Photo Credit: Pamela Littky
“Rock ‘n’ roll tragedy // I think the next one could be me,” longtime Green Day guitarist and frontman Billie Joe Armstrong sings on “Junkies on a High” from the band’s lucky thirteenth studio album, Father of All Motherf*ckers. By this point, Armstrong should probably have just a bit more confidence in both his and his band’s adeptness at defying the odds. When Green Day was just another band on the Bay Area punk scene in 1990, no one would have imagined that within a few years they’d release an album (Dookie), which would eventually sell ten million copies worldwide. And even after that period, probably few would have thought that Green Day would be headlining a stadium tour in 2020.
Still, beginning with their 2016 release Revolution Radio, Green Day appear to have arrived at a plateau previously reached by other influential long-running rock bands like the Who and U2; that is, being okay with abandoning ambitious multi-media projects in favor of a more elemental delivery of the music with little if any ornamentation. Green Day’s move towards simplification seems to continue, since at a scant twenty-six minutes and change, Father is barely half the length of their last full-length release. Still, the new album is a departure on other levels, as it largely breaks from the (more characteristically Green Day) melodic punk that Revolution Radio tried to tune into, moving the dial instead towards britpop, glam and even doo-wop.
The effort is at the very least commendable, though the end result is perhaps mixed. Opening cut (and quasi-title track) “Father of All…” retains the basic punk but right away suggest a production style much closer to the Arctic Monkeys or even the Keiser Chiefs, replete with Armstrong’s vocals being not as loud in the mix as its traditionally been. This continues with “Fire, Ready, Aim,” and “Take the Money and Crawl” (which is another one of those songs that gets a pass for the title alone). “Meet Me on the Roof” is similar but with a break which does indeed hint strongly at Fifties doo-wop (grandma will approve). “Stab in the Heart” takes the most pronounced poke at the Sixties British Invasion sound which in turn was influenced by American R&B and early rock (the very same one that Irish band the Strypes couldn’t quite get to work a couple of years ago).
“Oh Yeah!” opens with stomping drum beat and another Artic Monkey-type verse, but the chorus directly samples that of Gary Glitter’s 1973 glam hit “Do You Wanna Touch Me” (Americans might be more familiar with Joan Jett’s Eighties version). While no such direct copy-and-paste occurs on the album closer “Graffitia,” the song is a clear tribute to the sound of Tommy James & the Shondells circa 1970, particularly the hits “Mony Mony” and “I Think We’re Alone Now” (both also big hits for other artists in the Eighties).
Punk purists (those who are still willing to acknowledge Green Day at all) will probably see this as the absolute final straw in a whole haystack full of ‘em. However, we have to remember that it was exactly this era and that pop sound that the Ramones used as the basis for what they did, which in turn influenced almost all subsequent punk, certainly including Green Day (on this particular album, those influences can be heard most clearly on the track “Sugar Youth”).
Still, Father of All Motherf*ckers at times comes off less like an attempt to leave the musical comfort zone which they’ve established over the past three decades and more like a poke at the beehive which houses both their fans and their detractors, in order to see how both respond. It’s been said that success has many fathers and failure is an orphan, and since this album falls squarely in the middle, a final count of exactly three fathers – Armstrong, along with fellow longtime members Mike Drint and Tre Cool – seems about right.