I have a feeling that I’m going to have a lot of people around ten years older than me saying ‘American Idiot? Green Day’s best album? Huff.’ Firstly I’m not here to argue that it is necessarily their best album, I think a brilliant thing about Green Day is that they mature and change with each album, with their early work very different to later releases. However, I do whole heartedly believe that Green Day’s 2004 album shaped the musical taste of a generation of young people.
American Idiot was the first album I listened to on repeat for weeks and weeks. I remember my brother showing me the song on Top Of The Pops, then me asking him to put it onto my Zen mp3 player. It’s all I listened to, mainly because I couldn’t work out how to put other tracks onto that brick of a music player, but also because the album is brilliantly well put together.
Following in the ‘rock opera’ style of The Who and Pink Floyd, American Idiot weaves the story of a disillusioned youth under the Bush administration. This theme moulds track after track together, with the drum heavy ‘Holiday’ seamlessly flowing into the unforgettable rift that made ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams’ the infectious hit it deserved to be. Concept albums are daunting tasks, and artists are susceptible to falling into a pit of self indulgence, but the simplicity and underlying grittiness of the album link it back to the darkness seen on 1997’s Dookie. American Idiot is the spirit of 90’s Green Day, battered by the bleak reality of post 9/11 America. Every track on the album worms its way into your brain; there are no ‘fillers’ or songs that you skip as soon as the first chord prangs its way up your ear phones. It was undoubtedly punk rock, but had an appeal that won over mainstream appreciation and a generation of young fans.
I’m always a bit put off when people make statements such as ‘It changed my life’ or ‘it defined a time in my life,’ but looking back I can see the influence this has on my peers. Long before My Chemical Romance, guys wore eye liner and those iconic red grenade hoodies. Girls dressed head to toe in black, sporting the ripped tights in the desperate attempt to emulate the lass in the Jesus of Suburbia video. Yeah it wasn’t our best looks and we did get called emos, a lot, but it was through meeting other people who loved that album that I discovered the music that I love today. Without American Idiot there would have been no Chilli Peppers, no Blink, no QOTSA , even my appreciation for the Beatles came through the love of music that developed from listening to that album. It taught me to appreciate the beauty of guitar more than anything before. ‘Wake me up when September ends’ was the first thing I ever taught myself on the drum kit, whilst my school’s music rooms were full of guys with hair a bit too long, playing those opening chords to St Jimmy over and over. I remember my brother going to see them in Milton Keynes and him returning, as if he’d just been on a divinely punk rock pilgrimage. As 12 and 13 year olds me and my friends vowed to see the bands we love play live when we were older, in fear of missing something as spectacular as that gig.
Almost ten years later I can still listen to it all the way through and enjoy its smooth transitions, taking me back to those bus journeys to school. It’s a shame Green Day’s offerings of late haven’t matched the spirit of their 2004 album,it’s never nice to see a band that were so loved dwarfed by their previous work. That said, American Idiot captured the atmosphere of such a specific and fearful time in American history, and such a feeling that hasn’t reoccured since. For a generation of teens I don’t think anything could have lived up to American Idiot. It will forever be marker between our childhood and adolescence, and nothing can beat a memory like that. We may cringe when remembering the guys we fancied, with fake piercings and ‘St JiMmY’ as his msn screen name, but piercings or not, the music defined us. Looking back, almost ten years on, I’m glad I’m defined by Green Day, and not Jesse McCarthy’s ‘Beautiful Soul.’