Let’s start with the headline. Saviors is the best Green Day album in at least 15 years, possibly 20, depending on one’s feelings about 2009’s 21st Century Breakdown. Either way, it’s good enough to be a conversation worth having. Green Day spent the last decade-plus doing things like 2020’s perfunctory Father of All Motherfuckers, 2016’s so-so Revolution Radio, and 2012’s overstuffed but underwritten trio of albums Uno!, Dos!, and Tre! It’s refreshing to hear them on Saviors, where they sound focused and energized again.
The record starts with “The American Dream is Killing Me”, which seems like an intentional callback to American Idiot’s opening title track. It begins with a jig-like electric guitar riff before the full band kicks in with a classic bouncy Green Day beat. The bounce stays through the verses and pre-chorus, where Billie Joe Armstrong belts, “We are not well!” Then, the chorus is a big shout-along of the title. The song intentionally grinds to a halt for a few seconds for a brief, string-laden bridge but almost immediately kicks back into the main groove. It’s a very effective opening.
Lyrically, Armstrong cites vague concerns about the state of the country. Couplets like, “Bulldoze your family home / Now it’s a condo” and “People on the street / Unemployed and obsolete” don’t really take direct aim at anything. This is an interesting choice that seems specifically designed not to alienate any one section of the band’s audience. Despite that, Armstrong went ahead and alienated some of his audience on national TV on New Year’s Eve 2023 by changing a line in “American Idiot” to “I’m not a part of a MAGA agenda.”
It’s not like Armstrong has ever particularly hidden his political opinions, but one could do the mental gymnastics to ignore the fact that “American Idiot” was specifically an anti-George W. Bush song. Less ignorable for more conservative listeners is Saviors’ third track, “Bobby Sox”. It’s a power-pop banger that starts innocently enough when Armstrong sings, “Do you wanna be my girlfriend?” and describes things they can do together. Verse two comes along, though, and flips the script. “Do you wanna be my boyfriend? / We’ll walk the cemetery, and I’ll kiss you again / And make our dead friends blush / We’ll be getting married right there on the scene.”
The gender flip-flopping continues throughout the song, as Armstrong seems up for anything romantically. Besides the gender issues, though, it’s a lyrically very sweet track. Musically, it’s hugely catchy, with a simple sing-along structure. It also contrasts sugary “Ooo ooo ooo” backing vocals with Armstrong howling out “Do you wanna be my boyfriend” ferociously loudly. It’s a surprisingly intense performance that gives the song a punk rock coating.
The bulk of Saviors doesn’t really court controversy, however. It’s Green Day doing many things they’ve always done well. “Look Ma, No Brains!” is a fast-paced, melodic punk song that would slot in easily on any of their 1990s releases. It takes on stupid people without a lot of specific details. “One-Eyed Bastard” chugs and bounces along while Armstrong sings mafia-style lyrics like “Bada bing bada bing bada boom”, “I’m making an offer that you cannot deny”, and “Get on your knees while you are kissing my ring.” “1981” gets in and out in just over two minutes and repeats the simple chorus, “She’s gonna bang her head like 1981” a dozen times. It’s a lot of fun, but it’s also the kind of song that would get old quickly if the band did it more than once or twice.
Fortunately, there’s enough variety to keep the record from getting stale. “Suzie Chapstick” is a melancholy mid-tempo song that lets Armstrong embrace his best “woe is me” vocal tone. Bassist Mike Dirnt also gets space to throw in some verve in his playing here, getting more active with the slower speed. “Father to a Son” is the only true ballad here, full of acoustic guitar, piano, and strings. It’s syrupy but heartfelt, and longtime producer Rob Cavallo knows how to tweak the sonics to balance the quieter bits while also putting the “power” in power ballad.
Armstrong has often referenced other songs, usually with quick melodic homages. Occasionally, the band has done it for an entire track, stretching the idea of an “homage” to its breaking point. It works on Warning single “Waiting”, an extremely effective reworking of Petula Clark’s “Downtown.” However, this practice hit its nadir with Father of All’s “I Want to Stab You in the Heart”, which was a direct ripoff of the early rock hit “The Hippy Hippy Shake”. On Saviors, the most familiar song is probably “Strange Days are Here to Stay”, which sounds a heck of a lot like Green Day’s own “86”, off of ’95’s Insomniac. On balance, though, Green Day doing a retread of their own song is an improvement over hoping we won’t notice repurposed 1960s hits.
“Strange Days” acknowledges the current day with lines like “Ever since Bowie died, it hasn’t been the same” and “Grandma’s on the fentanyl.” The hard-hitting “Living in the ’20s” also directly takes on current events, opening with the line, “Another shooting in a supermarket,” and including “Playing with matches and I’m lighting Colorado.” “Goodnight Adeline” ends on the other end of the spectrum, a love song that ends as a classic noisy power ballad. It allows Armstrong to show he can still create irresistibly catchy melodies when inclined.
The closer, “Fancy Sauce”, also starts like it will be a quiet ballad, with just Armstrong singing and playing a clean electric guitar. This lasts 45 seconds until the whole band and guitar distortion come in on the chorus. That chorus is an instant sing-along as Armstrong repeatedly belts, “We all die young someday!” The second chorus also features a hat tip to Kurt Cobain, a Green Day contemporary who did die young, with the line “Stupid and contagious”. As a big, mid-tempo rocker, it’s a solid finish to the album, and the noisy guitar solo outro feels like an acknowledgment that Green Day is essentially carrying the torch for both punk and classic rock now.
Green Day are an extremely unlikely choice to be the only rock band from the 1990s playing stadiums in 2024. Several other 1990s bands still play shows at the arena level, including Red Hot Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam. Yet only Green Day has consciously made that leap from 15,000-18,000 capacity arenas to the rarified 30,000-50,000 attendees that stadium shows bring in. Of course, they’re savvy enough to know they aren’t bringing in that many all by themselves. They’re not quite on the level of U2, Metallica, or the Rolling Stones. The first time they played stadiums, in 2021, they brought along Fall Out Boy and Weezer, and for the summer of 2024, it’s Smashing Pumpkins and Rancid. The latter two are clearly not as much of a draw overall as the former two, which brings us back to Saviors.
This is a strong album from top to bottom. There are no bad tracks among these 15 songs, and it’s very entertaining. It’s Green Day doing what they do best, rocking hard with punk rock fury and a handful of slower tracks to keep it interesting. The only surprise with Saviors, after the past 15 years of Green Day releases, is that they still have it in them to make a record this solid. However, this is the kind of record a band working to fill stadiums needs to make. They aren’t experimenting anymore or goofing around. Saviors probably won’t bring in a lot of new fans, but it will attract lapsed devotees from the past 30 years to check out the band again. These songs will also fit snugly at these upcoming marathon concerts, fitting in snugly between the full album performances of Dookie and American Idiot without sending thousands of people scurrying to the beer lines en masse.