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By Mark McConville
Much maligned by some critics and punk purists, Billie Joe Armstrong’s ability as an able musician always conjures up debates.
Is he any good? Is he an astute guitarist? Do his lyrics resonate enough?
Well, you know what? In my opinion, they do, and certainly, Green Day’s frontman has all these attributes and more. The hatred towards Armstrong can be hyperbolic, and the repentance the man has to put up with is truly ludicrous, to say the least.
Sure, Green Day as a band has changed over the years since the snot-nosed days when they described their lives as being “mundane” and “sexually unfulfilled.” Those days were fun-infused, and these latch-key kids made one of the most ground-breaking records of the 90s.
Dookie (1994) paved the way for this band, and we all know what transpired when the trio signed on the dotted line to become a major label outfit with Reprise Records. Once indie darlings, Green Day were scorned by the punk order and were unceremoniously told to grab their stuff and leave for the supposedly greener pasture’s riches and acclaim.
Dookie, through its simplicity, was a masterclass in songwriting. Though basic in its chord progressions, the record became a resounding success story. As for Armstrong, he showed his writing chops while attacking his guitar with urgency and tenacity. To the people who feel the frontman is a one-trick pony or some sort of poster boy, I’d counter that he showed that he could mix it with the most elite of songwriters.
Often branded as an inept guitar player, Armstrong has created some stellar riffs in his long career. Yes, Dookie may not have fully shown the purity of his work, but if we look at the rock opera, 2004’s American Idiot, ten years after Dookie, Armstrong had developed and honed his playing.
Take “Jesus Of Suburbia,” for example. The track showcased Armstrong’s deft ability to design master riffs that would catapult American Idiot into the echelons of rock. But Armstrong didn’t stop there; no, the single “Holiday” crept in and further showed Armstrong’s skills as a guitar player too. That track, again, made American Idiot a colossus.
Even the older records, including 1997’s Nimrod, showed that Armstrong had the know-how to develop a nostalgic ballad in the form of “Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life).” While the track may have been simple in its chord progression, it drew people in, and it made people cascade into a dreamy world. Though it may have been overplayed when it was released, the track still remains a pivotal moment of the 90s.
Like many bands, Green Day has released under-par records. Take the 2012 trio of albums Uno, Dos, Tre, for example. To me, those records were mediocre, and they didn’t show much in terms of skill. But then, harken back to American Idiot, and we have wonders like “Letterbomb,” which does show ingenuity from Armstrong, Mike Dirnt, and Tre Cool. This epic song moved mountains for Armstrong’s technical ability and, to this day, is a forgotten gem.
The debates will go on and on, and Billie Joe Armstrong will probably still be undermined. His ethos has always been clear, though: punk is in his DNA. He may not be the most methodical guitar player, but look at his lyrics and tell me you don’t feel something in your heart.
In Armstrong, we see a musician who has changed the landscape for so many artists and bands. The fact that Green Day has released some artful music through the years and puts on a live show that keeps the crowd in the plan of Armstrong’s hands simply cannot be discounted.