“Bang Bang” isn’t just Green Day’s best song in years — it’s the rock song America needs.
Green Day is back, baby. So are their contemporaries Blink 182 and Good Charlotte if you’ve been keeping up with music news. But unlike them, ‘new’ Green Day isn’t functioning as a nostalgia act. Despite the lukewarm and dispiritingly low-key triple album release of ¡Uno!, ¡Dos!, and ¡Tré! in 2012, the band forged ahead for this release. They have crafted an energetic single that’s far more vital than their peer’s comeback music or even the radio-friendly anthems on 20th Century Breakdown. It’s no surprise that it’s their best song in years, a perfect execution of songwriting techniques to advance their new — and frighteningly apt — political agenda.
Take a listen if you haven’t heard it:
Admittedly, “Bang Bang” does not boast a wholly original sound for the punk rockers: Power chords abound, Mike Dirnt slays on the bass, and Tré takes tours on the toms with each fill. Of course, the anger is nothing new either. Starting with the bombastic American Idiot, their slacker/stoner sound gained a less tongue-in-cheek and more aggrieved dimension. Whether the Iraq War or the Great Recession, Green Day’s subject matter darkened from masturbation and weed intake to the social cancers eating away at the heart of America.
They found success delivering these messages both in the machine gun rhythms of American Idiot’s title track and epic ballads like “Wake Me Up When September Ends”. “American Idiot” uses Armstrong’s witty lyricism and simple melodic charms to worm it’s way into your ear while the ballads exploited the irony of Green Day “going serious” to in fact craft a serious song. Ditto epic Queen homages like “Jesus of Suburbia.”
“Bang Bang” sounds like an “American Idiot” rip off at first listen. It has the high bpm and crunchy guitar riffs backed by relentless drums. On second listen, it points to something much more cynical than “fuck America.” The song opens with a sound clip of a reporter describing an execution video. The song, for all its catchy chorus-ing, is still about a mass shooter excited by a violent media clip. While the lyrics are nothing special, they nonetheless place the listener in the head of the assailant, which is an uncomfortable place to be. Sing along with the song and you sing along with a murderer bent on infamy. The vocal delivery of each “bang, bang!” sounds like a Travis Bickle wannabe whose mirror practice has become reality.
The strains of darkness are woven into the music too. The bass-heavy bridge has a wicked quality that fellow California rockers The Offspring mastered so well — an essential part of that band’s irreverent image. The drum solo is mixed to sound like gun fire and the guitar is as seething as ever. “American Idiot” was angry too but ultimately a rallying cry against then-President Bush just months before the 2004 election; this is different beast.
In interviews, Billy Joe Armstrong has said the song is about our country’s desensitization to mass shootings, which is further enabled by social media. We hear about the violence, we post on Facebook, we move on. While the prevalent videos inure us to violence, another killer is encouraged to grab 15 minutes of fame.
As a result, “Bang Bang” is a different breed of the anti-establishment punk. The target isn’t politicians or business institutions, but the listeners themselves fist-bumping along. We’re going to buy the catchy single and punish ourselves unwittingly. How lovely.
Irony is nothing new in popular music; R.E.M. told us the world was ending in happy harmony. I think it’s warranted here. When compared to their (painfully) earnest attempts at socially conscious music, Green Day’s mean streak is far more successful. This might just be the punk we need right now: bitter, edgy, uncompromising — and an ear-worm to boot.