Review | Green Day — Father Of All...
With Father of All..., Green Day are back and blander than ever before.
Jump scares always get me. Even when I’m not invested in the plot of a horror movie, even if I don’t find any of the monsters genuinely scary, even if I know there won’t be anything there, jump scares always make me jerk in my seat. While jump scares add tension to many great horror films, many bad movies rely on jump scares at the expense of presenting a legitimately scary story. When I watch the latter, I can’t help feeling resentful. Yes, the movie managed to activate the most primitive parts of my brain — the animal part that reacts to sudden noises and sounds — but failed at scaring me in any more lasting way.
I feel the same way about Green Day’s lead single “Oh Yeah,” which tries to create a dramatic atmosphere without any interesting lyrics, memorable hooks, or sticky instrumental passages. The music is “dramatic” in the same way simple jump scares are “scary.” Green Day uses every cliche — the loud, compressed bass hit, the clap track pounding out the beat, the rush of sugary synths — designed to get the adrenaline flowing. The blunt, pounding percussion instinctively makes me nod my head, but I can't remember the chorus an hour later. The lyrics create a sense of edginess by referring to rebellion, violence and sex, but don’t present any interesting ideas about rebellion, violence or sex. The stripped-back verse “suddenly” explodes into a glittery synth, and — even as the drop gives me a small rush of adrenaline — the music drifts into the background. There’s nothing engaging about the chorus beyond that momentary rush; the synths sound like blank, bright noise, lacking any depth or groove. Like a bad horror movie, the song gets the reaction it wants – but only on the most surface level. And, like a bad horror movie, it makes me feel cheated.
Cheated, and, to be honest, betrayed. As a lifelong Green Day fan, I was hoping for the raw energy, sharp political commentary, and off-kilter sincerity I used to reliably get from the band. I hoped the deep cuts would be more substantive (or at least entertaining), but most of Father of All... feels just as disposable. “Fire, Ready, Aim,” with its incessant clap track that sounds ready-made for football stadiums; “Father of All” with the sugary electro-pop chorus that, even after ten or twelve listens, I still cannot recall. Most songs on the first half of the album simultaneously remind me of Imagine Dragons, Smash Mouth, and Foster the People. There’s nothing inherently wrong with adopting a new style or sounding like other bands. Most of the time I hear an artist copy another musician’s sound, it’s because that sound helps them express a specific original emotion or idea – one person's sound, in service of another person's vision. Problem is songs like “Fire, Ready, Aim” and “Oh Yeah” don’t have any emotional content beyond the gimmicks pulled from other bands. These songs don’t evoke any feelings besides the vaguely dramatic atmosphere anyone can create with a soaring, synth-heavy chorus and a clap beat. There’s nothing in the lyrical content or song structure that suggests Green Day had a vision other than, “hey, let’s make a song that sounds like Imagine Dragons.”
While there are a few bright spots on the second, more experimental half of the album (“Take the Money and Crawl” has enough manic energy, bratty attitude, and infectiousness to work as Ramones-style punk) only “Junkies on a High” builds a specific, immersive mood. The track contains the same Imagine Dragons-esque gimmicks as other songs (a bass-heavy chorus swamped in reverb, high-pitched, squeaky sound effects). But here, everything feels slower, heavier, and more deliberate. Instead of interrupting the momentum, the spacey sound effects build off the steady guitar line that anchors the track. Gradually, the nervous, clinking xylophone, grimy bass hits, and twangy, distorted guitar licks all coalesce into a slow, sticky groove. All the pieces come together to convey the slow momentum of addiction, of needing to do something that's clearly destructive and not even very enjoyable. The song acts as a strange counterpoint to the rest of the album, which paints “not giving a fuck” as liberating and fun. In “Junkies on a High,” “not giving a fuck” sounds more like anhedonia - the inability to think deeply, feel passion, or do much of anything at all. “Rock and roll tragedy/I think the next one might be me,” Billy Joe speak-sings, as if his death is a hypothetical thing he has no control over.
While reviewing the album, I talked to several Green Day fans who advanced a theory: Father of All... is an intentionally bad album released quickly in order to fulfil a record contract. I was sceptical until I noticed one line tucked in the bright, bland mush of “Oh Yeah”: “ain’t it funny how we’re running out of hope… Oh yeah, oh yeah!” Suddenly, the shouted “Oh Yeah”s sound more like ironic, halfhearted attempts at happiness. Suddenly, I wonder if the synths’ bright blankness — the way the chorus gets less exciting and more deflating with each listen — makes an odd kind of sense. Maybe “Oh Yeah” is a song about facing the world with a happy-go-lucky attitude to mask the fact that nothing makes sense and you don’t care. If Father of All... is, as many hopeful Green Day fans claim, “just a troll move” to get out of a label contract, that makes the album an interesting meta-statement about the band’s exhaustion, annoyance and apathy. It’s interesting to think about whether music made “ironically” should be analyzed on the object level at all. Should I even be discussing the lyrics or instrumentals, or should I treat the album as some kind of meta performance art?
Call me biased, but I don’t think so. After all, music only has value because people want to listen; people listen because there's something inherently compelling about the music itself. And unfortunately, being interested in the context surrounding Father of All... doesn’t make the songs any more memorable or relatable. With the exception of a couple of tracks, I won't be revisiting this album.
Best track: "Junkies On a High"
Worst track: "Fire, Ready, Aim"