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Billie Joe Armstrong: No Fun Mondays

2020 has been a banner year for captive artists, stripped of their ability to easily create music with their bands, churning out covers of classic songs. Why not, right? After all, they’re almost always a surefire serotonin boost even at their most unapologetically unaltered. Enter Billie Joe Armstrong of long-running pop-punkers Green Day and Foxboro Hot Tubs. Back in March, he began a series called “No Fun Mondays,” where he’d release a different cover every week as a means of passing the time until the world reopened. We’re still in exile, Armstrong included, but he had a good run, releasing 14 different covers – all of which are collected here in the obviously named No Fun Mondays.

It’s safe to say that the oft-misaligned covers album is one of the trickier things to pull off. If you shove too much of yourself into the song you can override the magic of the original song, but playing it too straight means leaving the listener wishing they’d just spent time with the original instead. The amount of transcendent covers out is pretty great, but in accordance with Sturgeon’s Law, the other 90% of them are total trash.

This isn’t to say that Armstrong’s covers fall into that “trash” category. Say what you will about the consistency of Green Day, but he’s also been playing pop-punk jams for more than three decades, long enough that the man can navigate a cover without any trouble. He also knows how to pick ‘em: he could have gone the cheap route that Weezer took with The Teal Album and picked the most obvious songs he could fart out, but outside of Kim Wilde’s “Kids in America,” “Manic Monday” by the Bangles, and the still-flawless “I Think We’re Alone Now” by Tiffany, the collection is devoid of bona fide hits. Instead, he adds a simple pop-punk sheen to songs like “That Thing You Do!” (an obvious tribute to power-pop juggernaut Adam Schlesinger, who passed away from Covid in April) and Wreckless Eric’s “Whole Wide World.” He does send-ups to Billy Bragg with “A New England” and John Lennon with “Gimme Some Truth,” both obvious artist choices but, thankfully, the songs are less than obvious to keep it from being too on-the-nose. From a purely curatorial standpoint alone, the programming for this collection is impressively tasteful. Who would have thought to include Italian singer Don Backy’s “Amico” or “Not That Way Anymore” by Stiv Bators of Dead Boys?

Where it all falls apart is in the execution. Taken as they were presented – as a weekly series, spread out over the course of 14 weeks – each of these songs is, more or less, a winner. There’s no reason why “Kids in America” or “That Thing You Do!” would be a failure in Armstrong’s capable hands, as these songs are fully in his wheelhouse. When combined with the other 12 songs of No Fun Mondays, though, it all wears a little thin. Once you’ve heard a couple Green Dayified takes, you can reasonably imagine what the rest will sound like – and your imagination is probably not far off from any of them. There’s no depth, with every song sounding roughly like the last one, outside of staying true to the charms and hooks of the original versions. It’s somewhat admirable that he was able to cleave so close to a central sonic palette for the 40 minutes of covers here, but by the end of it, you’re left feeling like you never really need to listen to the whole thing again.

The sound of Green Day has been relatively stale for quite some time now – it’s why secret side projects like the garage rock project Foxboro Hot Tubs or the disguise-centric new wave project The Network exist – they’re outlets for Billie Joe Armstrong to refresh himself, free of the expectations that come from being in a band that have, for better or worse, been an unkillable band for 30 years. It’s fully evident that the No Fun Monday project served as a necessary and excellent respite during the early days of Covid, and the amount of sheer joy he’s feeling when making these songs shines through. The collection is worth a listen, but past that, it’s easier to pick a treasured few from the bundle for occasional consumption – preferably mixed in with other, more distinct songs.

The collection is worth a listen, but past that, it’s easier to pick a treasured few from the bundle for occasional consumption
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Pop-Punk Undercover

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