Classic stadium punk outfit return with no-nonsense but messy record
Release date: 07/02/20
Label: Reprise Records
Green Day is doomed to live in the shadow of their previous work. It would be remiss not to mention the culturally seminal American Idiot — regardless of one’s opinions on the album, its long-lasting effect on rock music cannot be understated; the group will always be compared to what’s come before. With this history in mind, the approach of Father Of All… can feel tired. With Billie and co pushing fifty, a “no cares given,” 26-minute dance-rock album does not quite resonate as a maturation of the band’s sound; Dookie or 21st Century Breakdown feel like better-realised iterations of the band’s signature arena-sized pop-punk. Indeed, this particular release’s roll-out ran the line of self-parody, with song titles like ‘I Was A Teenage Teenager’ and ‘Junkies On A High’ encouraging mental groans as I scrolled through the track-list.
Miraculously, though, and despite some phoned-in material, the boys pull off a successful gauntlet of light, pop-rock tunes. The songwriting is mostly solid across the board, and it sounds, at points, like the trio is actually having fun, and as though they’re simply shooting the breeze with a handful of songs that are not trying to be more than they really are. It is a far-cry from their superior albums, for sure, but there is, surprisingly, some messing with new ideas, as well as some likeable spots of production and melody, and an immediately well-conveyed conviction for moving away from the social-political reputation held by the band. Green Day’s relevance and staying power within the music scene is cemented at this point; what else have they got to prove?
The title track and lead single is a roarer, with signature Green Day guitar stabs accentuating a not-so-signature whiny, falsetto vocal from Billie; upon first listen, and even afterwards, it is quite jarring, but aided greatly by thoroughly good chorus instrumentation and lead melody. The mixing of the track is messy — something rippled throughout the record — with the drum sound boasting boxy snares and compressed-sounding hi-hats, and the vocals sounding majorly washed out, at risk of being forgotten amidst chaotic instrumentation. Within the context of the record, though, this works for me: I like the stocky, sound-boost style of some of the tracks’ assemblance. Indeed, the sonically wooden drums on ‘Oh Yeah!’ and generally dense mix on ‘I Was A Teenage Teeanger’ contribute as well to the record’s thick, condensed sound, something that helps the approach of no-nonsense, short-burst pop-rock by funnelling any arena bombasticism into a more quaint, in-and-out, and convincingly grubby package. I also love Billie’s growly vocal delivery on a few of these cuts (particularly the title track), with the guttural strain helping to sell the maladroit, thickset sound.
Despite being mostly fine cuts, some of the songs here – ‘Fire, Ready, Aim,’ ‘Meet Me on the Roof’ – really do sound like they should be heard over car commercials, something which, when pointed out, is searingly obvious; these are far from high-rankers and can be uninspiring in context of modern rock, with “whoa whoa” refrains and clap/double-clap accentuations that feel washed-out and boring. As well as this, the lyrics on certain tracks can be insufferable, Billie chorusing “I was a teenage teenager, I am an alien visitor / My life’s a mess and school is just for suckers” and sounding full-on midlife-crisis without spinning it playfully enough to convincingly pastiche the punk-cringe that’s being shot for. The mid-album track ‘Stab You In the Heart’ is the absolute high-point of the record, though, the band combining a violence-toying lyrical hook with a pulpy, playful, Elvis-sounding instrumental that hits a genuinely fresh and captivating point of absurdity — I wish more of the album was as ridiculous and authentically fun as this. ‘Sugar Youth’ carries this through; a peppy and potentially knock-off lyrical concept is ameliorated by its spot in the track-list, with the following ‘Junkies On A High’ wielding a decent, blown-up chorus and likeable-enough verse melodies, despite some irritating piano keys and overly clinical production. The final cut kneecaps any momentum carried to the end of the album, however, with closer ‘Graffitia’ being an especially demeaning cut that lampoons the lyrical ideas you would find on American Idiot (it sounds deliberate) in a way that comes off cheap and unconvincing. The record ends clumsily.
Father Of All… at least sounds like the band are trying something a little bit new. While it happens to be that this ‘new’ is relatively safe, possibly too short, and carried out with far less grace than it could be, it actually isn’t all that bad, even if, for some, a regression. The record’s messiness comes off as intentional and, in places, charming (though not so much in others), with compelling spots of production bolstering high-points of carefree-sounding songwriting and performance. It’s obviously unclear if this is the direction in which the band will continue to move, but, in general, I think there is some merit in what the group accomplish here. All things considered: not too bad.
Father Of All… is out now via Reprise Records.