Review: Green Day's 'Revolution Radio' Is 'Short on Jaw-Dropping Moments'

Plus, get the latest from Norah Jones, Phantogram and more.

ByABC News
October 12, 2016, 8:46 AM
Green Day perform onstage during the 30th Annual Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame induction ceremony at Public Hall, April 18, 2015, in Cleveland, Ohio.
Green Day perform onstage during the 30th Annual Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame induction ceremony at Public Hall, April 18, 2015, in Cleveland, Ohio.
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic/Getty Images

— -- intro: This week, it's interesting to note that both Green Day and Norah Jones have released new records. Why is this an interesting coincidence, you may ask? Well, the last time we heard from Jones was in 2013 when she and Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong collaborated on their Everly Brothers tribute, “Foreverly.” So, it is interesting that Green Day and Norah Jones would both offer their next efforts on the exact same day.

Also this week, Phantogram drop their third proper album, Toad The Wet Sprocket’s Glen Phillips releases his most recent solo album, jam-band favorites Phish return, as do Feeder and Kaiser Chiefs.

quicklist: 1title: Green Day’s “Revolution Radio” ***text: Four years ago, Green Day released a trilogy of albums in a span of three months. Personally, I really enjoyed those three records because they showed a strong sense of diversity and experimentation, but for obvious reasons, they did not sell as well as the band’s previous work. As if in response to the trilogy’s lukewarm reception, “Revolution Radio” is just about the safest album Green Day could have released. The newfound maturity of Green Day is there, but their albums usually come with at least a couple songs you need to hear immediately on repeat. This album is reliable, but lacks such moments.

The opening of “Somewhere Now” sounds like the band is trying to rewrite R.E.M.’s “Talk About The Passion,” while the upsetting mass-shooting perspective of “Bang Bang” is both a timely and poignant observation about how the media links violence and fame. The title track is insistent but a little predictable and “Say Goodbye” sounds a bit like a rewrite of “Holiday.” Part of the joy of listening to Green Day is that they keep circling the past, but there is something missing here.

“Still Breathing” sounds like it was written to please bland, modern radio-ballad standards, while “Youngblood” sounds like the kind of song Armstrong could write in his sleep. This isn’t an album without highlights, but it lacks the depth and the stretch found on both “American Idiot” and parts of the trilogy. It is short on jaw-dropping moments. This isn’t a great album. It is merely an OK place-filler.

On the plus side, production-wise, the album sounds less compressed when compared to the band’s other recent work. After the excess of the trilogy, Green Day obviously wanted a back-to-basics approach. They overstepped that.

Focus Tracks:

“Ordinary World” This mostly acoustic closer shares its title with the soon-to-be-released film that serves as Armstrong’s first starring vehicle as an actor. It is one of the few places where the band gets out of their comfort-zone. Armstrong can be an adept songsmith and this gentle ballad shows a bit of brightness.

“Bang Bang” This may be basic Green Day as far as its rocking energy, but lyrically, this is one of the band’s riskiest and most dangerous singles. This is an obvious response to the recent mass-shootings and the idea of becoming a viral celebrity. It is quite biting.

“Revolution Radio” This admittedly sounds like an “American Idiot” reject. You half expect Armstrong to name-check “St. Jimmy,” but even though it reeks of formula, it sticks in your head, which definitely counts for something.

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quicklist: 2 title: Norah Jones’ “Day Breaks” ****1/2text: Sales-wise, she may have peaked early with 2002’s “Come Away With Me,” but Norah Jones gets better and more nuanced with each album. Her latest “Day Breaks” is quite possibly her jazziest album to date, complete with complex solos and dense chord-structures. From the opening moments of “Burn” onward, it is clear that this is a thick mood-piece of a record, but Jones is more than up to the task. “Flipside,” for instance is a downright iconic reflection on how we need to stop violence and keep the peace, complete with a backdrop that belongs in both the jazz and blues worlds.

Jones always has had a bit of country in her sound as well and that doesn’t change here. There are momentary breaks in the set in songs like her take on Neil Young’s “Don’t Be Denied” and her original “Tragedy,” but these songs are still delivered with a jazz and soul-driven core.

