Over the past week, fans of Bille Joe Armstrong were greeted with a wonderful surprise. Billie Joe Armstrong announced that he has started a new band out on his own with Green Day touring guitarist Jeff Matika on bass, guitarist Kevin Preston on rhythm guitar, and David S. Fields on drums, and they go by the name of The Longshot. With the announcement of the new band, I thought that the record wouldn’t be released until mid-summer, but boy was I wrong! Not only is the album already done, they are in fact touring and coming to Toronto MAY 28th at the horseshoe tavern.
All I can say is “wow.”
Where to begin?
Well, Green Day has become almost as much of an institution and a business over the last decade as U2 became in the 90s and 00s. With such responsibility comes much pressure. A corporation is expected to keep on delivering the hits while not messing with the formula too much. What’s marketed has to sell, as there’s many more livelihoods riding on the success of the band’s next album. Green Day hit the massive big time with politically infused protest rock with American Idiot and went on to recreate it at least twice with 21st Century Breakdown and Revolution Radio (minus a rather terrible sidetrack back into snotty punk with Uno! Dos! Tres! ). Unfortunately, Revolution Radio didn’t manage to capture the grandeur that was American Idiotor the glory that was Insomniac, even though it came close in spots. The music and the message was becoming stale and the driving force behind Green Day, Armstrong himself, started to sound tired. Enter The Longshot.
Now, everything I said above might be bullshit. Frankly, I don’t know what’s going on in the Green Day dynamic and I’m just applying what I’ve witnessed happen to other bands when they got to Green Day’s level. I have to believe that what I’m surmising though is at least close to what is going on. Sometimes you just have to break yourself out of a rut, and many times the best way to do so is by branching out a bit and trying something a little different. That’s what Armstrong is doing here with The Longshot. Love Is for Losers is Armstrong reveling in rock and roll as only a punk can. With its Beatles-esque riffs (“The Last Time”), its lyrical nods to the early days of rock ‘n roll: “I’m rolling like a stone!” (“Taxi Driver”), “And twisting the night away!” (“Chasing The Ghost”), as well as the Peter Buck-esque riffs (“Body Bag”), and the video for “Love is For Losers” being set in the Neon Graveyard in Las Vegas (a town many original rock n’ rollers like Elvis played later in their careers) it’s pretty obvious that Armstrong is paying homage to the greats of the genre the best way he knows how to – with a reinvigorated punk energy that he once nearly had a patent on at the mainstream level.
It’s that reinvigorated punk energy that has been missing from the last several Green Day albums. The guys, and Armstrong in particular, felt like they were going through the motions. It appears all Armstrong needed was to play some solos, scrub the eyeliner off, and simply rock out, and, make no mistake, The Longshot really rock out here.
The drums roar, the guitars lay out thick slabs of meaty riffs, and Armstrong dumps his breathless approach to singing, something else that became rote (and trite) on the last few Green Day albums. Standout track “Soul Surrender” rocks along with a swagger that suits Armstrong’s guitar playing. It’s fun and punky, while at the same making excellent use of…wait for it…handclaps. In short, it’s brilliant. The thick drums and guitars of “Turn Me Loose,” with it’s short rockabilly riff (it’s so short you might miss it, but it’s there), cap its swinging rhythms gloriously.
The album’s only misstep is its closing song “Goodbye To Romance”. Frankly, it’s a rehash of “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)”, and “Wake Me Up When September Ends”. Do we really need a sad, acoustic guitar driven song from Armstrong that will replace both the former at high school graduations and endless emo teen playlists? No. No we do not. “Goodbye To Romance” fails to fit in here also because it lacks Armstrong’s rediscovered energy. All in all though, my dislike of the song ends up being more of a minor quibble with an album that in every other way is by every other standard nothing short of amazing.
Billie Joe Armstrong is back and better than he’s been in years. I have no doubt that his rediscovered love of punk, rock, and rolling out the hits means that there’s plenty of great music yet to come, from The Longshot, as well Green Day.