As the most commercially popular punk band in the history of the United States, Green Day have often admirably taken it on as their obligation to make Rock For Our Times, to heal — or, if the case requires, salt — our national wounds. It’s a tough gig. The Clash only had to make London Calling once; Green Day have been around for 34 years, six presidents, four or five stupid wars, a few global financial collapses, and 17 seasons of The Voice. That’s a lot of American shitpocalypse to churn through.
Sometimes the band has leapt into its role as generational spokespunks (2004’s landmark American Idiot); at other times, they’ve seemed to sort of slide there by default (2016’s Revolution Radio). Their latest album arrives at the dawn of an election year, but this time out, if you’re expecting the band to cater to our pain and spray-paint another blood-red Rorschach on the Washington Monument or tell you who to vote for in the New Hampshire primary, well, you’re going to have to get that advice from Paul Krugman or Bon Iver or whoever. If you’re just looking for some catchy pop-punk rock & roll tunes, they’ve written 10 of those, and most of them are real good.
The band heard on Father of All Motherfuckers (or Father of All…, as it’s being sold at the Safemart over in Cowardsville) sounds refreshingly, almost Kerplunk-ishly, unburdened by legacy or accrued stature. While the album’s title might reasonably describe the current occupant of the White House, Billie Joe Armstrong recently told Rolling Stone that the band specifically set out not to waste their time on a bunch of songs about Trump. Instead, they wrote a bunch of songs about being middle-aged rockers in love with their record collection. In some ways, Father of All… recalls 2000’s Warning, an album released at the nadir of alt-rock’s cultural reach in which they displayed their mastery of vintage rock songcraft. Like that record, this one seems uniquely minor for Green Day, both in design and execution, and in a good way.
Warning opened up tastefully nicking the Kinks’ “Picture Book.” The references here are equally classic. The glam-slam stomper “Oh Yeah!” summons Joan Jett’s version of “Do You Wanna Touch Me.” The speed-freak Merseybeat cheese of “Stab You in the Heart” is phony Beatlemania at its finest, right down to its screaming-girl crowd noise. A couple songs — the begging, pleading breakneck title track, the wonderful Dexy’s Midnight Runners-tinged mod swing of “Meet Me on the Roof” — play with echoes of Sixties soul.
Fitting this bright palette, Green Day revel in a decidedly lighthearted vision of teenage wasteland, piling on razor hooks, corn-syrup guitar crunch, and hand-clap drum bash, rarely stooping to inject these oft-blazing tunes with much in the way of bile or ballast. When they do channel all-American angst, the tone is winking and wistfully matter-of-fact, rendering adolescent rage as a fun, formal gesture. “Graffitia” riffs on Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues” and Summer of Love pop as it looks back longingly at the glory days of Bay Area punk; the album’s big anthem is knowingly titled “I Was a Teenage Teenager”; its catchiest tune is called “Sugar Youth,” and sugar-sharp it is, an absolute masterclass in Cali-core hooksmanship.
Things slow down for “Junkies on a High,” a torpid, bluesy grind that brings out the incipient fear and loathing that still lurks just below the surface of one of Green Day’s most fun albums. Father of All… is a bountiful act of recovered rock memory, an effortlessly affirming argument that the first mosh pit or car radio contact high you get when you’re 13 years old can be enough to sustain you long into life. It’s a deep, deep thing, and, in a sense, a defiant and subtly political statement, too: Even after the coup that installs Ivanka Trump as president for life, James Brown and the Buzzcocks will still be there for you.