By Eleni P. Austin

“Strange days are here to stay, ever since Bowie died, it hasn’t been the same, all the madmen are going mental, Grandma’s on the fentanyl now, strange days are here to stay.” That’s Green Day, trying to navigate this not-so-brave new world on “Strange Days Are Here To Stay,” a track off their latest opus, SAVIORS.

Hard to believe it’s been 30 years since Green Day seemingly burst on the scene with their breakthrough single, “Longview.” A surprisingly animated ode to onanism, it catapulted their third album, Dookie, to the top of the charts. Most songs from this era, seemed destined for One-Hit-Wonder-ville (“Mmm Mmm, Mmm, Mmm,” anyone?) But these snotty and slightly grotty kids not only ushered in a second wave of Punk Rock, throughout years they have managed to create a surprisingly thoughtful and enduring body of work.

In 1987, childhood chums Billie Joe Armstrong and Mike Dirnt (born Michael Ryan Pritchard) started their first band, Sweet Children, in their small, Northern California hometown, Radio. Their first professional gig happened a year later at Rod’s Hickory Pit in nearby Vallejo. Billie Joe sang and played guitar, Mike anchored the low-end on bass. The following year they added drummer John Kiffmeyer.


While they were inspired by the local success of East Bay Punk/Ska outfit, Operation Ivy, the trio took their musical cues from ‘70s Punk progenitors like The Ramones, The Clash, Buzzcocks, Sex Pistols and Stiff Little Fingers. Soon enough, they were gigging regularly at 924 Gilman St., the all-ages performance space located in Berkeley. Larry Livermore, founder of Lookout! Records caught a set and signed them to his label.

Just before they headed into the recording studio, Sweet Children officially changed their name to Green Day (a sly tribute to their habitual herbal intake). Their debut, 39/Smooth, arrived in 1989. When John left the band to go to college, Tre’ Cool (ne’ Frank Edwin Wright) stepped behind the drum kit. He became a full-fledged member just in time to record the trio’s sophomore effort, Kerplunk.

Relentless touring on both coasts and everywhere in between raised their profile exponentially. Once sales for Kerplunk hit the 50,000 mark, major labels took notice. Green Day signed with the artist-friendly Reprise Records. They quickly returned to the studio with Rob Cavallo.

Recorded in under three weeks, Dookie (a quaint colloquialism for “shit’) arrived in February 1994. Videos for “Longview,” “Basket Case” and “When I Come Around” immediately went into heavy rotation on MTV. Mainstream radio followed suit and by the end of the summer, the band was added to Lollapalooza and Woodstock ’94.

For the remainder of the 20th century, the three-piece could do no wrong. Insomniac was released in late 1995, and Nimrod appeared two years later. The latter included the ruminative, string-laden “Good Riddance (The Time Of Our Life).” The song became a crossover hit, landing on M.O.R. stations, sandwiched between Mariah and Celine. It also scored milestone moments on TV series like ER and Seinfeld. But with the 2000 release of Warning, it was clear that Green Day was experiencing some creative burn out.

At the dawn of the new Millenium, the band released a couple of compilations, International Super Hits! and Shenanigans! By 2003, they were hard at work recording their seventh album, Cigarettes & Valentines. Twenty tracks had been completed when the masters were stolen from the studio. Rather than attempt to recreate those tracks, Green Day started over from scratch and the result felt like they’d captured lightning in a bottle.

Released at the tail end of the 2004 Presidential election cycle, American Idiot packed a powerful political punch. A concept album, the Punk Rock Opera tells the story of Jesus in suburbia. Evenly split between love and rage, the song cycle touches on the fallout from the Iraq War, culture wars and the divisive legacy of George W. Bush.

Drafting off the blueprint that The Who created with song suites like “A Quick One” and seminal works like Tommy and Quadrophenia, Green Day hit the jackpot creatively and commercially. The record received rapturous reviews and debuted at #1 on the Billboard charts. Nominated for five Grammys, it won one for Best Rock Album.

Five years later, the band doubled down on the winning formula with a second concept album, 21st Century Breakdown. Hewing more closely to Bruce Springsteen’s songs of hope and redemption, the narrative follows a couple as they deal with economic depression, fundamentalist religion and the aftermath of George W. Bush’s presidency. The album shot to #1 in the U.S. and worldwide.

Billie Joe’s ambitions and substance issues collided in 2012 when the band released three long-players, Uno!, Dos! and Tre! within months of each other. During a high profile show in Vegas, He had a bit of a meltdown. Once the band honored their tour commitments, he checked into rehab. After Billie Joe completed treatment, Green Day took an extended break. They roared back to life in 2016 with Revolution Radio, a trenchant testimony to their tenacity. Four years later, Father Of All Mother-Fuckers arrived just ahead of the pandemic. The album purposely avoided politics, partly because Trump felt like such an easy target. Now they’re back with their 14th long-player, SAVIORS.

The raucous opening track, “The American Dream Is Killing Me” announces itself with skittery guitars, roiling bass and a see-saw beat. The melody and arrangement lands somewhere between a Punky sea shanty and a Celtic sing-a-long. But the lyrics offer sharp snapshots of a post-MAGA landscape: “The American dream is killing me, when it’s all double talk of conspiracy, the American dream is killing me/People on the street unemployed and obsolete, did you ever learn to read the ransom note, don’t want no huddled masses, TikTok and taxes under the overpass, sleeping in broken glass.”

Since day one, Green Day has always managed to salt their Punkiest anthems with irresistible hooks. That gift has not diminished over the years. Take the sneering and cahotic manifesto of “Look Ma, No Brains,” Staccato guitars collide with ferocious bass and a jackhammer beat. Taking a page from The Ramones’ handbook, lyrics like: “Slam danced on my face again, nonsense is my heroin, Rude Boy going comatose, drop out and I’m adios” echo the defiant dysfunction of “We’re A Happy Family.”

