Track Review: Green Day – “Dilemma”

Posted: by The Editor

Green Day went viral recently for changing a line in “American Idiot” from “I’m not a part of the redneck agenda” to “I’m not a part of the MAGA agenda.” Many took this as an opportunity to make fun of the middle-aged punks for doing the bare minimum. (In Green Day’s defence: “MAGA” seems like a fine contemporary synonym for “redneck”; it also fits better with the rhyme scheme of the provocative previous line.) Politics, however, have never been Green Day’s main appeal. Billie Joe Armstrong as a songwriter excels when painting portraits of people on the cusp of rock bottom. A line like “I fell asleep while watching Spike TV / after ten cups of coffee and you’re still not here” from “Homecoming” captures the essence of Armstrong’s lyrical milieu: desperate loneliness meets trash Americana.

“Dilemma,” Green Day’s best track in years, falls into this category of songs about hopeless losers. Musically, their Ramones influence shine through. The structure is impeccable with each section leading perfectly into the next—a result, no doubt, of years of experience crafting pop songs. The bridge uses a satisfyingly familiar chord progression embellished by Armstrong‘s excellent melodic impulses. As a singer, he knows exactly when to take a melismatic left turn in order to keep things interesting. It’s hard to think of the last time Green Day let their music sound this pretty. 

This feeling of neatness contrasts with the plain-spoken but emotionally messy lyrics. The song begins with the words “Welcome to my nightmare” over pleasant major key guitar strums. “I was sober now I’m drunk again / I’m in trouble and in love again” goes the hard-hitting chorus, emphasised by a locked-in ensemble. The verses continue the theme of relapse with references to feeling like a “lab rat” in rehab and wanting to “drink the poison.” It’s well worn territory for Green Day but effective nonetheless.

The final moments consist of Armstrong repeating the line “I don’t wanna be a dead man walking” with an insistent yell. Like the black hair dye that he continues to use, these words feel like a clue that the singer might be scared of aging and irrelevance. If Green Day can keep producing songs like “Dilemma,” that gleam with a sense of musical timelessness and bare bones honesty, he doesn’t have anything to worry about.

Fenn Idle | @fenniscool

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