were never good enough to see the outside of a garage.
But, the band’s songs were unbelievably infectious and, if the ’90s proved anything, it’s that there was a market in talentless rockers playing for apathetic, pot-smoking suburban teens. So, in hindsight, it’s really no surprise that three punk-loving losers from California became the biggest mid-’90s band, selling 15 million copies of their third album, Dookie.
There’s no way Green Day should still be one of the biggest bands in the world, though, and, if you said in 1994 that not only would they be selling out arenas in 2009, but that they’d be doing it singing deadly serious, politically charged songs about war and urban decay, you’d be laughed right out of the room.
The band should have broken up in 2000, before they released Warning, a pop record that, thanks to the popularity of Good Riddance (Time of Your Life), tapped into the band’s acoustic side. By that time the group was selling a couple of million albums per disc — not bad, but no where near Dookie’s figures — and Britney Spears was about to peak.
It would have been the perfect time for Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt and Tré Cool, to throw in the towel. Their musical legacy wouldn’t have loomed as large as Nirvana’s, but plenty of people had some laughs, and a few sore throats, thanks to the trio’s lyrics and incredibly catchy pop-punk melodies.
But, then something happened. America went to war and millions of U.S. citizens, including Green Day, began wondering how their country lost its way.
The band was inspired. So much so that its members wrote an ambitious Who-like rock opera, American Idiot, about the evils of war, rednecks and former U.S. president George W. Bush’s politics. Shockingly, it sold 12 million records worldwide and put Green Day in the same class of socially conscious musicians like The Clash and Bruce Springsteen — a fact that would have made most people cringe just a decade before.
Since then, people’s respect for these punks hasn’t wavered. If anything, Green Day is exceeding expectations once again. The latest disc, 21st Century Breakdown, is another epic effort, this time with 18 songs split into three acts. The threesome is still full of thought-provoking messages; Topics include rioting in Oakland, media saturation, religion, alienation and the list goes on. The disc, which is steeped in rich, layered punk sounds, is even more direct and angry than American Idiot.
By now, it’s no surprise that Green Day is one of the biggest bands in the world. In fact, it really never should have been. While the group has clearly reinvented itself, ultimately the band members are not doing anything they haven’t done before. Dookie tapped into what teenagers in the ’90s were feeling, while 21st Century Breakdown tackles what those same people, now in their 20s and 30s, feel now. Who knows what the future has in store for Green Day, but one thing’s for sure, don’t be shocked if they’re still topping charts in another 10 years.
• Green Day’s new album, 21st Century Breakdown, is available this Friday.
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