Green Day have undergone a few dramatic changes over the years. They’ve grown from being a straight up pop-punk band to one that seemingly knows no boundaries. They’ve dabbled with elements of 60s rock (the title track from their 2000 album ‘Warning’ brazenly ripped off The Kinks and the same album took in other retro styles previously untouched by the trio); delivered one of their generation’s most pointed political statements (‘American Idiot’); dabbled with a rock opera (’21st Century Breakdown’) and even staged a piece of musical theatre based on the ‘American Idiot’ album. Through it all, they have held on to a very loyal fanbase. You could accuse Green Day of many things (even becoming dull, as evidenced on their ‘Uno’, ‘Dos’ and ‘Tre’ trilogy from 2012), but you could never accuse them of standing still.
And yet, very little of their prior willingness to experiment is likely to prepare you for the title track of their 2020 album ‘Father of All Motherfuckers’, where any previous allegiances to pop-punk, punk rock and alternative rock are cast aside for something that sounds like a speed driven take on Jack White’s garage blues mantle. After the initial shock, it becomes clear that this is something Green Day do exceptionally well. A succinct two minutes thirty blusters past with sharp edged guitar riffs that display the kind of energies you might just have figured frontman Billie Joe Armstrong had abandoned over a decade ago. The real problem – if indeed there is one – is that it sounds nothing at all like Green Day in any of their previous forms. It bears a passing resemblance to their woefully under appreciated Foxboro Hot Tubs side project from 2008 but, even then, an abrasive falsetto vocal drenched in a thousand effects sets this apart from anything the Hot Tubs delivered. There are so many vocal filters, it’s almost impossible to make out the lyrics at first – and even harder to pinpoint that voice as belonging to Billie Joe – but once you’ve settled in, there’s a palpable sense of excitement that’s long been absent from anything bearing the Green Day name.
If there’s a mood that cuts through the bulk of this album, it’s one that relies heavily on the old Spinal Tap maxim “Have a good time…all the time”, a deliberate reaction to the US being in a particularly heavy and screwed up state at the time the material was written. The reaction to have fun comes across especially strongly during ‘Stab You In The Heart’, a rock ‘n’ roll banger that redresses the bulk of ‘Hippy Hippy Shake’ in clothes that would be ideal for the Foxboro Hot Tubs, featuring a barrage of hand claps and some particularly sharp 50s influenced guitar work. It’s the kind of song that sounds better with every repeat play. ‘Meet Me On The Roof’ opts for retro of a different kind, mixing Green Day’s love of a hook with plenty of callbacks to the skinny tie power pop era. The pop-ish edge to the hook is one that would’ve suited 20/20 and Shoes back in the day and although a heavy vocal filter places this squarely with the stronger moments of 2012’s ‘Dos!’ album, in terms of song writing, it’s about a thousand times catchier all round. At this point, there’s a worry that we might never get to hear Armstrong’s natural voice ever again, but all things considered, this is a great track.
In terms of subject matter, ‘I Was A Teenage Teenager’ is somewhat heavy handed – does anyone need to hear men in their forties putting themselves in teenage shoes? – but, musically, it gives ‘Father of All…’ another very strong and melodic track where a few Weezer tropes collide with a couple of familiar melodies that call back to Green Day’s own ’21st Century Breakdown’ era. It’s also a track that makes great use of Cars-esque keyboards and gives Mike Dirnt’s bass a bigger role. ‘Take The Money and Crawl’ and ‘Ready, Aim, Fire’ both show how well Green Day can step into the shoes of ‘Lex Hives’ era Hives, even if there’s more than a hint of things sounding like more like another Foxboro throwback in places during ‘Take The Money…’. Its combination of garage rock cool, handclaps, distorted vocals and a surprising brevity goes a long way to making it a genuine highlight, while ‘Ready, Aim, Fire’ often values speed over everything, but this just shows a keenness to cast aside the earnestness of ‘American Idiot’, perhaps more than ever before. Outshining both, the punchy ‘Sugar Youth’ takes a huge step back to Green Day’s formative pop-punk sound with two minutes of fast riffing. It’s not just a straight clone, though, as those riffs tempered with a couple of new-wavish tones that fall in line with The Network’s ‘Money Money 2020’ album from 2004, showcasing both a very sharp guitar sound from Armstrong and Tre Cool’s abilities to approach the faster material with the same ease of his younger self.
In addition to all of this (mostly) great material, ‘Father of All…’ also makes time for a few more melodic tracks. The album’s lead single ‘Oh Yeah!’ makes no secret of its pop heart, very much coming closer to something you might find on a Fall Out Boy record than a Green Day hit. Something that appears very much crowd oriented, it has the makings of a modern pop anthem. A world of stomping glam rock drums, heavily twanged guitars and a shift into more 60s derived pop/rock for its pre-chorus gives it plenty of appeal but also enough of a depth to make it feel less than throwaway. Perhaps more surprising is the decision to sample Gary Glitter for a chorus. Glitter has been all but airbrushed from musical history due to his unforgivable misdemeanours, but in separating the music from the man, Green Day make a very brave move and the simplicity of the “Oh yeah” hook fits perfectly with the track’s glam rock roots. Also clinging on to a glammy stomp, ‘Graffitia’ is another album highlight. A Wurlitzer organ sound collides with sharp power chords setting a mood that sounds like Green Day meeting another early 80s power pop favourite, while a vocal melody borrowed from Billy Bragg’s ‘To Have And Have Not’ (a track covered by Billie’s mates Lars Frederiksen & The Bastards) adds a very distinctive melody. What’s more, a detour into sixties pop along the way – an interlude where a love of Brian Wilson comes through in waves – suggests this is far greater than a tossed off pop-rocker. Having shown how they are hardly shy in purloining the odd melody, ‘Junkies On A High’ finds Green Day pilfering from themselves as the main vocal line is dangerously close to being ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams’ revisited. As if to acknowledge this, the rhythmic track also recycles the very rigid feel of the old hit. Looking beyond that, the number has just enough of its own style to stand up: Dirnt’s overdriven bass sound is one of his best this time out; a darker chorus brings the revelation that we should “watch the world burn” – this album’s only concession to any vaguely political views – while heavily struck piano adds a very dramatic sting. On first listen, this number sticks out a mile; it’s so far removed from the rest of the record, you might wonder if it had been written previously and then put on the back burner. A few listens shows how it stands up as well as the album’s best and its role in giving the whole record a little more variety shouldn’t be overlooked.
The fact that Green Day manage to wedge all of this into just twenty six minutes is astounding. Sub-thirty minute albums are nothing new in the world of indie or punk, but for a one-time world-beating pop punk/alternative rock band to deliver something so short as part of a major label deal is especially ballsy. In some ways, though, its the sheer brevity of ‘Father of All…’ that contributes to its feeling of excitement: there’s absolutely no room for filler and in order to crank through an album’s worth of material in that time, Billie, Mike and Tre play with an intensity pretty much unheard since their ‘Insomniac’ days. Everything about this album is good. Most times, its even great. For a band that at one point seemed to become bloated and self-important, this reinvention has acted as a factory reset – a striking reinvention that proves that Green Day can still have fun. And what’s more, by the time of their thirteenth studio album, they sound like a band looking forward and a band with a lot more to give.