The title track has a gloriously ethereal rise, while her take on Horace Silver’s “Peace” is both striking and enveloping. She closes the album with a great take on Duke Ellington’s “Fleurette Africaine (African Flower)” Her choice of covers between Young, Silver and Ellington shows an ambitious set of influences and her originals match up well with these songs.“Day Breaks” is not an album pop radio will probably champion. If you are looking for another “Don’t Know Why,” you probably won’t find it here. This is musically speaking at a much higher level. Jones is one of the few former Grammy darlings who has continued to blossom and grow as time has progressed. This album seems to be for those who ever doubted her jazz chops. Along the way, she further cements herself as an iconic crossover artist for the ages.

Focus Tracks:

“Flipside” Structure-wise this sounds like a well-worn jazz classic, but it is also a soulful protest song with lines like “Put the guns away or we’re all gonna lose.”

“Day Breaks” Part of me wants to put this song on and walk around New York as the sun is rising. It has both an ominous energy and a glorious one as well. But while the strings and bass-work seem to hint at something darker, this is a bit like her answer to Beck’s “Morning Phase.” A stunning orchestral moment.

“Carry On” Not only will this please fans of her country-minded side, but the organ-work here brings an earthy, gospel-like quality. This is classic Norah Jones.

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quicklist: 3title: Phantogram’s “Three” ****text: Phantogram’s third proper album, the appropriately-titled “Three” isn’t quite as immediate and iconic as their last album, “Voices,” but that may be because it comes from a much darker, more desolate place. Written in the wake of the death of singer Sarah Barthel’s sister, with titles like “Funeral Pyre” and “Run Run Blood,” this is most definitely not the party-ready record some would expect. Still, Barthel and her bandmate Josh Carter continue to show themselves to be adept mixers of modern pop and classic trip-hop sounds. This music isn’t above having bass-drops and yet it is also obviously still informed by classics from everyone from Portishead, to the Sneaker Pimps to Massive Attack.

They haven’t lost their drive either. Lead single “You Don’t Get Me High Anymore” tackles the subject of addiction with its lyrics while also maintaining a forceful dance-energy. Interestingly, this is an album that finds the duo reaching out to hired-guns as songwriting collaborators. Most notable of this bunch is former Semisonic-leader Dan Wilson, who has also co-wrote Adele’s “Someone Like You.” None of these songs sound like they have any sort of link to a song like “Closing Time.” In fact the remarkable thing about looking at the credits is how much this album doesn’t sound like it is intended to be the overt pop statement such a move would imply. In fact, “Three,” in comparison to their other work, is actually weirder and artier, even on trippy ballads like “Cruel World” and “Answer.” There’s a cathartic, experimental quality to this record that remains intact throughout the set.

Quite a few tracks on here find Barthel and Carter singing together, alternating with each other. Carter makes a striking solo vocal turn on “Barking Dog,” effectively coming into his own.

Most curiously, after all the darkness, the album ends on an up note with the club-banger, “Calling All.” While some might take objection to Barthel’s repeated line of “We all got a little bit of h- in us,” (think gardening tools) it’s an undeniable future hit with a strong hook.

On “Three,” Phantogram may spend a lot of time wallowing in the darkness, but that palpable sadness never causes them to lose their edge.

Focus Tracks:

“You Don’t get Me High Anymore” In many ways this feels like this set’s answer to “Black Out Days” from “Voices.” This is a nuanced and dense dance single that is worthy of being a hit, even with the eye-opening and sad chorus of “Walk with me to the end. / Stare with me into the abyss. / Do you feel like letting go? / I wonder how far down it is. / Nothing is fun. / Not like before. / You don’t get me high anymore.”

“Run Run Blood” Wow. This song is truly menacing. It is also one of the few moments on this album that shows that their recent collaboration with Big Boi as Big Grams left a lasting impression. Both Barthel and Carter are almost rapping their lines.

“Answer” This song is a beautiful ballad, even if the piano riff sounds like a glitch-y cassette recording and sometimes the beat sounds like it is running away from them. This bit of experimentation is actually refreshing on such a song that is otherwise so gentle.

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quicklist: 4title: Glen Phillips’ “Swallowed By The New” ****text: Toad The Wet Sprocket leader Glen Phillips spent most of the summer celebrating the 25th anniversary of that band’s classic album, “Fear.” I spoke to Phillips a few months back about both that record and this new one. Immediately listening to “Swallowed By The New,” it is evident that this is one of the most Toad-esque of all of Phillips’ solo albums.

