x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Could Green Day bring back power-pop?

Green Day's new album sees the US band moving away from their rock opera roots and more towards power-pop.

In addition to not being another overwrought rock-opera, there is another reason to be pleased with Green Day’s latest album ¡Uno!, released this week.

Most of the 12 tracks shine a light on one of rock’s most under-appreciated genres: power-pop.

¡Uno! has all the trademarks of the power-pop sound: a punchy rhythm, strong harmonies, economical phrasing and not too many twiddling guitar solos.

You would think such ingredients would result in a hit for all guitar bands, but how many of today’s young rock generation have heard of Big Star, Teenage Fanclub or Cheap Trick?

Like everything else in modern rock music, the genesis of power-pop goes back to The Beatles.

Examples of The Beatles’ power-pop anthems – before the boys even knew they were helping create another genre – include Paperback Writer, Back in the USSR and Day Tripper.

Those tracks remain part of the blueprint for future power-poppers.

But the genre is not stuck in a 1960s bubble – it also incorporated the more aggressive rock sound of the 1970s courtesy of The Who, Todd Rundgren and Big Star, who all brought their own respective influences, such as punk and R&B, to the genre.

This lead to power-pop’s golden era from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s, with a cavalcade of colourful musicians such as Blondie (Heart of Glass), The Cars (My Best Friend’s Girl) and Cheap Trick (Surrender).

Sadly, power-pop’s buoyant sound was viewed as too passé to the cynical grunge movement of the 1990s, as dishevelled rockers with scraps of melody were celebrated as the next big thing.

The result was, with the exception of Weezer and Fountains of Wayne, many great power-pop bands coming and going unspotted.

While everyone celebrated – and rightly so – the groundbreaking success of Nirvana’s Nevermind in 1991, that year also produced another seminal release, Bandwagonesque, the debut by the Scottish power-pop band Teenage Fanclub. Other groups that drowned in a pool of listener ignorance include Semisonic (Closing Time) and Fastball (The Way) as well as Liverpool’s The La’s.

However, unlike other rock genres, power-pop’s attention to melody increases a band’s chance of releasing a hit if the timing is right.

Fountains of Wayne, arguably the genre’s leading exponents, achieved just that in 2003 with Stacey’s Mom (the music video featuring a vivacious Rachel Hunter also helped) and Weezer were back at the top of the charts in 2005 with their anthem Beverly Hills.

Perhaps the ultimate irony is that power-pop songwriters are now in high demand in today’s pop world.

Semisonic’s chief songwriter Dan Wilson is earning a great salary writing for the likes of Adele and The Dixie Chicks, while Fountains of Wayne’s Adam Schlesinger is writing music for film, theatre and TV.

Here’s hoping Green Day’s ¡Uno! will help create a new generation of power-pop fans and bring some of these forgotten musicians back to the spotlight.


Saeed Saeed is a reporter for The National’s Arts&Life