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Green Day’s Sociopolitical Sarcasm Ages Well in Sharp ‘Saviors’: Album Review

Green Day has a real knack for showing off its distaste with the sociopolitical landscape and its disgust for growing up with curt, caustic humor and seductively contagious melody — most of all in the handsome bookends of 2004’s “American Idiot” and, now, “Saviors.” The Bay Area post-punk trio couldn’t have done better for a real or imaginary sequel to the preceding Bush-era classic than this week’s bruising, culture-bashing release.

That’s not to say that Green Day’s five albums in-between “American Idiot” and “Saviors” didn’t sparkle. They did, some more than others. But none of those records sharply synopsized and criticized the cultural currency of their release days’ moment and the ennui of incremental adulthood – with some nicely-relayed Beatles-esque twists – than those two albums, 20 years apart. In fact, though “American Idiot” spawned a Broadway musical of the same name and sold six-times platinum, “Saviors” is even crisper and richer. Credit Rob Cavallo — the producer behind “American Idiot” and Green Day’s commercial breakthrough of 1994, “Dookie” — with aiding Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt and Tré Cool in unsheathing their knives and sharpeing their new music with such complex harmony alongside the old-school punk.

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Truth, justice, love and idiocy, American-style, still plague and embolden singer-lyricist Armstrong’s worried mind on “Saviors.” Starting with the spunky gallop of “The American Dream Is Killing Me,” Armstrong and his bandmates/co-writers rave savagely with sweet, swiftly rendered Beatles-ish strings on the song’s bridge and antisocial (and anti-MAGA) sentiments such as “Don’t want no huddled masses, TikTok and taxes / Under the overpass, sleepin’ in broken glass.” And the near-hardcore riffing of “Look Ma, No Brains!” gives way to a gorgeously melodic chorus whose highlight is its ascending intricacy, and a set of lyrics poking fun at a system that awards gold stars to its least-deserving souls.

Not every song on “Saviors” touches down hard and humorously on America’s weak moral conscience, iwalking wounded or easily led followers.

The rocking, ’50s-ish swoon of “Dilemma” looks at the bicameral mindset of sobriety, drunkenness and falling in love. The stuttering “Bobby Sox” wears its omnisexuality with pride (with Armstrong screaming “Do you wanna be my girlfriend,” true romance has never sounded scarier). The Flogging Molly-like “One Eyed Bastards” is a love letter to all things “Goodfellas” (or “The Departed,” if you allow Green Day its Irish Scorsese moment), with its “kiss the ring” theology and a sing-song-y chorus of “Bada bing, bada bing, bada boom” that would make Joe Pesci proud.

Nostalgia plays a big role in “Saviors” when it comes to “1981,” “Suzie Chapstick” and “Corvette Summer.” While the first makes memorable its chorus with the phrase “She’s gonna bang her head like 1981,” and the second pleads for making memories far beyond Instagram, “Corvette Summer” is a ruminative stunner – a goofy love letter to rock ‘n’ roll filled with Beach Boy lyrical cribbing, loud cowbells and the silly, angsty plea of “hit me with power chords.”

The smirking but still earnest sentimentality of their biggest hit, “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life),” seeps into two of “Saviors’” most radically different-sounding tunes. While the ”fairy dust and ballyhoo” promises of “Strange Days Are Here to Stay” is reminiscent of Generation X-era Billy Idol, the insistent testing of a family’s wills is given spoonful-of-sugar melodicism with its acoustic start point and its lingering sawed strings.

Still, when Armstrong does what he does best, takes aim at society’s ills, he uses a poison pen to blithely look at the every-hour-every-day ultraviolence of “Living in the ’20s” with the phrase “Another shooting in a supermarket, I spent my money on a bloody, soft target / Playing with matches and I’m lighting Colorado.”

Though “Saviors’” penultimate track, its title tune, sounds grandly climactic with its “Sgt. Pepper”-esque dénouement, Green Day has time for one more sad, socially scabrous, fresh finale in “Fancy Sauce.” As the slow parade of crackling snare drums and strangled guitars rocks pensively to its close, Armstrong – in probably his most passionate vocal – bleats on about “Scratching at the wallpaper, in my solitude,” cartoon newscasts and ever-present victimhood before turning Kurt Cobain’s most cherished phrase on its head — updated as “Everybody’s famous, stupid and contagious” — before ending with a sardonic “We all die young someday.”

Armstrong has real guts taking on the ghost of grunge, the alternative nation and “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Then again, this is the same week that Pitchfork all but died off, sadly, so go figure.

From winding up Nirvana to raging over our long national nightmares, Green Day keeps the good-bad times rolling with spite, silliness and sarcasm on “Saviors,” with a big helping of merry mellifluence. Here’s Green Day now. Entertain us.

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