Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Song of the Week: "Peacemaker", Green Day

Success for a band can be a damn pain in the ass. The reality is that for every fan the band brings in, they bring in probably twice as many doubters. And when the band has a huge breakout album that wins widespread acclaim and massive sales, the question immediately turns to "what's next?". The Who had to face that question after the success of Tommy. They responded with their magnum opus, Who's Next. The Clash had to answer that question after the success of London Calling. They responded with the spotty and wide-ranging Sandanista. The Beatles had to do it after every album. And it's the position that Berkeley, California's Green Day find themselves in after the breakout success of American Idiot. One could excuse them if they came out with a straight-ahead, play the expectations down album. Or even if they fell flat on their face. But they didn't do either. Instead, this week, they came out with an album, 21st Century Breakdown, that feels very much like a natural extension of American Idiot. But it is perhaps even more ambitious than Idiot.

From Latin inflected grooves to more nuanced George Harrison styled songs to straight ahead hardcore to T-Rex inspired glam rock, the album is a grand musical exposition that changes style and tempo as fast as Liz Taylor changes husbands. Lyrically Billy Joe Armstrong focuses on two characters, Christian and Gloria who struggle with intimacy and personalization issues in a high-tech 21st Century world. The musicianship is top notch, as is the large, lush production from Butch Vig.

Pete Townshend and The Who clearly have had a large influence on Billy Joe. One could argue that Ray Davies of The Kinks has had an influence as well. Both those artists were masters at creating characters in their songs. Characters we could empathize with, hate, envy and fear. Characters who had delusions of grandeur at the same time that they had feelings of unworthiness. And both artists were willing to use whimsy in their lyrics and in their music. A trait from their Song-Hall influences of Post War Britain. But it is Townshend's penchant for creating thematic albums (Quadrophenia, Who's Next, Tommy, Sell Out) that is clearly on display in Billy Joe Armstrong's album. But that is not to say that this is a rip-off. Far from it. It is simply an artist picking up on a creative conceit created by others and used as a tool to tell his own tale. The album's namesake, a massive, constantly evolving song employs nods to Townshend's early pick-up switching guitar work (hear Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere) and Mick Ronson's grand guitar work for David Bowie.

But that's not our song. Our Song of the Week is one of those more whimsical (at least musically) songs. It's Peacemaker and it sits right smack dab in the middle of the album sandwiched between that Mark Bolan type of song and a plodding, melodic, Weezer-like song.

I hate to pull out just one song, but take a listen to Peacemaker. If you like it, there is no guarantee you will like the rest of the album as every song is very different. Same for if you hate it. This is a complete album that, like Forever Changes by Love and American Idiot, needs to be heard in order and in context of the other songs.

1 comment:

  1. Cool tune on several levels. Title a play on pacemaker?