By Gregg Shapiro
If you were fortunate enough to experience punk rock the first time around—via bands such as Blondie, the Ramones, Talking Heads, The Clash, Television, Patti Smith, and the B-52’s—you probably thought that the punk revival of the early ’90s sounded calculated and vaguely commercial. By the time the major labels caught on to the profit potential of the first-wave punk acts, they had either morphed into something else or broken up altogether.
Perhaps the most successful band of the second-wave era, Green Day achieved a certain degree of cred based on the fact that its first two albums were released on important indie labels such as Epitaph and Lookout, respectively. Once the suits took notice and they were signed to Reprise (!), there was no looking back following the 1994 release of Dookie. Twenty-two years later, with multiple awards (including Grammys, Tonys, and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) under their studded belts, Green Day is still going strong. Revolution Radio (Reprise) is no American Idiot, but its angry heart is in the right place on songs such as the first single “Bang Bang,” as well as “Troubled Time,” “Say Goodbye,” and the title cut. [Editor’s note: Green Day performs at Houston’s Toyota Center on March 5.]
A ridiculous number of forgettable bands (remember Sum 41?) followed in Green Day’s wake. One of the most calculatedly corporate examples, Good Charlotte, led by the overly tatted Madden brothers, return to the scene of the crime with Youth Authority (MDDN). More versatile than most of their contemporaries (these guys can write power pop songs!), Good Charlotte certainly puts forth a good effort on songs such as “Keep Swingin’” (featuring Kellin Quinn of Sleeping With Sirens), “Reason to Stay,” “The Outfield,” and the mostly acoustic “Cars Full of People.”
Speaking of corporate rock, American Authors hit it big when its catchy song “Best Day of My Life” was featured in a variety of commercials around the globe. Some songs on American Authors’ new album What We Live For (Island/Dirty Canvas), including the title track and “Pocket Full of Gold,” sound like they were also written for that purpose. The band alternately channels Jeff Buckley and Maroon 5, and that’s just in one song—“I’m Born to Run.” They go for Mumford & Sons on the faux front-porch stomp of “Nothing Better” and “Mess with Your Heart.” Only the soaring “Superman” feels like an effort that separates them from the pack.
There’s more to Daveed Diggs than his Tony Award-winning performance in the acclaimed Broadway musical Hamilton. Diggs is also one-third of the avant-garde hip-hop act clipping., along with William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes. Clipping.’s second album, Splendor & Misery (Sub Pop) takes the rapping, the noise, and the experimentation to the next level. Trained actor that he is, Diggs spits the rhymes so clearly that even your grandmother would have no trouble understanding what he’s saying. “Wake Up,” “True Believer,” “A Better Place,” “Baby Don’t Sleep,” and the sung “Story” are not to be missed.
Produced (as well as influenced) by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, Tell Me I’m Pretty (RCA) by Cage The Elephant sounds like it could have been released 50 years ago. Songs such as “Cold Cold Cold,” “Cry Baby,” “That’s Right,” “Punchin’ Bag,” and “Portuguese Knife Fight” conjure psychedelic light shows, vertically striped pants, and iridescent lipstick. Groovy, baby.
Also swimming in a psychedelic sea, Yeasayer takes a more modern and even futuristic approach on Amen & Goodbye (Mute). There’s the potential for dancing to the lightheaded beats on “Silly Me” as well as on “Dead Sea Scrolls,” where Yeasayer borrows a page from the Lady Gaga playbook. A welcome weirdness prevails on the anti-toxin “I Am Chemistry,” the anti-religious fanaticism of “Prophecy Gun,” the hazy blast of “Gerson’s Whistle” (with backing vocals by Suzzy Roche), and the unexpectedly accessible chill of “Cold Night.”
Cullen Omori wasn’t the only former member of the Smith Westerns to release an album in 2016. Julien Ehrlich and Max Kakacek teamed up to form Whitney, along with Josiah Marshall, Malcolm Brown, Tracy Chouteau, and Charles Glanders. The 10 songs on Whitney’s debut Light Upon the Lake (Secretly Canadian) expand on the Smith Western’s gradual move into sophisticated pop with grace and a little grandeur. Shimmering pop numbers, such as “No Woman,” “The Falls,” “Red Moon,” “Polly,” “On My Own,” and the titular song, can help to illuminate even the darkest days.
Gregg Shapiro is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.