PUNK IS ETERNALLY torn by two opposing forces: loyalty to fuzzy notions of romantic "populism" on one side, and a loathing of the actual populace in all their consumerist mediocrity on the other. That's a healthy tension and can yield all kinds of cool crap--such as the sixth album from self-described punk rockers Green Day. Unlike fellow former indie punks the Goo Goo Dolls, Green Day have opted, at this critical moment of truth, against the cheeseball soundwash and Meg Ryan movie song. Instead, self-producing this time, they've created something inspired by that brief era in Eighties new wave when the hookiest radio hits decided that flaunting your sexy lead singer and espousing vague social consciousness were hardly mutually exclusive acts.
If there's nothing here as indelible or intelligent as the Pretenders, or the Jam, or even the Violent Femmes, that's not to say that "Minority" wouldn't sound right in sync with such bands on some future Wedding Singer II soundtrack. Dig the dopey/right-on lyrics to that current No. 1 Modern Rock radio single, a real Brit-pub tubthumping singalong: "I want to be the minority/I don't need your authority/Down with the moral majority." (Dig the sly Pistols nod.) "Macy's Day Parade," with "Bridge Over Troubled Water" strings, initially sounds like a torch song. It is, actually, but it grieves for the illusory dreams offered by American consumerism. Is it ironic to hear google-selling frontman Billy Joe Armstrong moon, "When I was a kid I thought/I wanted all the things I haven't got/Oh, I realized the hardest way/...all along it was me and you?" It should be, but it feels instead more like dubious reportage from the front. Other cute/surprising influences: "Misery" blatantly references "Walk on the Wild Side" while copping a Kurt Weill oompah; "Hold On" pilfers a harmonica from the Beatles' "I Should Have Known Better."
The difference between Green Day and so many Eighties bands is that their midcareer shift to a more expansive, softer-edged sound does not feel like a huge loss, nor a quiet embarrassment. They're challenging themselves to write better songs, that's all--without surrendering to the petty achievement of mere craft that tired rockers so often pass off as "maturity."