Green Day: Still Full of ‘Piss and Vinegar’ on New Album ‘Father of All … ‘ — They Just Want You to Dance a Little Bit, Too (Review)

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Rock Cellar Magazine

On “The Grouch,” the third track on 1997’s Nimrod, Green Day singer/guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong laments, “I was a young boy that had big plans/Now I’m just another shitty old man/I don’t have fun and I hate everything/The world owes me, so fuck you.”

That kind of snarling sentiment from the then-25-year-old is relevant when considering the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band‘s new album, Father of All Motherfuckers, which is released this week. Now 47, Armstrong and his cohorts are elder statesmen … but they’re still fired up. This is a record all about energy and fun, delivered in a way that almost feels as “punk” as the message sent in more explicit terms back in ’97.

This album isn’t a defiant, middle-finger-to-the-establishment like 2004’s politically charged American Idiot was, save for the album’s artwork (a visual reference to American Idiot, for some reason) and title.

The band has tried that approach before, and even in today’s hyper-polarized climate, they veered away from making A Big, Important Rock Record With A Message in favor of crafting 10 songs and 26 minutes of (mostly) hyper-charged garage rock/punk.

It’s over nearly as quickly as it begins, making this the shortest Green Day album since the band’s 1990 debut 39/Smooth, which is bests by nearly five minutes. Produced by Butch Walker, Father of All Motherfuckers is obviously the result of a conscious effort by Armstrong, drummer Tre Cool and bassist Mike Dirnt to create something that exists in another realm entirely from their recent records, whether 2016’s Revolution Radio or 2012’s trio of albums, while also blurring the line of demarcation between Armstrong’s main gig and his side projects, such as The Longshot.

And that’s admirable. There was an era in which Green Day was An Important Band (the American Idiot era), but what’s the fun in doing that over again? Sure, they could have taken obvious jabs at the folks occupying the White House right now, or the whole “fake news” concept, and so on … but wouldn’t that be what we’d EXPECT from Green Day in 2020, and wouldn’t that elicit eye rolls and an “Oh, that again?” from the masses?

Instead, we get this firecracker of a record, a pastiche of some of the band’s inspirations — check out the album-capping “Graffitia” for some effective riffing on The Clash — as well as hand claps (“Meet Me on the Roof,” which is specially catchy in a way that gives the song a familiar, nostalgic feeling … but not in a “Yeah, this sounds like a Green Day song” way), Joan Jett vocal samples (“Oh Yeah”), classic blues riffs (“Stab You In the Heart,” featuring more hand claps) and other songs that lodge themselves in your head immediately.

Not every song is a revved-up, bouncy, hand-clapping party, though. “I Was A Teenage Teenager” starts with a deliberate Dirnt bass line, as if to slow things down a bit, before Armstrong’s voice comes in (“I was a teenage teenager/full of piss and vinegar,” he howls) and the song takes on a singalong quality that makes it a prime candidate to become a new staple of the band’s live set (perhaps on this summer’s Hella Mega Tour with Weezer and Fall Out Boy, maybe?)

Armstrong’s vocal hooks in “Sugar Youth” call to mind some of the sounds the band explored on Nimrod, making the song stand out a bit from the pack, as well (it also features the line “and it’s dangerous,” delivered in a tone reminiscent of the American Idiot track “She’s A Rebel”).

This isn’t a perfect record by any means, though. The title track and “Oh Yeah,” two of the song’s pre-release singles, are easily the most forgettable on the record, for example. And its album title and artwork appear hacked-off or intended to annoy, and that’s probably the case.

Listening to Father of All Motherfuckers brought to mind 1995’s Insomniac. Not because the new songs sound like that era of the band’s music — they very clearly don’t — but because Insomniac, released after the breakout success of Dookie a year before, found Green Day adopting darker lyrical themes, slightly heavier compositions and an overall vibe that didn’t result in as many hit singles or records sold as many probably expected, given the band’s profile at the time.

That is to say, it was a bit of a surprising listen, given the expectations and hopes of people eager to hear what the young, snotty band behind “Basket Case” and “When I Come Around” had in store next.

In a similar vein, Father of All Motherfuckers is a departure from what folks expected from a new Green Day album in 2020 — but such a creative decision is totally appropriate, given the band’s trajectory in the past and its ability to buck expectations along the way.

Isn’t that what “punk rock” is all about?


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