THE (MUSIC) YEARBOOK: 2005
By Sean Calhoun
Last time around, I promised you more pop-punk. Well, this entry’s first album is one of the most successful albums in the genre’s history, by one of its most successful acts. It’s time to talk about…
American Idiot – Green Day
There’s no denying that American Idiot was an almost absurdly successful album. It launched Green Day back into mainstream relevance for the first time in about a decade, generated a healthy amount of controversy due to its overtly political content, and was even adapted into a successful stage musical that continues to tour.
It’s a pretty darn good pop-punk album, too. American Idiot is either Green Day’s best or second-best album (depending on your feelings toward 1994’s Dookie) and one of the best and most thorough pop-punk albums ever made.
Frontman Billie Joe Armstrong is perhaps at his strongest on this album, delivering many of his vocal lines with just the right amount of righteous anger – enough to get the point across, but not so much that he becomes a parody of himself. He’s also not afraid to get more personal and less angry, as when he sings a memorial to his deceased father on “Wake Me Up When September Ends”.
While American Idiot ostensibly functions as a concept album about Bush-era America (and indeed, there’s enough of a story to the album to make the aforementioned musical make sense), its thirteen tracks function well on their own, especially singles “American Idiot,” “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and the aforementioned “September,” the latter two of which are, at worst, two of the five biggest songs of Green Day’s career.
Perhaps the best track on the album, however, is “Jesus Of Suburbia,” a sprawling, nine-minute epic that solidifies much of the story of the album. With its multiple melodic and thematic twists and turns, it practically functions as the band’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” with the bonus of contributing to a larger, overarching story. Armstrong carries a good deal of the song, but the hard-pushing accompaniment of Mike Dirnt on bass and Tre Cool on drums contributes a lot as well. The two halves of “Jesus” almost function as two completely separate songs, but there’s just enough hanging between them to allow the track to function as a cohesive whole.
The band is able to keep it up for the album’s full running time. There’s a lot of creativity, both musically and lyrically, on display here. “St. Jimmy,” a fast-charging punk number, and “She’s A Rebel” are also significant highlights, and the album closes with “Whatsername,” another excellent track and a fitting conclusion to the record.
An interesting coda – American Idiot only came into being because the master tapes for the album Green Day was intending to release – titled Cigarettes and Valentines – were stolen from the studio. While it would have been interesting to hear what the band had produced outside of the confines of the final record’s conceptual format, I think that it’s for the better that American Idiot – a bona fide pop-punk classic – was the final result.
Score, Adjusted for 2017 Ratings Inflation: 8.7/10
The next album for this year is by a band that has been a massive worldwide success for years. However, over that same time, they’ve had a very difficult time shaking off their reputation as a “boring” and “safe” band. No matter your opinion on the group, there’s no denying the success of…
X&Y – Coldplay
I won’t deny that I’ve fallen into some of the easy Coldplay-hate tropes since I first heard their music. It’s easy to see them as a boring, lowest-common-denominator pop-rock group, especially when compared to acts like Muse and Radiohead.
However, I’ve grown to realize that this is a pretty unfair characterization of Coldplay. Chris Martin and company are talented musicians with a solid knack for spacious and accessible pop-rock songs, and X&Y is actually one of the standouts in the group’s discography.
The perfectionism of Coldplay as a group is apparent throughout X&Y. Every piece of every song snaps together in almost mechanical fashion, with nary a misplaced or unnecessary note. The music manages to be both spacious and economical, both easy to listen to and rewarding to a more discerning listener. It skirts the “boring” label by being impeccably performed and produced – even the more repetitive and uninspired bits sound pretty musically excellent.
As a former piano player, I’ve always appreciated Coldplay’s extensive use of the instrument. There’s quite a bit of piano peppered throughout this record, perhaps most memorably on hit single “Speed of Sound”, one of the best tracks on the album. Beyond simply the keys, the instrumentation on X&Y, which borders on electronic at times, is solid and accompanies Martin’s crisp voice and fluttering falsetto quite well.
Coldplay’s music may be somewhat unremarkable when compared to similar acts, but there’s a quality of sharpness and maturity that generally manages to set it apart. There are certainly moments on this album where Martin and the rest of the band sound pedestrian and less than exciting, but they never dive downward into banality or amateurism. It’s a professional album, and it sounds very musically good.
Perhaps the album’s most significant weakness – even then, not nearly as significant as it could be – is Martin’s lyricism. Too often, he resorts to empty platitudes or uninspired metaphors, and he has a tendency to fall thematically flat more often than the rest of the band. (At the very least, even his most uncreative lyrics are, for the most part, well-delivered.)
I can understand the typecasting of the group as “boring”, seeing as it’s a line of thinking I’ve often indulged in myself. However, if nothing else, X&Y is an album that deserves an open-minded listen – it just may have a couple of surprises in store.
Score, Adjusted for 2017 Ratings Inflation: 7.7/10