Popular punk rock band Green Day’s 12th studio album, Revolution Radio, hit stores on October 7th, and has received a warm welcome from the public. Following a similar philosophy to that of the band’s 2004 hit album American Idiot, which was inspired by the Bush presidency and issues regarding the current state of American society, Revolution Radio focuses on the exponentially-growing rate of violence in America. With this album it seems lyricist Billie Joe Armstrong has once again thrown the book of socially-acceptable topics out the window in nearly every song, a technique Green Day is commonly known for. Each song is filled with symbolism and allusions that encourage the listener to search for a deeper meaning.
Like with most Green Day songs, pages and pages could be written to fully dissect the language used for each song’s true meaning and possible alternative connotation, but I would like to specifically focus on the song the album is named after: “Revolution Radio”.
Many experts agree that the song “Revolution Radio” captures the essence of the album. This song serves as a much-needed intro to the ongoing themes addressed in the album. It also allows for new listeners, unfamiliar with the common characteristics of a Green Day song, to become accustomed to the abstract lyrics, concepts driven by social injustices, and a style pumped with hard core passion.
Right off the bat, “Revolution Radio” enters in with forte electric guitar followed by heavy drums, as if demonstrating what the first lyric instructs you to do: “Scream!” The listener does not even get through the first line of the song before his or her ears are greeted by controversial lyrics shining light on current issues and movements relevant to the modern day: “Scream, with your hands up in the sky/Like you want to testify/For the life that’s been deleted”. This is a direct reference to police brutality, an issue that is very much on the mind of our society, and has inspired movements like “Black Lives Matter”. These lyrics, however, are not even as opaque as some of Green Day’s past lyrics. Instead Green Day speaks to the listen with a direct order to scream and raise their hands in protest of the lives that have been heartlessly “deleted”.
The first verse continues with “Sing, like a rebel’s lullaby/Under the stars and stripes, for the lost souls that we cheated”. Here Green Day finishes the depiction of the a Black Lives Matter protest it began in the beginning of the verse. They use the symbolism of the American flag as reference to protesters often being painted as anti-American and wanting to tear the country apart, when in reality these people often want to bring the nation together.
The first verse comes to a close with the line “We will be seen but not be heard”, which, in my interpretation, is the band stating the obvious: that protesters can protest for months on end and still not be heard by those who most need to receive the message. It is with this captivating line that the song smoothly transitions into the chorus.
“We are Revolution Radio, Operation ‘No Control”/And the headline ‘My LLove’s BBullet PProof’/Give me cherry bombs and gasoline/Debutantes in surgery and the headline ‘Legalize the Truth’”. It is in this section, the most repeated section of the song, that Green Day lists off everything they would wish to see in a revolution. Piece by piece, these lyrics offer an inside view to Green Day’s beliefs and values. They wish to have controlled chaos as shown with the lyrics “Operation ‘No Control’”. It is also implied they want an indestructible source of hope and passion, “bullet proof” and the driving motion behind their cause. Cherry bombs and gasoline are relatively cheap items that could be used to cause destruction in a revolt. The lyrics “debutantes in surgery” allude to the idea that people other than those in lower classes will experience the pain of this revolution. Finally, “legalize the truth” expresses that the truth needs to be legal, which implies that it is currently illegal. In this chorus alone, listeners are introduced to all topics and themes that are further addressed later in this song and in the following songs of the album.
Verse two takes you back to the crowd of protesters created in verse one, but now the band is calling upon them to grow angry, “like there’s tear gas in the crowd”, encouraging feelings of hatred and passion mirroring the band’s strong beliefs. Next, Green Day challenges listeners with a rhetorical question: “Do you wanna live out loud?”. The band clearly wants us to “live out loud” and speak out against topics we feel are otherwise neglected. The band then goes back to addressing the issue of police brutality with the line “but the air is barely breathing”, which is referring to the homicide of Eric Garner by police brutality. With the idea of Eric Garner fresh in the listener’s mind, Green Day then takes one’s mind back to the chorus, again instructing the public to “revolt” against the injustice and for the things society believes in.
The two lines “We will be seen but not be heard/We are the songs of the disturbed” are the last things said before the chorus is repeated for the final time. It is with these two lines that one can finally piece together the puzzle that has been set up through the entirety of the song: that not only this song, but the entire album of Revolution Radio is a message out to “the disturbed” to stand up for what they believe in, and speak out against issues that matter. It is because of this message that I believe this album has the content and potential to impact American society the way American Idiot did 12 years ago.
We live in a constantly-progressing society, thus it is no surprise that these feelings of social unrest exist. With public officials challenging the social liberties we have worked so hard to achieve, like with the the LGBT community gaining rights in national cases we still have government officials wanting to back track, we continue to see more and more art reflecting these same levels of anger and passion, made with the goal of inspiring the public to take charge of their government that is, at its core, meant to be “by the people for the people”.