'Idiot' complete, while Kweli's 'Struggle' not all beautiful
Green Day'American Idiot'Reprise Records
It takes a couple of listens to fully grasp the quality of this album, but if the listener can suffer through having doubts about America's most successful punk band, they are rewarded with a reassuring thing.
Musically, "American Idiot" is Green Day pushing one step closer to combining the sonic maturity of "Warning" with the blatant power-chord attacks of earlier works. Lyrically, lead singer Billy Joe Armstrong successfully spans the gap from his suburbanite apathy to his more open-minded social commentary. On most songs though, Armstrong's vocals follow an entirely too predictable pattern of simple quarter notes.
"American Idiot" has the feeling of a complete album from beginning to end. It's filled with superbly executed pace changes, most notably found on the two extended set pieces, "Jesus of Suburbia" and the album-ending epic "Homecoming." On both tracks, Armstrong comes up with some of his most meaningful lyrics, and the band reaches its creative peak behind him, coming up with inventive fills and transitions.
The best song on the disc, "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," successfully blends lonely guitar hooks, rock opera pianos and lyrics that feel just right; it's brilliant.
"We are the Waiting" conjures up visions of disillusioned adolescents wasting time underneath the watchful lights of some suburban parking lot. Just when the slow-but-enchanting drag of the song becomes almost enough to hit "skip," the quick tempoed "St. Jimmy" steps in to save the pace. The spacey and vaguely psychedelic string vibe on "Extraordinary Girl" showcases the band's newfound love of experimenting with music styles, while songs like "Holiday," with its mockingly patriotic guitar riff, keep the album anchored in the sounds that made the band famous.
It is Green Day's ability to play both sides of their music that makes "American Idiot" so appealing.
Talib Kweli'The Beautiful Struggle'Rawkus (Universal)
"If skills sold truth be told I'd probably be lyrically, Talib Kweli/truthfully I wanna rhyme like Common Sense but I did five Mil/I ain't been rhymin like Common since, spit Jay-Z on last years monolithic Black Album."
This is high praise coming from someone generally considered to be the best rapper alive. While most listeners of the "Black Album" had no idea who Talib Kweli or Common were, the rhyme shed some shine off of the blinged-out side of hip-hop and onto a more conscientious one. With "The Beautiful Struggle," Talib Kweli hopes to continue his genre's time in the limelight.
"Going Hard" sets off the album with a triumphantly defiant tone as Kweli paints problem after problem with astonishing poetic dexterity in the verses. Over-sputtering drum rolls and aggressive horn and keyboard samples blended menacingly with distorted guitars, Kweli's verses tear into the fabric of the past, present and future. The song serves as an appropriate overture for the album's lyricism. Not, however, for its music.
The beats on "The Beautiful Struggle" often do not match Kweli's style, and his flow seems forced on several tracks. "We Got the Beat" hangs delicately in the balance between corny and cool; with its electric guitars and euro-techno-type beat underlying Kweli's wordplay.
While his delivery may not be immaculate and his voice can venture into annoyance, it's near impossible to find faults in his lyrics when he's spitting about things he cares about.
Part of the group of Rawkus refugees who started the backpacker movement in hip-hop, Kweli has built his career on socially relevant, clever lyrics.
By far the most complete song on the album is "The Ghetto Show" featuring Common.
With a mellow piano sample and a soft hook sung by Anthony Hamilton, the song captures perfectly the feel-good vibe that conscientious hip-hop can produce.
Listening to Talib rap alongside Common drives home a point though.
While he may have the lyrics, Kweli lacks the complete package that comes with Common or fellow Black Star Mos Def, who both have albums coming out this year, and both of which are probably more worth buying than "The Beautiful Struggle."
Bryan Lund is a senior at Mayo High School. To respond to reviews in Sound &; Vision, call 252-1111, category TEEN (8336) or send e-mail to email@example.com.