Highest praise is due to mfishrules for the keen and well laid-out summary of the lyrics and plot of this phenomenal piece of modern mayhem, however, this only covers half the ground on this particular album. I will attempt to do for the music of this album what mfishrules has done for its lyrics. Having said that...


To call this album a punk-rock album would be both inaccurate and an insulting over-simplification. American Idiot covers a huge base of musical genres, and is the culmination of a long career of growth for Green Day. I personally no longer have to think of them as a guilty pleasure. After writing such rants as The good musicians play music that idiots listen to and Hardcore is Becoming the "New Jazz", I was forced for a time to wonder why I still liked Green Day.

Now I know.

One more note: Some "old-skool" fans of Green Day may accuse them of having given up their punk-ness in favor of pop. This is not pop. Fuck that. Pop is flaccid. This is better.

American Idiot's opening and title track is by far the most classically Green Day, and I agree with mfishrules in that it is merely a bookend to the album. The lyrics are playfully scathing, but the music, although clean and tough is nothing to get too excited about. Tre Cool's thumping work on the toms is exciting, but anyone who's heard any amount of Green Day knows he can whip beats like this out without breaking a sweat.

The monster medley which comes next not only rocks, but transitions beautifully from one section to the next, cutting cleanly and effortlessly from one time to the next, half- and double-times abound, and we get our first taste of the killer gang-vocals which will come in full force in a few tracks. We also get... is that... yes it is! In the second movement, "City of the Damned," great big Wagner-ian chords on the piano fill out the wall of sound in the chorus. The third movement, "I Don't Care," takes us in and out of a 12/8 punk shuffle, and drops us into an acoustically underscored tune featuring glockenspiel and a counterpuntal "oooo" almost worthy of a Brian Wilson tune. Then we're jerked, smiling, into an anthemic groove, although that "oooo" is still there, lurking beneath the distortion. Suddenly, Billie Joe's voice, accompanied only by piano, cuts in, only to swell back into a reprise of madness to close this punk epic.

On to "Holiday." Here the gang vocals, typical of punk-rock, begin to truly take a front seat, although they are used carefully and sparingly, never becoming stale, even when the lyric is simply "HEY!" or "AMEN!" The chorus whips in, bringing with it some great, classic Green Day harmonies, but thicker than you've ever heard them. Billie Joe also seems to have really learned how to play guitar well. Suddenly, we're faced with Jesus' fantasy accusations before the senate and then whipped back into the chorus for a final "all-together-now."

"Boulevard of Broken Dreams" is not unique in its laid-back tempo in the Green Day catalogue. They had a minor hit with "Redundant" from the Nimrod album, but this song is clearly superior to the earlier effort. The lyrical words of the verses are contrasted with the harmonized and distorion-underlaid choruses, which further cut in and out of a nice "echoing string" guitar, itself balanced against a simple strumming acoustic. All in all, this is a simple song, but unbelievably catchy. The bridge section right at the end is a flavor I've not heard from Green Day before, using progressions that sound like they're straight out of the art-metal handbook.

Ah. Here we are. "Are We the Waiting" is the first undeniable proof of Green Day's total mastery of punk and its possibilities. The gang vocals become more like monastic chant than punk-rock anything, and the tom-heavy drums suggest that there is a great deal more to Tre's drumming than speed. This is a song I will never get sick of. I can almost picture Brian May playing the guitar riff and Freddie Mercury howling along.

"St. Jimmy" serves as a well-timed wakeup call from the grooving artiness of "Are We the Waiting." It's almost a nudge to the listener a "hey, we could write songs like that all the time if we wanted, but we are, after all, a punk band." It's fast, mean, clean, and simple. Put very simply, it rocks. We also get a half-time break with a minute to go at the end of the song with some conspicuously Beach Boys influenced backup vocals. We'll hear them again.

"Give Me Novacaine" more than any other song on the album shifts beautifully from soft to loud, thick, easy, bob-your-head acoustic verses with some Polynesian-sounding slide work, broken up by shredding choruses. You hardly notice the difference, except that suddenly you're not just bobbing your head, but really rocking it, and if you know it well enough, you may find yourself playing air guitar while trying to drive. This bobbing/guitar playing/driving combination is not advised, and if you can't resist, you may want to skip ahead to...

"She's A Rebel," another classically Green Day piece, with the return of the terrific "oooo"-ing, as well as a well-place clap track. The final moments of the song give us some great harmonies, as well.

"Extraordinary Girl" opens with tabla. Honestly, I don't know why, unless it's simply a smirking homage to prog-rock. The vocal harmonies are rich, and the sound is almost an updated mid-50s hard-bop tune. I almost see them in suits with pampadour haircuts (although what three punks in suits with pompadours would be doing hanging out with a tabla player I can't imagine.)

"Letterbomb" opens with a girl's voice singing a sort of preview of what we'll hear later in the second montage tune (see below). It's pretty straightforward after that, a typical Green Day tune, fast and gravy, with typical choral harmonies, with appropriately Green Day-ish in-and-out cuts and some real dynamic variance.

"When September Ends" echoes the dynamic tension of "Give Me Novacaine," including glockenspiel and concert bass drum in the quiet verses, slowly adding strings, building part by part to the mix until suddenly our patient listening is fullfilled with the total opening of all stops. Almost as soon as they're opened, however, they're reigned back in. The song keeps wanting to blow up and out, but the band controls the momentum of the tune wonderfully, never letting it stay at top volume for long, and keeping the listener off-balance. For a brief moment the bottom drops out and we're left with nothing but glock and Tre's brushes on the snare to support Billie Joe's voice, but then the band finally lets loose for the final twenty second rally at the end of the song.

The next tune (if you can even call it that, it's more like a whole album cut into one track) is what I'd consider this band's Magnum Opus. There's no way to accurately describe everything that goes on in this song without writing a much longer node than I intend, but the instrumentation suddenly grows to orchestral proportions, especially in the percussion department. Harmonies abound in every section after the intro, our old pal the "oooo" track is back, and the band plays with tempo, tone, and time in a way I've never heard from them or any other punk-ish band. The Brian Wilson-inspired harmonies are back, and we're even given a brief taste of something that smecks deeply of the rapid acoustic-to-distorion slashes in Aqualung, of all things. And then there are chimes and a marching snare under Mike Durnt singing the lines we heard from the girl at the beginning of "Letterbomb." And then all hell breaks loose. Tre is sing lead vocals... about being in a rock band! He goes so far as to say "I play the shit out the drums." He actually wrote this piano-heavy movement and sings it over complex harmony and counterpoint. Then we're into a shuffle-oompah beat and the "oooo" has returned. The final movement, "We're Coming Home Again" is practically a reprise of "Are We the Waiting," with similar instrumentation and lyrical styling. Oh, and there are Tympani! And they're tuned! Hooray! Okay, enough of this tune already!

"Whatsername" is practically a bookend after the mammoth of the second-to-last tune. It's a controlled, up-and-down and perhaps overly sentimental tune, letting loose for only tightly packaged bursts. The lyrics above these bursts are well harmonized and play a counterpoint to the next section of vocals as well. Tightly and well composed, "Whatsername" makes an excellent closing to an excellent album.