Upon the completion of “Jesus of Suburbia” the multi-layered pop-punk tour de force from 2004’s American Idiot, Green Day singer Billie Joe Armstrong said he knew there would be no turning back. In retrospect, it seems that his statement didn’t just apply to that album, but the rest of Green Day’s career. That album, and their next epic spectacle, 21st Century Breakdown, became not only a Broadway show, but the road map for what I believe will be the rest of Green Day’s career.
Their latest single, “Oh Love” was released this week and kicks off what is to be the next epic move for Green Day, back-to-back-to-back albums released between September of this year and January of next year. The albums are appropriately entitled ¡Uno! ¡Dos! and ¡Tré! It’s going to be epic, just like everything they’ve done since setting the bar oh so high more than a decade ago because, as Armstrong said, there's no turning back now.
It seems that once a band turns the dial up to EPIC, their options become limited. It’s a risky glory move that, if successful, makes the rest of a band's career an uphill battle. Take Outkast, for example, who after years of struggling in the underground scene finally broke into the mainstream consciousness with 2000’s Stankonia, a well-earned success. To follow it up, both members of the group took an album's worth of time to showcase their individual styles on the double album Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. It was so good that to this day our ears are still ringing with echoes of “Hey Ya.” (clap clap clap) However, the album's success ultimately came at the expense of the group who released their follow up film and album of same name, Idlewild, to lukewarm reviews and minimal success. They have been on hiatus since 2007.
I have no doubt that André 3000 and Big Boi can still get together and make magic. Neither of them has diminished in talent, but it’s so hard to follow up something as monumental as a groundbreaking double album. Just ask Smashing Pumpkins lead singer Billy Corgan, who is still attempting to make music as transcendent and universal as 1996’s Melon Collie and The Infinite Sadness despite years of missing the mark. Their new album, Oceania, was released last month and remains looking for the elusive success its epic predecessor brought. You might say the same for Guns N’ Roses, who disbanded following their 1994 epic double (individual) album Use Your Illusion. Although it’s hard to ignore the other obvious cause for that downfall (cough Axl Rose cough).
The only survivors of successful attempts at epic albums are those who consistently meet the challenge. The Who practically defined the rock epic with 1969’s Tommy and followed it up with two equally groundbreaking rock operas, Who’s Next (which, to be fair, was written as a rock opera called Lifehouse, and later turned into an album after band members complained that it made no sense) and, my personal favorite, Quadrophenia, an identity crisis set to a cultural war between mods and rockers. Likewise, Pink Floyd spanned roughly eight years, going from Dark Side of The Moon to The Wall without a single unambitious project. The only way David Bowie could continue after Ziggy Stardust was a nonstop process of Madonna-like transformation. (Though Madonna’s constant re-inventions were really more Bowie-like than the other way around.) The point is that once you go epic, a return to normalcy may mean the end of your career.
Pop, punk, rock, whatever they are, Green Day understands this notion. As a long time fan of the band (which I believe I’ve stated on this website at least two or three times) and their new single (which I have yet to state until this very moment – congratulations, you are witnessing history.) I’ll be eagerly on the look out for their releases, but tenatively wondering how long they can continue.
They’ve already tried on their The Foxboro Hot Tubs outfits, but their half-baked Sgt. Peppers held nothing unique enough on its own legs. Once their upcoming trio of albums are released and the obligatory tours are over, the band will have to somehow come up with a new trick to keep it interesting because going back to the studio and "getting back to basics,” may not be an option. History shows that sooner rather than later it may be Green Day’s turn to quietly step back to await a sure fire Rock And Roll Hall of Fame nomination, or at least take a break long enough to ensure the mere action of a comeback tour will be deemed big enough to follow this epic run they could very well tire themselves out on. One way or another, I'm prepared to ride the epic wave as long as it lasts.