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To Ballad Or Not To Ballad?

By Bryony / May. 12, 2012 /
"I fucking hate power ballads" - words straight from the horses mouth. Billie Joe uttered this phrase only a few weeks ago at the induction of Guns and Roses into the Rock and Roll hall of fame. Slightly ironic given the number of Green Day fans, including myself, who would say that Green Day has penned several of them. I'm not sure what Billie Joe would classify songs such as '21 Guns' as but for the unwashed (and generally musically uneducated) masses I would put it in the bin labeled 'ballads'.

But where did Green Day's ballads come from? When Insomniac was released in 1995 it was full of pent up fury, angst and bile directed at various people or society as a whole. The idea of a ballad was the furthest thing from anyone's mind. Had they always been there, however, underlying in the melodies that Green Day has always been famous for?

Come the next album, the much more mellow Nimrod of '97 the appearance of several different song types had some people taken aback amidst the flinging of the words "sold out", all over again. I would disagree with that statement entirely, sold out? Or branched out? The song Redundant, a love song to Billie Joe's wife, the fourth song on the album provides a direct contrast to track three; the Grouch. The former is an angry rant against the restraints of family life, whereas the latter could probably be construed as an apology.

When people think of punk, they don't normally think of violins. The song Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) involves a string quartet (most of the rest of the orchestra having been chucked off by the band). Many people criticized the song for not being punk, an accusation that has plagued Green Day since their inception, however, as Mike said at the time of it's release; it was probably the "most punk" thing they could have done. In my mind punk is about pushing the boundaries and not living life by a set of rules and guidelines, which is precisely what Good Riddance achieved when it was released. This song has become an anthem for weddings, funerals and graduation ceremonies the world over; it seems like this cliché is not going to end anytime soon with the hugely popular telly show Glee having it on their graduation album.

When you say the word 'ballad' to a Green Day fan, if they don't immediately think of Good Riddance then they must think of Boulevard of Broken Dreams. The fourth track on American Idiot is characterized by somber and bleak lyrics, with name being inspired by a poster of James Dean in New York. According to Billie Joe "the song is about feeling alone, and taking power from it", well whether you feel alone or not, you can certainly take power from the dramatic song and the even more dramatic video. The video truly brings to life the bleakness of the song, showing those for whom the American Dream has become the American nightmare; destitute or alone. Boulevard of Broken Dreams wasn't the only ballad that American Idiot had to offer us, the memory-drenched Wake Me Up When September Ends provides the second of such songs. The song is most commonly thought to be about the death of Billie Joe's father when he was ten, although due to the different versions that had been performed (such as in the musical and in the music video) lots of different interpretations can be taken from it. I think the power of these songs comes from the raw emotion that they present to the listener and from the different places they have come from within the songwriter.

21st Century Breakdown wasn't short on the front of ballads either. With Last Night on Earth and 21 Guns on the tracklist, many a stadium-worth sing along was in the mix. The former is an unapologetic love song from Billie Joe to his wife and the latter is thought to be about putting up the white flag, disarming and figuring out what is important to each individual person, rather than what other people tell you is important.

Well whether Billie Joe likes ballads or not, they seem to be pretty damn good at writing them. Will we see any of these epic ballads on Uno, Dos,d or Tre? Well that remains to be seen. Some fans would obviously prefer there not to be, those who maybe wish to see a return to the Green Day of old, other fans (including myself) would love to have these songs; so capable of producing a stadium-sized singalong, on the new albums. Sit tight...
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