After a span of sixteen years spent examining a series of high-concept creative endeavors (American Idiot started the trend in 2004 which catapulted the band onto an echelon of rock stardom that no one imagined possible before, followed by another concept album in the form of 21st Century Breakdown and a three-album vanity project entitled Uno! Dos! and Tre! as well as another disc which got tacked on for good measure called Quatro!) and one other album which saw them trying on The Clash’s mantle of being “the only band that matters” to see if it would fit (see Revolution Radio), there wasn’t actually any question that Green Day had to get hungry and try something new. The band had played the four-chord pop punk songwriting paradigm well and ridden it hard to great success but, eventually, they needed to either change it up or risk the possibility that the excitement at new releases would diminish as they began to just get seen as more of the same old thing.
To answer that necessity, Green Day has released Father of All Motherfuckers and gone out of its way to do something fresh in the name of changing up their sound which actually carries with it an air or permanence; this time, Green Day elected to get Butch Walker to man the producer’s seat (instead of Rob Cavallo – who has produced seven of Green Day’s albums, and most of the best ones) and included just ten songs (the fewest of any Green Day full-length album to date). In addition to the number of songs on the album seeming to be abbreviated, the length of these songs is shorter too (ten cuts at an average of about two and a half minutes each works out to about twenty-six minutes in total runtime) – which makes Father of All Motherfuckers just a different kind of album altogether and listeners are given that sense even before the needle drops on the record.
…After the needle does drop, listeners will be happy to hear that there are both fragments of the sounds that Green Day has played with for the duration of their career mixed seamlessly with new and fresh inspiration as well. As good as it DOES GET though, there’s no question that it will take a second for listeners to get acclimated to what they’re hearing. Father of All Motherfuckers opens with the album’s title track and the sound (at least initially) is pretty surprising; the guitar tone on the song is pretty far from the buzz saw Stratocaster that fans have come to expect, and the compression employed removes all the stray sparks from the sound. Also, the more syncopated performance is unlike what fans likely expect. The same is true of Billie Joe Armstrong’s vocal performance; while Armstrong often has a more nasal tone in his vocal delivery, the higher register he uses here sounds more like something one would expect from Jesse Hughes of Eagles of Death Metal (which, according to Hughes, is supposed to sound like Little Richard). Even when the singer does lower down into his more conventional register (at around the half-minute mark), it still sounds a little more strained and frenetic, but the pay-off is that the tone in that moment compliments the suddenly-more-snarling guitar and the angrier, more dismissive sentiments expressed (“There’s a riot living inside of us”). After that, listeners will have an easier time understanding where the song is headed and will be able to appreciate the renovations made to the band’s sound.
After “Father of All Motherfuckers” establishes the angle that Green Day wants to take for this album, the songs get instantly easier to appreciate. “Fire, Ready, Aim” sees Green Day try on a sound similar to that of Iggy and The Stooges right down to the tinkling piano in the song’s chorus, and that effortlessly soups up the energy of the album’s A-side before “Oh Yeah” turns its sound sideways and comes closer to sounding like Gary Glitter. “Meet Me on the Roof” pushes Mike Dirnt’s bass forward in the mix to make the song really danceable, and then simplifies that same bass tone to attain something more distinctly Pixies-esque for “I Was a Teenage Teenager” to close the side.
It might not seem as though it was intentional but, the way it plays, it’s not hard to feel like “I Was a Teenage Teenager” is intended to be the centrepiece of Father of All Motherfuckers. The bass line (which sounds like it was lifted straight out of The Pixies’ “Gigantic”) really pushes the song along and gives it a very “inevitable” vibe which never wavers, even when the guitars kick in for the song’s chorus. However, that chorus feels like it’s supposed to be a bit confessional in tone (scan lines like “I was a teenage teenager/ Full of piss and vinegar/ Living like a prisoner for haters”), but that’s only part of it; the past tense language of the lyrics illustrates that the character has long since grown up, and the second half of the chorus proves that there is no going back – claiming otherwise would be mawkish and false (“I was a teenage teenager/ I am alien visitor/ My life’s a mess/ And school is just for suckers”). Anywhere else, this song might go unnoticed (it’s in the middle of the CD’s runtime and holds the dubious distinction of being the longest, slowest-moving song on the album) but, on the end of a side as it is here, it’s definitely a punctuation mark intended to make a point. Because of the point it makes too, “I Was a Teenage Teenager” ensures that listeners will not be leaving halfway through Father of All Motherfuckers; they’ll need the closure that the B-side will provide for the album.
…And after the point that “I Was a Teenage Teenager” makes, the scream which opens both the album’s B-side and “Stab You in the Heart” – coupled with rhythm which drives the song, is a perfect place for Father of All Motherfuckers to pick up its own movement. “Stab You in the Heart” masterfully makes music which was obviously borrowed from elsewhere Green Day’s own as it ambitiously creates a screeching classic which could easily belong to any band, but rings perfectly and believably as a timeless Green Day track simply because it was the band who recorded it first; anyone could have, but Green Day beat everyone to the punch. After that, Green Day produces a sound which actually feels as though it was discarded from Dookie or Insomniac for “Sugar Youth” and carefully walks the line between filler and phenomenal before feeling as though they’ve fallen into the more captivating K-hole in all creation for “Junkies on a High.” There, Billie Joe Armstrong treads very close to offering listeners a serious warning not to do the things he’s done the way he’s done them (“Mama said to me you’re gonna have your/ Enemies don’t beg don’t follow/ I’ve heard it all before I smashed my fingers/ In the door/ My downward spiral/ Oh yeah”) before flat-out saying that he ain’t no hero (“I’m not a soldier/ This ain’t no new world order/ My path don’t follow/ My name is nobody/ My pride is pornography/ Kool Aid is my motto”) and slamming the door on the song not with aggression but with infectious dissatisfaction. It might sound anti-climactic in print but, in practice, the way that “Junkies on a High” plays is absolutely hypnotic; the frustration is simultaneously palpable and undeniable, but presented in a way that anyone could identify with. After that, “Take the Money and Crawl” feels forgettable even though Armstrong manages to balance asking fans if he can get a witness while he goes on a bander with his trademark pop punk form, and then closes the going down with one more designer-impostor classic update in the form of “Graffitia.” There, Green Day manages to pull off re-writing the chord structure from the verses of Kenny Loggins’ “Footloose,” inject it with a bit of political hubris (“Calling the shots from the capital/ All that we got was the banks of hope”) AND STILL make it feel fresh, new and satisfying. How the band managed to do it might be the first great mystery of 2020, but there’s no arguing how well they’ve done it here; the stomping rhythm is a perfect and perfectly satisfying end to this album.
And, maybe because the run-time is short or maybe because the songs really are that good (probably not because of the limited-edition pink vinyl that my copy was pressed into, but vinyl usually makes things sound better and the mix on this album is no exception), listeners will definitely be looking for more from Green Day after the needle lifts from Father of All Motherfuckers. There’s little doubt that the band enjoyed themselves while making it as they made their way through a set intended to tip their own sacred cows and Father of All Motherfuckers definitely opens a few doors which would allow Green Day to escape the stage they’ve been stuck on but, ultimately, the choice isn’t the band’s to make – if the years have proven anything, Green Day has always needed their fans’ blessing to move on. Father of All Motherfuckers is absolutely very, very good, but it will ultimately be up to fans to decide if Green Day will be allowed to escape their conceptually-orchestrated purgatory.