The East Bay punks’ contractually obliged pisstake record has no idea what it is – yet it’s their most fun in years.
Green Day. Propagators of the late 80s-90s California punk scene turned titanic, A-list outfit in the world of contemporary rock. Yet such a world is crumbling, at least within popular culture, arguably even a prophecy made by the group’s own mid-2000s rock operas American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown. It’s a market Billie Joe Armstrong’s trio have built up rightful credibility in – but when the value of that market is diminishing, it takes a profound change to re-establish its worth.
And mainstream rock has been having that conversation with itself since the turn of the 2010s, since the rise and fall of hyper-dramatic sonic productions like 21st Century Breakdown. But what if the necessary change wasn’t a tangible one, but rather guitar music just needs to stop having the conversation in the first place? Well that’s where Father of All Motherfuckers comes in. But before we turn to consider the ways in which the trio’s 13th effort does and doesn’t fulfil the aforementioned hypothesis, there’s another necessary piece of context which is vital to understand the relative success of the majority of Father of All’s 10 tracks.
"Father of All is, by enlarge, at its worst when it tries."
Whip out your tin foil hats, because this writer puts it to you that Father of All Motherfuckers is a pisstake album, the most convincing evidence being that it sits at a whopping 26-minute length (coming from a band who once released three albums longer than that all in one year) and it is the last album they are contracted to release under their major label deal with Warner/Reprise. In an interview with KROQ-FM in September of last year promoting the lead single, Armstrong even went as far as to state “Maybe we’ll just put out another album next year or something like that, we don’t know ‘cause we are off our contract with Warner”, while bassist Mike Dirnt added “So we’re gonna do whatever the fuck we want”.
Beyond the legal speculation, just look at the album and its promotion. Considering the lack of evidence that the frontman has gone off the rails again, it seems at least out of the ordinary that the album’s, let’s face it, grotesque American Idiot-parodying artwork literally has a unicorn puking on it. And the uncensored version has a swear word inscribed into its face, a notoriously great promotion technique for a mainstream release. The rest of the evidence lies within Green Day's music itself which, like rock as a whole, somewhat fares best when it refuses to take itself into self-reflective therapy. The only downside being that one comes out the other side with no idea what the unicorn’s arse one just listened to.
"The adrenaline circulating in the trademark thick guitar chords becomes a head-bopping distraction from the derivativity of the songsmanship."
Four completely necessary contextual paragraphs in and let us begin to take a look at the music on Father of All Motherfuckers. The lead single and title track epitomises the wider point about this record the best. Its lyrics are completely nonsensical, there’s no doubt about that - “I’m possessed from the heat of the sun/Hurry up ‘cause I’m making a fuss” Armstrong wails in an unfamiliar falsetto – but it’s got the kind of killer chorus melody with a snarling, no-fucks-given attitude which distracts from the predictive text lyrical offerings as much as is possible in a Green Day song in 2020.
Likewise, the way in which following track Fire, Ready, Aim recalls The Hives’ Hate To Say I Told You So should be a little too close for comfort, but it’s done that blatantly obviously that by the time the blood-pumping, fist-raising hook comes around (containing only the words “Fire, Ready, Aim”), the adrenaline circulating in the trademark thick guitar chords becomes a head-bopping distraction from the derivativity of the songsmanship.
"When Green Day aim low with their conceptual aspirations, they more often than not hit it out of the park, at least when low means happy-go-lucky, palatable pop punk."
Yet in light of the prior contextual observations, Father of All is, by enlarge, at its worst when it tries, and that’s where the identity problems begin to arise. Sugar Youth plays out like a serious version of I Was a Teenage Teenager - while the latter sees Billie Joe at his most satirical, lyrics “I was a teenage teenager/I am alien visitor/My life’s a mess and school is just for suckers” ridiculing the recent ‘Hello fellow kids’ efforts of contemporaries like blink-182, the former struggles to stand-out with its by-the-numbers hook and needlessly proverbial lyrical content. The same can be said of the Joan Jett-sampling second single Oh Yeah!, the only explanation for drowning Armstrong in the mix being the tired vocal melodies and the uninspired, unfulfilled lyrical approach.
Image courtesy of Pamela Littky
Still, when Green Day aim low with their conceptual aspirations, they more often than not hit it out of the park, at least when low means happy-go-lucky, palatable pop punk. Meet Me on the Roof is an undeniable highlight in the tracklist – sure its production is smoothed out and its jangly guitar grooves sound like The Jam dipped in a chocolate fountain, but look further and the deep longing for escapism from rock bottom add a certain dark comedy to the slick pop songwriting (“Waking up in spit/I’m taking drowning lessons, secret words and true confessionals/And the worst is yet to come”).
Album closer Graffitia fires the final curveball into this enigma of an album however, as Armstrong saves the best of his lyrical capabilities for last, drawing measured comparisons between the communities ostracised by the current United States political climate, from abandoned mining families to victims of police brutality and institutional racism. All packed into a crunchy piece of power pop, the head-spinning nature of the closing track’s abrupt social awareness is enough to hit play once again on the 26-minute enigma, alas no more enlightened on what, exactly, it is.
A bit like every conversation about modern rock music.