On the surface, it seemed like Green Day was really leaning into getting older. Their output post-2000 has been a wholehearted embrace of classic rock tropes and ideas, from big-hearted anthems about “real issues” (American Idiot) to concept albums (uh, also American Idiot, as well as 21st Century Breakdown). Hell, they even kind of did the KISS solo album thing with their ¡Uno!/¡Dos!/¡Tré! gambit back in 2012. In that sense, they seemed to have moved on a bit from the immature pop-punk band that broke this sound into the mainstream in 1994. However, while their ambitions certainly changed, their music arguably hewed closely to the pop-punk that made them famous, just with a few minor tweaks and flourishes added. Thus, a back-to-basics album would seem like a redundant exercise, yet here we have Revolution Radio, an album from a band seeking to recapture its former glory with only the faintest idea of what that former glory sounded like.

In some respect, Revolution Radio is a further classic rock trope being revived by Green Day: the pared-down album following years of excess. Billie Joe Armstrong has admitted as much; in interviews leading up to this album’s release, he stated what was obvious to everyone and conceded that the band’s triple-album ploy was the band being “prolific for its own sake.” Here, the band is reduced back to a trio and intent on bashing out pop-punk with a slight hint of social consciousness. Credit to them, then, for realizing that they can’t pretend to be apathetic wastoids at this point in their career. However, rather than inspiring, Green Day’s social consciousness as demonstrated on Revolution Radio is more exhausting than anything else.

Pop-punk is an aesthetically conservative medium, and aside from a few flourishes here and there, Green Day doesn’t fuck with the formula on Revolution Radio. There are indications of a different direction with the delicate, alt-country impressions that appear at the beginning of “Somewhere Now,” but it only takes 45 seconds for the distortion to come in and for business as usual to resume. From there, songs veer between the political and the personal, but Armstrong was never a subtle writer, and all of his clichés and empty platitudes sound just like that. Even when he cuts deeply into himself, as he does on “Still Breathing” (a song that could be interpreted as being about Armstrong’s struggles with addiction), he only seems able to do so in the most general terms. It may come from a personal place, but that connection doesn’t cross over to the listener, which might be the problem at this point for Green Day as a whole.

At its best, pop-punk forges a connection, whether through expressions of adolescent angst or toilet jokes. Unfortunately for Green Day, there can come a point for musicians (whether via age or financial success) where it becomes more and more difficult to connect. Whether they intended to or not, Green Day moved on from that youthful pop-punk period in their career a long time ago. In trying to turn back the clock, they’ve only proven just how difficult it is to pull that off without sounding like tired old men.

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