Songs like “Criminal Career,” “Grief And Praise” and “Go” sound like reductionist, stripped-down immediate descendants of the songs found on “Fear” and “Dulcinea.” It makes you wonder why Phillips isn’t a bigger name after his hit-making tenure with Toad. The Autumnal orchestration on “Leaving Oldtown” will immediately grab you. Songwriting-wise, Phillips continues to come off like an American answer to Crowded House’s Neil Finn. Both men are masters at delivering dense, seemingly effortlessly-crafted songs rich with context and depth. Phillips has always portrayed wisdom beyond his years and that is shown here on the country-tinged lament “The Easy Ones” and the darkly-hued “Unwritten.” Phillips has been making records since he was a teenager. At 46, he still maintains with the same sense of intensity.

Phillips has always been fascinated with concepts from various religions, examining with a studied sense of focus. The gospel-minded “Held Up” shows that side to his work, with crunchy, driving force.

If ever you bought a Toad The Wet Sprocket album and enjoyed it, “Swallowed By The New” would serve as a fitting and an ideal entry-point into examining Phillips’ solo work. Considering he wrote so many hits in the nineties, Phillips’ solo career hasn’t gotten the level of attention it deserves.

Focus Tracks:

“Criminal Career” This song immediately sucks you into its atmosphere and seems ripe for licensing in television and movies. It also sounds like a bluesier relative to the Toad hit “Something’s Always Wrong.”

“Grief And Praise” Phillips seems obsessed with death, the end of existence and the meaning of life. Maybe that is why he has become such a scholarly student of various religious texts. This sounds like a funeral march and a thanks to those who have been left behind, with its chorus, “Sing loud while you’re able in grief and in praise.”

“Unwritten” This song sounds like a jazzier, more unsettled relative of the Toad classic “I Will Not Take These Things For Granted.” This is both tangling and entrancing.

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quicklist: 5title: Phish’s “Big Boat” ***text: More than 30 years into their career, the members of Phish have proven themselves to be some of the most adept and skilled musicians around. They have long been a band able to jam with the intensity of the jazz masters. This level of skill has not always translated however into great records. The highlights of “Big Boat” aren’t quite as appealing as those found on 2014’s “Fuego,” but nevertheless, there is plenty to enjoy here.

Like every Phish album, this record will play differently to two different audiences. The Phish die-hard fans will hear a much more appealing record than everyone else. Listen to a song like “Blaze On” and that will no doubt become a fan-favorite. To everyone else, it might sound like a cloying combination between the worst parts of the Grateful Dead and Jimmy Buffet.

The 13-minute jam “Petrichor” both plays to what the band is known best for on one hand and what has turned them into a jam-band stereotype on the other. Fans on both sides of the spectrum will find joy and appeal in both the Trey Anastasio-penned “Tide Turns” and the Page McConnell-penned “Home.”

While consistently likable on some level, the band spends the majority of the record giving these songs a winking, cutesy quality. It sometimes works. It sometimes doesn’t, but it is heard on both “Things People Do” and “Breath And Burning.” The darker textures creeping into “Wake Up Dead” sound refreshing in contrast.

There’s soft beauty in “Running Out Of Time,” while “No Men In No Man’s Land” is a bit of a funky embarrassment until the horns come in and bring it more of a sense of balance. “I Always Wanted It This Way” is an interesting electro experiment while “More” has some appealingly psychedelic edges.

In the end, “Big Boat” will be a more polarizing offering than Phish’s last few sets. Perhaps that speaks to the band’s uniqueness in the musical landscape, but it also shows that they remain an acquired taste. This is an album the diehards will love. For everyone else, this might not be the best entry-point.

Focus Tracks:

“Tide Turns” This a soulful, unexpected nod to Stax and it works quite well. This is a funky gospel-hymn of sorts with a very strong chorus.

“More” This track has a great build. Again, there’s an almost biblical sense of narrative going on here, but the track has an effective swelling quality.

“Home” Here Phish’s most precious qualities seem to work for them. This song still has a wink-wink, nudge-nudge quality, but the slamming backbeat and the endearing melody are enough to push it through, beyond its inherent sense of built-in kitsch.