Then there’s “Coma City.” Waspish guitars buzz like Murder Hornets, wrapping around spidery bass lines and a breakneck beat. Ruthless lyrics take aim at the relentless gun violence that occurs almost weekly in this country: “A gun shot gun shot heads, shooting in the distance, it’s on your face and hands with no resistance/Coma City, don’t call the cops, word on the street is they all quit their jobs.” The tempo accelerates on the break unleashing a torrent of shapeshifter guitar riffs, as bass and drums line up with military precision.

Then there’s the willful nostalgia of “1981.” Boomerang guitars connect with boinging bass and a blitzkrieg beat. Longing for less complicated times, lyrics evoke those dayglo days of yesteryear: “She’s going to bang her head like 1981, she’s throwing punches to the beat, to the sound of cable TV, and she’ll never see the world the same, she is a cold war in my head, and I am East Berlin, on the danger side of parts unknown.” As end times approach, there’s something comforting and quaint about “Pain, commies and cocaine, slam dance in acid rain, we live the dream for 15 minutes of fame.”

Finally, “One Eyed Bastard” marries rivalry and revenge, and the results aren’t pretty. Bristling guitars are tempered by plinky toy piano notes, prowling bass and a bludgeoning beat. Lyrics issue a warning: “Vendetta is a friend of mine, revenge is sweeter than wine, I never asked to hear your god damn feelings, get on your knees when you’re kissing my ring.” Stuttery power chords ride roughshod atop sludgy bass and a mastodon beat on the break, giving the song a Grunge edge.

Although politics have never been Green Day’s raison d’etre, at least three songs reflect these confusing and divisive days. On “Living In The ‘20s,” slashing power chords are matched by tensile bass lines and a walloping beat. Caustic lyrics paint a bleak portrait of siloed realities and technology’s intrinsic disconnect: “I got a buzz like a murder hornet, I drink my media and turn it into vomit, I got a robot and I’m fucking it senseless, it comes with batteries and only speaks in English/Congratulations, best of luck and blessings, we’re all together and we’re living in the ‘20s, salutations on another era, my condolences, ain’t that a kick in the head.” Fuzz-crusted guitars buzz and howl on the break as drums detonate like cluster bombs.

The aforementioned “Strange Days…” is powered by prickly guitar, barbed bass lines and caffeinated beat. Unambiguous lyrics pull no punches: “Strange days are here to stay, everyone is racist, and the uber is running late, I just lost my sense of humor, Gen-Z killing Baby Boomer now, strange days are here to stay.” Despite the lyrical sturm und drang, guitars shimmer and stack on the break, recalling the tight melodicism of Thin Lizzy.

The title track is all downstroke riff-age, tethered to pinwheeling bass lines and a blustery beat. Lyrics sift through the cynicism and ennui, sending out an urgent S.O.S.: “Calling all saviors tonight, make us all believers tonight, calling all strangers tonight, will somebody save us tonight/Everyone’s asleep and nobody’s dreaming, we all got the fiction that’s worth believing.” Billie Joe uncoils a Glam-tastic solo on the break that snakes through the mix.

The action slows on a handful of tracks, displaying the more contemplative side of the band. The plangent guitar licks that open “Dilemma,” are quickly supplanted by thick, piledriving riffs, angular bass and crushing beat. Billie Joe gets right to the point, addressing need to willfully revoke his sobriety because, um, FOMO: “Strange days are here again, and it’s getting weirder, here’s to all my problems, I just want to drink the poison/I was sober, now I’m drunk, I’m in trouble and in love again, I don’t want to be a dead man walking.”

“Bobby Sox” is a Queer mash note that gives gay romance the same bandwidth as heteronormative love. Shang-a-lang guitars, loose-limbed bass and rat-a-tat drums cocoon sweet verses like “Do you wanna be my girlfriend? I’ll take you to a movie that I’ve already seen” and “Do you wanna be my boyfriend? We’ll walk the cemetery and I’ll kiss you again and make our dead friends blush.” Distorto guitar riffs anchor the yowling chorus.

The most ambitious track, “Father To A Son,” goes from poignant and plaintive to intricate and almost Prog-Rock-y just under four minutes. Not unlike Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young,” this is a tender ode to Billie Joe’s now-adult sons, Joey and Jakob. Jangly acoustic guitars partner with burnished piano notes and a swirly string section. Conversational lyrics like “Well, I made a few mistakes, but I’ll never break your heart, a promise, father to a son/I never knew that love could be scarier than anger…is there anything I can do, a wisdom where your heart is heading to, a place you want more than I can give, father to a son,” make a heartfelt bargain between a Punk and his progeny. As the arrangement and instrumentation expand and crescendo on the break, it feels like that moment when the Grinch’s heart grows three times its size.

Other interesting tracks include the high octane “Corvette Summer,” the camaraderie of “Goodnight Adeline” and the sweetly lovesick “Suzie Chapstick.” The record closes with “Fancy Sauce,” a tart summation of everything that’s come before. Gauzy acoustic notes are quickly superseded by surly electric guitars, sinewy bass, and a cantilevered beat. Scathing lyrics speak to our shared psychosis: “Howling at the moon in the afternoon, watch the evening news cause it’s my favorite cartoon, gonna join a cult, do a somersault, everyone’s a victim and it makes me want to puke.” It’s a scabrous end to a great album.

This album reunites the three-piece with their longtime producer, Rob Cavallo. Green Day continues to honor their Punk Rock roots, but aren’t afraid to color outside the lines. On SAVIORS, crackling melodies are matched by crisp arrangements, along with playful and provocative lyrics that blur the personal and the political. 35 years in, these guys haven’t lost their swagger.