The state of the world is just too much for Green Day on “Revolution Radio.” Violence, war, death and lies loom everywhere; a glimmer of love or truth, or simply a respite, is the most the band can hope for, and it’s far from enough.
But the tumult and desperation ignite the music on “Revolution Radio.” It’s the group’s first batch of new songs since “Uno! Dos! Tré!,” the three-disc surfeit of more straightforward tunes released in 2012. Those songs were built around snappy catchphrases and brisk, punky riffs. Green Day’s new ones aren’t so easily summed up, but they can roar through their contradictions.
Green Day’s members are grown-ups now. Billie Joe Armstrong and bassist Mike Dirnt have been playing together for 30 years; Tré Cool, on drums, joined in 1990. “I never wanted to compromise or bargain with my soul/ How did a life on the wild side ever get so dull?” Armstrong sings as the album opens with “Somewhere Now.” The song starts as a pretty acoustic-guitar ballad but can barely stay that way through its opening verse. Then the full band rumbles into action, like The Who revving up, and soon Armstrong is vowing, “I put the riot in patriot” and “All we want is money and guns/ A new catastrophe.” Wherever “somewhere now” is for Green Day, it is not placid.
Green Day’s music stays loyal to punk-rock’s defiant gusto, but it doesn’t confine itself to fast, loud, short and noisy. The band sprints through “Bang Bang,” with stop-start punk power chords driving the first-person pathology of a gunman seeking social-media fame, and it surges into “Revolution Radio” – a call for “new airwaves” for the “songs of the disturbed” – with a speedy punk-pop melody and a lead-guitar hook that wails like a klaxon.
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But punk is just one element on “Revolution Radio.” Green Day has never stinted on melody; the Beatles mean as much to the band, or nearly as much, as the Ramones. “Troubled Times” hints at “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” before guitars pile on like one of Boston’s buildups, and “Outlaws,” which ponders romantic memories and “life after youth,” rises to the kind of chorus Weezer would cherish.
Green Day also draws on the sensitive-to-triumphal buildups of emo in “Still Breathing”; on the loud but tidy new wave of the Cars in “Youngblood,” which affectionately declares, “I want to hold you like a gun”; and on grunge meeting the Beach Boys in “Bouncing Off the Wall,” a free-associative anarchy manifesto: “Concrete kiss, come on and do the twist/ The radio, my little exorcist.”
In “Say Goodbye,” a stomp-and-shout that echoes Gary Glitter leads into forceful, fragmented thoughts on violence in “the city of damage control,” hinting at police shootings. An initial chant – “Say goodbye to the ones that we love” – is replaced later by “Say hello to the cops on patrol.”
“Revolution Radio,” despite its title, doesn’t do much sloganeering. For Green Day, the simple complaints and us-against-them certainties of youthful punk-rock, and the oppositional fury of “American Idiot,” have given way to a message that’s more equivocal and impressionistic: recurring images of guns, wars, random destruction and a crumbling world, something to muddle through with the stubborn persistence (and edge-of-feedback guitars) of a chorus like “Too scared to dream/ Too dumb to die.”
The album is summed up in “Forever Now,” a musically meticulous barrage of paradoxes that insists, “If this is what you call the good life/ I want a better way to die.” It’s a six-minute magnum opus that hurtles through multiple riffs, choruses, interludes and key changes – like a fast punk-pop update of The Who’s miniopera “A Quick One, While He’s Away” – and recaps part of “Somewhere Now” but makes a change. Now Armstrong sings, “How did a life on the wild side ever get so full?” – full, presumably, of questions, complications and the drive to confront them head-on.
It’s followed by a postscript, a ballad that stays folky: “Ordinary World.” It’s the title song of a movie, opening next week, that has Armstrong typecast as a punk-rocker hitting 40. “Baby I don’t have much/ but what we have is more than enough,” he sings. But that’s a role; the rest of “Revolution Radio” is nowhere near as satisfied.