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quicklist: 6title: Feeder’s “All Bright Electric” ***1/2text: For unknown reasons, Feeder seem to remain like a treasured secret in the U.S. Considering that they make grungy rock, you would have thought they would have been bigger here in the nineties. Pretty much, their only single to see any traction on this side of the Atlantic is “High” from their 1997 debut, “Polythene.” That had to do both with the song’s resemblance to Smashing Pumpkins’ “Mayonaise” and because of its high-profile inclusion on the “Can’t Hardly Wait” soundtrack. The truth is “Buck Rogers” from 2001’s “Echo Park” should have been a huge single here as well.

Now, nine albums in, the Welsh band continues to explore similar territory. “All Bright Electric” has a haunted, cinematic, bluesy core, but Grant Nicholas and Taka Hirose continue to expand their signature sound in new ways, from the metallic, almost Motown-esque hand-clap-driven insistence of “Paperweight” to the dark glow of “Infrared-Ultraviolet.”

This is a continuously churning offering with hard edges and a sense of urgency. There are a lot of layers to a track like “The Impossible,” while “Divide The Minority” has an intensely claustrophobic quality.

This is definitely one of the band’s strangest albums to date. Nicholas proved on previous singles like the title-track to their album “Comfort In Sound” that he could sing more traditional ballads, but here, the band is buried in a sinister, contemplative fuzz. It is hard to tell if the chorus in “Hundred Liars” of “we could be heroes” is intended as a Bowie tribute, but I wouldn’t doubt it.

“All Bright Electric” isn’t among Feeder’s most accessible albums, but it is still a fascinating offering from a band you should know better.

Focus Tracks:

“Another Day On Earth” This closer is a driving, highly emotional and deeply textured ballad that could easily be a hit single.

“Eskimo” There’s a sense of bluesy distress throughout this set and this single shows this side quite effectively. It is tightly-wound and truly engrossing at the same time.

“Infrared-Ultraviolet” This is another blossoming ballad anchored in darkly-hued, minor-key turns, with a swelling chorus. This album on the whole sets a very consistent mood. These songs are more tone-setters than they are memorable slices of pop.

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quicklist: 7title: Kaiser Chiefs’ “Stay Together” ***text: It is kind of strange how Kaiser Chiefs are slowly morphing into Duran Duran. This has been happening since their 2012 single “On The Run,” but from the initial listens to their new album, “Stay Together,” is seems like they are trying to streamline their sound into a more pop and dance-friendly sound. The guitar textures found on early hits like “I Predict A Riot,” “Oh My God” and “Ruby” are virtually gone.

Of course, when I first heard the singles “Parachute” and “Hole In My Soul” I was very distressed. In all truth, upon listening to these songs within the context of the whole record, these are both the weakest songs on the set and sonic outliers. One listen to the organ-driven shuffle of “Good Clean Fun” and those fears subside. The same goes for “Press Rewind” which begins with a voice declaring, “Pop music! This is pop music! We are writing and recording pop music!” In other words, the band is making a transition with a very strong sense of humor.

“Happen In A Heartbeat” is a shiny hit waiting to happen while “High Society” and “Still Waiting” show some biting sense of texture. This might be a brighter, more streamlined collection on some level, but at the same time, it maintains some downright bizarre edges.

In all truth, when it comes down to the end of the album, I’m not sure what Kaiser Chiefs are out to prove with “Stay Together.” It’s a record with a lot of pop-minded concessions and a lot of oddball choices as well. In the end it sounds like the label told them to make a pop record and they handed in “Hole In My Soul” and “Parachute” to keep the peace and then submitted the rest of the record as a bit of a tongue-in-cheek, experimental joke. The results are uneven but still kind of interesting.

Focus Tracks:

“Press Rewind” As mentioned above, this is definitely among the cheekiest tracks on the record, but it also has a strong pop sensibility. This would have been a better single than “Parachute” and “Hole In My Soul.”

“Good Clean Fun” If you have been familiar with the band’s previous work, this song will be an immediately comfortable listen.

“Indoor Firework” This is another shiny, but effective bit of synth-pop cemented by Ricky Wilson’s strong chorus.

Next Week: New music from Mike Doughty, Bell X1 and more.

Missed last week's? Get the latest from Regina Spektor, Bon Iver, Pixies, Solange Knowles, and more.

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