For my birthday this year, my dad surprised me with a gift certificate to iTunes. It's a great gift. I've been downloading a bunch of music that I'd never gotten around to checking out before. When I didn't have money already allocated to iTunes, I couldn't justify spending any on it. Now that it's already there, I can't find any reason not to use it. Anyway, I've been getting some really great stuff recently.
Now, I realize I'm pretty late to the party with this, but last night I downloaded "American Idiot," Green Day's album from last year. Before I start yammering on about it, two concessions. A.) I realize that I'm about to jump head-long into the major conceit of both the blogosphere and artistic criticism at large: the general delusion that anyone else cares what my opinion is, and 2.) anyone who knows me knows that I don't like musicals, and that includes rock operas, so that colors most of what I'm about to say.
So, anyway, American Idiot. I have to say, I got this album largely based on the strength of the singles I had heard on the radio and the huge "woah tis CD roXorz!!" attitude that everyone has had about it ever since it came out.
Now, I like Green Day much the same way that someone might like Don Cheadle. Great actor? Absolutely. Do I like the movies I've seen him in? Sure! Am I president of his fan club or standing in line at midnight screenings of "Hotel Rwanda 2: Motel Rwanda"? No. So, when it comes to Green Day, I own the obligatory copy of "Dookie" like everyone my age and I tend not to change the station if they come on the radio.
However, before owning the album, when tracks from "American Idiot" came on the radio I found that I would sit there transfixed. The song writing is so phenomenally better than anything they've done before. The hooks are stronger. The risks they take are bigger. The lyrics are more timely and meaningful.
So, and I'll get to the point, why is the album "American Idiot" so insanely average? Well, for me, when it's on, it's ON. Rock solid writing, great arranging, great performances, etc. However, where it falls flat to me is in it's existence as a concept album/rock opera. And so, when it's not on, it's really completely forgettable and lame. In the end, that averages out to completely average.
I don't like concept albums. I've never heard one that was done really well. Sure, there's "Sgt. Peppers," but even The Beatles admit that it's not a concept album in any respect other than the fact that they said "Hey, this is a concept album." But, "Operation: Mindcrime", David Bowie's "Outside," "Tommy," Extreme's "Yours, Mine, and the Truth," "Joe's Garage," "Pinkerton," Tori Amos' "Scarlet's Walk" ... All of them don't work for me.
And they don't work for me in the same way that "American Idiot" doesn't work for me. To me, the strength of American Idiot is in the deeply resonating lyrics such as "Well maybe I'm the faggot America/I'm not a part of a redneck agenda." Anyone who counts themselves as a Blue Stater can probably relate to that. Where Green Day lose me is when they start talking about recurring characters:
"My name is Jimmy and you better not wear it out
Suicide commando that your momma talked about
King of the forty thieves
And I'm here to represent
That needle in the vein of the establishment"
Yawn. When you start to dabble in cliched characterization, you start to ruin what was so true and relatable to the initial track of the album.
Honestly, I've never gone from so into an album to so over an album than I have with "American Idiot." I feel like I can hear the moments when they decided to switch from sincerity and get too clever for their own good while starting to repeat motifs and characters into a "Tommy"-inspired muck of pinball wizardlian self-indulgence.
Anyway, I'm off to go listen to "Til The Sun Turns Black," the new album from Ray Lamontagne. His first album - "Trouble" - was an incredible set of songs laced with heart, soul, and depth. Let's hope his follow-up isn't a concept album.