The 14th studio album by pop-punk legends, Green Day, called Saviors, lives up to its title as it very well may have saved the band from going down the unfortunate path that has haunted so many other legendary bands in their careers. While some bands have had trouble living up to the legacy of their past work, Green Day were getting dangerously close to this label after a bit of floundering after American Idiot. Sure, there were a few nuggets of gold to be found every now and then, but looking at the large body of work after American Idiot was a bit of a mixed bag. You had the strong 21st Century Breakdown record, followed by the hit or miss trilogy of ¡Uno! ¡Dos! ¡Tré!, then 2016’s decent Revolution Radio, only to be succeeded by arguably the weakest LP in Green Day’s discography, 2020’s Father of All Motherfuckers.
The benefit of Saviors is that it knows when to hit its moments, and when to reel things back a bit. This is largely in part to the band’s trust in longtime producer/collaborator, Rob Cavallo (Dookie, American Idiot), who gets Green Day finding solid footing throughout the LP. Lead single, “The American Dream Is Killing Me” basically writes itself with that electric guitar riff out of the gate from Bille Joe Armstrong, paired with the breakneck drumming of Tre Cool, and the steady hand of bassist Mike Dirnt. Armstrong bellows on the state of the world in the second verse of, “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,” and it’s clear that he and his bandmates are fed up with the status quo. The band doesn’t need to overplay the moment with a 10-minute rock opera, but instead chooses to deliver 15 great pop-punk songs that clock in just over 46 minutes. Green Day became their own saviors by sticking to a formula that works well for them, while still adding some new elements into the mix to keep things interesting, and simultaneously deliver their best work since American Idiot.
Other early standouts like the singles found in the frenetic punk rock bliss of “Look Ma, No Brains!,” paired with the swooning mid-tempo rocker of “Bobby Sox,” showcase a band willing to still take some creative risks and liberties in their music. “One Eyed Bastard” gets pretty damn close to ripping off P!nk’s “So What” in that spiraling guitar riff in the opening, but steers clear in the chorus of, “Vendetta is a friend of mine / Revenge is sweeter than wine / I never asked to hear your god-damned feelings / Get on your knees when you are kissing my ring / Bada bing, bada bing, bada boom.” By remaining familiar, but still sounding brash in their punk delivery, Green Day continue to reinvent themselves for the better.
”Dilemma” finds Billie Joe at his most earnest, and simultaneously delivers one of his best vocal takes in the latter stages of his career here. The song would’ve fit well, creatively, on Warning, and yet it also sounds like the band had been savoring this single for just the right moment in time. Kind of a “break glass in case we start to fall off” type of moment in their trajectory.
The speedy punk rock of “1981” brings Green Day back to the era of Dookie without ever sounding forced to revisit that magic time of the band, while the ballad of “Goodnight Adeline” briefly loses some of that momentum gained in the sequencing. Luckily, the song is far from a throwaway track in the band’s discography, as Billie Joe passionately paints the scene in the second verse of, “Somedays are holidays / Somedays you call your mother / Somedays you’re sober / But you’re still waking up with a hangover / I’m like a dead weight / I’m going to meet my maker / I’ll see you later / When I get my shit together, singing,” as he slightly dreads over the prospects of getting older.
The pattern of Saviors tends to follow the mid-tempo tracks and ballads with certified punk rock smashes, and that continues with “Coma City.” Green Day show little signs of slowing down, and Billie Joe delivers an electric guitar solo during the middle section of the song to make for a memorable mid-set song. “Corvette Summer” is a crunchy slab of riff-heavy rock n’ roll and showcases a band that still knows how to deliver the goods after so many LPs in their career. Logically, the band follows this with the mid-tempo gem of “Suzie Chapstick” that swoons along like a Beatles/Beach Boys’-esque summer jam. It has a really vibrant, shimmering, sun in your face type of vibe to it that just makes your outlook better than how you started.
The latter stages of Saviors never loses its early momentum gained, and this is evident on “Strange Days Are Here To Stay,” that sounds like a grown-up version of “Basket Case.” “Living in the 20’s” is a great groove rocker that complements the magic that Dirnt and Armstrong have with each other when they’re “in the pocket” of riffing. And of course, a great Green Day album wouldn’t be complete without a “late in the sequencing ballad” about growing up, and the band delivers the necessary goods on the sprawling “Father to a Son.” The second verse is preceded by a sweeping orchestral section that tugs on the heartstrings of all of us aging punks who can still appreciate a well-crafted power ballad.
The title track puts Tre Cool directly in the spotlight, as the drums take center stage while Billie Joe’s vocals are barely decipherable in the verses. This eclectic choice by Cavallo and Green Day pays dividends when the chorus of, “Calling all saviors tonight / Make us all believers tonight / Calling all strangers tonight / Will somebody save us tonight?” kicks in. Billie Joe’s atmospheric guitar solo in the bridge sounds legendary and hits its intended target in more ways than one. The clumsy ballad of “Fancy Sauce” sounds like something Rivers Cuomo would’ve attempted to write during the Blue Album/Pinkerton sessions, and it’s the only track that didn’t do much for me on Saviors.
It’s safe to say that Green Day are back in a big way to kick off 2024. The band announced that their stadium tour this summer will find them playing Dookie and American Idiot in full, plus a sprinkling of other hits in their discography, which makes a lot of sense given the fact that their last album was not very well-received and they want to get their footing back. However, it is a bit of a shame that Green Day would need to resort to this strategy on their big tour, as Saviors definitely deserves an equal amount of love for its ability to steer them back on the right course. “The American Dream” may be killing Green Day, but Saviors is acting like their life preserver.