Published Feb 06, 2020What the hell are Green Day doing?
The ugly-ass cover; the unnecessary profanity in the title; the ridiculously short runtime (26 minutes!); singer-guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong's ridiculously high falsetto — none of it adds up. There's even a conspiracy theory that says that Father of All Motherfuckers, the 13th Green Day album, is a giant middle finger to their longtime label, Reprise, and that they plan to go indie after they fulfill their contractual obligations.
Taken on its own, the title track and first single certainly supports such a theory. Its stop-start rhythms, Armstrong's voice, the "huh-uhs" of the chorus — they all feel awkward, like the band were trying to shoehorn random ideas into something that resembled a Green Day song. American Idiot for the Trump era it is not.
Maybe that's for the best. Since that album's massive success, the Bay Area trio have struggled to find an equilibrium between their punk roots and concept record ambitions. Followups were bloated or half-baked, failing to recapture the spark that lit their best records. In context though, Father of All… is a piece of a bigger picture that mashes slices of soul, doo wop, Motown and glam. Armstrong, Mike Dirnt and Tre Cool have flirted with these sounds before, but they've never quite coalesced in such a fluid way.
It works here thanks to the band's strong sense of identity as they borrow tropes. "Oh Yeah" samples from Joan Jett's "Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah!)" and resembles that track's glam-rock shuffle (the band are donating royalties from this song to charity on account of convicted pedophile Gary Glitter's songwriting credit). "Meet Me on the Roof" and "Stab You in the Heart" hue closest to their influences ('60s R&B and '50s rock'n'roll") but stay on the right side of homage — they aren't interested in recreating the past, just nicking its best parts. Bass player Dirnt and drummer Cool's contributions are often underrated, something that should hopefully change here: this is the album where Green Day finally learn to make their music swing.
The band have described the record's lyrics as being about "a party and lifestyle of not giving a fuck." Yet Armstrong is no longer the 20-something who writes hit songs about getting high and feeling bored. Middle-aged Billie Joe (he'll turn 48 this month) remains preoccupied with the plight of the underdog, though he thankfully gives up the empty sloganeering of Revolution Radio, for a (slightly) more subtle approach. Sure, "Fire, Ready, Aim" ties in nicely with the band's newly minted NHL partnership, but it also functions as a pointed critique of liars and hypocrites who fail to see the consequences of selfish actions.
Still, the most notable thing about the record is how excited everyone sounds. It crackles with energy, buoyed by the feeling that the trio are finally unshackled by their past. It's punchy, and the hooks generally last long past the record's short runtime. That they don't abandon their basic sound in the process is a remarkable feat and a needle that they will hopefully manage to thread moving forward.
What are Green Day doing? Whatever the fuck they want. (Reprise)