Original Cast Recording: American Idiot

RIYL: Green Day, “Rent,” “Glee”

Here’s the God’s honest truth about the Broadway cast recording of “American Idiot” – it’s neither as good nor as bad as you’ve heard it is. These kinds of projects serve as a knives-out snarkfest for the more weak-willed music critics, who are then assaulted by the band’s faithful followers in the comment sections. Don’t take sides; they’re both right, and they’re both wrong.

The album features Green Day’s landmark 2004 album American Idiot in its entirety – they even included some B-sides from the Idiot sessions – along with a few tracks from the band’s 2009 album 21st Century Breakdown. The backing tracks are by and large Green Day’s original recordings, though “Last of the American Girls” starts off with a knowing wink to “Eleanor Rigby.” This makes for some smooth transitions from CD to the stage, though “Jesus of Suburbia” sports one of the most jarriing key changes you’ll ever hear when it’s the female lead’s turn to sing.

Perhaps the most shocking thing about American Idiot is the fact that Green Day’s original recordings of these songs are in many ways more musical than the musical versions. Stacked vocals are stripped away for the purpose of building to the big choral effect, though they don’t do that big choral effect nearly enough. Indeed, many songs are frankly undersung. The songs are already larger than life; the Broadway versions of them should be massive, like Godzilla-destroying-Manhattan big. The title track pulls a nifty layered vocal build-up during the break, and “Whatsername” capitalizes on the song’s soft-LOUD arrangement to make for a triumphant finale. “21 Guns” is the album’s showstopping moment, with the most theatrical arrangement and a vocal to match. The album could use more moments like them. “Wake Me Up When September Ends” has the pretty string touches, but for a musical about a post-9/11 landscape, that song of all songs should have been sung to the heavens.

The band were unquestionably treading a slippery slope in adapting their music for the stage, and they must have felt pressure to keep the spirit of the originals intact. Ironically, American Idiot could have benefited from a little more tinkering. It’s great to hear a Broadway score rock like this, but it would have been better to see them fully embrace what people love about Broadway in the first place. (Reprise 2010)

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