Green Day’s ‘Saviors’ Review


Three decades ago, Green Day‘s Billie Joe Armstrong was sarcastically singing “Welcome to Paradise.” Now at age 51, he’s staidly singing, “Welcome to my problems,” on “Dilemma,” a plaintive, swinging rocker on Green Day’s 14th LP, Saviors, which owes a debt to Fifties rock and the Ramones. “I was sober now I’m drunk again,” he wails in the chorus, “I’m in trouble and in love again/I don’t want to be a dead man walking.” It’s one of the album’s best songs and, as another pop-punk trio once put it, well, I guess this is growing up.

After all, “aging punk band” might be the most oxymoronic phrase in music. But Green Day, much like combat rockers the Clash, long ago figured out the path to mainstream salvation was leaning away from punk and into their big-box influences while satirizing the world at large. That approach made the Bay Area trio punk’s biggest-ever band, and it’s Armstrong’s alternating earnestness and sarcasm, combined with some typically hummable tunes, which makes Saviors something of a return-to-form for the trio, which drifted a little too far into pop territory on 2020’s Father of All Motherfuckers.

Since merry melodies have always been Green Day’s forte, “1981” is particularly memorable with its chorus — “She’s gonna bang her head like 1981”–even if Armstrong’s lyrics about slam dancing in acid rain read, like, totally gnarly. (Armstrong has always had a knack for fluffing up puerile lyrics with smart chord changes.) “Coma City” and “Corvette Summer” are both Big Rock Songs for the sake of Big Rock — the latter even recalls Eighties mersh like J. Geils Band, REO Speedwagon or Bachman-Turner Overdrive — and they state their mission to reestablish themselves as some of rock & roll’s top survivors on the propulsive title track: “We are the last of the rockers/Making a com-mo-shun,” which they punch up with some Pete Townshend guitar stabs. With Dookie co-producer Rob Cavallo, they mostly accomplish their intent.


Armstrong’s lyrics fall into three categories: songs about growing up (“Dilemma,” the acoustic dad-rock ditty “Father to a Son”), silly songs about nothing (“One Eyed Bastard” is a Sopranos-esque goombah rocker that has refrains of “Bada-bing, bada-bing”), and, of course, heaps of social commentary. The band has never lost sight of its politics, and Armstrong recently updated “American Idiot” at a New Year’s performance to skewer the “MAGA agenda.” Some of Saviors’ op-eds are amusing—the conservative satire “The American Dream Is Killing Me,” the proud bisexuality of “Bobby Sox,” a dig at “assholes in space” bankrupting the planet on “Coma City.” Armstrong only misses his target on “Living in the ’20s,” when he snarks about the deadly 2021 King Soopers mass shooting in Boulder, Colorado. “I spent my money on a bloody, soft target,” he sings, “Playing with matches and I’m lighting Colorado.” It hedges closer to voyeurism than a protest song, on which he could’ve sung something meaningful about gun control as opposed to, “My condolences/Ain’t that a kick in the head.”

But Green Day have always been less about musical activism and more about laughing while the world around them burns — like the kid on Saviors’ cover. That attitude is what has made them survivors in the hazardous profession of punk rock, and they know it. “Everybody’s famous, stupid and contagious,” they sing, sending up Nirvana on album closer “Fancy Sauce,” “as we all die young someday.” But what’s impressive about Saviors is how they’ve gotten (mostly) better with age.

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