I must confess that, for the first time in almost thirty years (that was the first time I heard Kerplunk and became a fan), the first new song I heard from Father of All Motherfuckers felt like a balk and not a hit to me.
The first song I heard was the album’s title track, and it really took me by surprise; I had read that Billy Joe Armstrong really wanted to change up what Green Day was doing when it came time to record their thirteenth studio album, but that knowledge did not prepare me for what I heard.
With greater interest placed on rock rhythm (literally ROCK rhythm – “Father of All Motherfuckers” plays more like an Eagles of Death Metal song than anything else, and like a Little Richard song, by extension) and less on any of the pop punk forms (be they sonic, stylistic, formal or conceptual), the album opened very, very differently from what I had come to expect from Green Day.
I got through “Father of All Motherfuckers” and wanted to see where the album would go next and, while it never gets to the “four-chord pop-punk mayhem” form that fans really expect of the band, Green Day does find a way into their own success on their own terms – just as they did on the other albums that the band has done which weren’t instantly embraced, like Insomniac, Warning and Revolution Radio.
After “Father of All Motherfuckers” opens the doors, the album proceeds to fly in as many different directions as it has tracks in its running; some are fresh and new and some revisit older ideas that Green Day has investigated before, but each features a fresh spirit that’s instantly infectious and that is what can really get the album over with listeners.
The cutesy little keyboard riff which supports Billie Joe Armstrong’s vocal melody on “Fire, Ready, Aim” echoes some of the turns that Green Day took on Revolution Radio, for example, but without any of the Clash-y overtones that album featured, while “Oh Yeah” features a more poetic and carefully structured lyric sheet (check out passages like “I’m in the crowd full of angels and demons/ I’m looking out for the jingoes and heathens/ Nobody move and nobody gonna get hurt/ Reach for the sky with your face in the dirt/ Everybody is a star/ Got my money and I’m feeling kinda low/ Everybody got a scar/ Ain’t it funny how we’re running out of hope”), similar in structure to the more bombastic work which appeared on American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown.
In addition to that, the band also touches on points similar to those which were found on Nimrod (“Sugar Youth” has a springy and boisterous vibe similar to “The Grouch”) and even earlier than that (like on Dookie) when they just blaze through “Take the Money and Crawl” in the album’s late-playing.
As much as those songs bear an obvious connection to Green Day’s older work, however, that the songs are obviously fresh and new material is self-evident as well, as each also features an ambitious amount of fresh inspiration (from older R&B artists as well as Joan Jett and a few thoroughly unfashionable older rock acts too) and style added neatly to the mix. By the time “Graffitia” rolls through with a remarkable update of the vibes which once simultaneously powered the likes of Eddie Cochran (the auteur behind “Summertime Blues,” a song to which “Graffitia” owes a debt) and Elvis Costello, listeners will have been hooked, reeled and left to enjoy the fits of contentment the album has inspired within them.
While each and every song here certainly owes a debt to the ground that Green Day has covered before, each also adds a few new layers of texture and inspiration completely unlike everything the band has done before AND done it in a manner which (as albums like Dookie and American Idiot did before it) is endlessly captivating. Here, Green Day prove they’re perfectly able to reimagine themselves in a way which doesn’t abandon the sounds which made them superstars; on Father of All Motherfuckers, Green Day takes what they were doing in a slightly different direction and produces work which feels fresh, new and daring while also holding onto what made the band stars in the first place as well. True, I might not have seen the appeal of the direction Green Day took on Father of All Motherfuckers right away, but it didn’t take me long to figure it out and even less time to recognize how good it is.