The few times successful rock artists have recorded new music under a completely different identity have always been enjoyable to me. Take, for example, back in the late-Eighties when Jeff Lynne was producing George Harrison’s successful comeback album Cloud Nine. When Harrison’s label wanted release a single, Harrison decided he wanted to record a single with some friends. So, in addition to Jeff Lynne, the mastermind behind ELO, Harrison asked his long-time buddy, Bob Dylan, to participate. Lynne, in turn, invited Tom Petty, for whom Lynne was also producing an album. Then, Petty invited rock ‘n’ roll icon Roy Orbison, because Petty and Orbison had been writing songs for Orbison’s major comeback album, to the Harrison’s session. And, thus, the Traveling Wilburys were born. After the group recorded this “one-off” B-side called “Hard to Handle”, the record company loved that sound so much they asked those guy superstars if they wouldn’t mind making a whole album with songs written by each member. Today, that very album, entitled Volume 1, is considered something of an Eighties classic. Unfortunately, Orbison’s untimely death put a damper on the band’s sophomore release that subsequently ended their career.
Another example happened in 1987, when XTC was coming off their greatest studio album called Skylarking in 1986. The album, produced by the indomitable Todd Rundgren, was an homage to the Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers album. But, it got the band’s creative juices flowing, and the band began listening to Sixties psychedelic music, such as early, Syd Barrett-led Pink Floyd and the like. This whole immersion into those Sixties psychedelic nuggets influenced XTC to create an album with a whole new sound. They understood that the album could not be an XTC album, so in walks a whole “new” band called The Dukes of Stratosphear, and their album is known as Psonic Psunspot. The album sounds nothing like an XTC album, yet the album is a thing of beauty.
Now, fast-forward to 2007. Green Day was coming off their most successful album American Idiot. The band had expanded the sound of punk rock by taking the sound and expanding it into the concept album that we now embrace an a modern day classic, American Idiot. So, Green Day was under pressure to create an appropriate follow-up. As the band were writing, the guys were struggling. So, according to folklore, Billie Joel Armstrong, Green Days erstwhile lead singer, guitarist and chief songwriter, was suffering from a bout of writer’s black. So, he began listening to assorted song-length to album-length rock operas, as he was attempting to take that previous concept album all the way to a full-fledged rock opera. So, Armstrong dove head first into The Who’s “A Quick One While He’s Away”, in addition to Tommy and Quadrophenia, as well as other iconic rock opera such as the Pretty Thing’s S.F. Sorrow, The Kinks’ mid-period output, and through such classics as Jesus Christ Superstar and Hüsker Dü’s classic Zen Arcade, to name-drop but a few that were used for inspiration.
But, in the middle of all of this research, the band began to blow off some musical steam, by writing and recording fun songs that sounded as if they were written by some great songs that sounded as if they were lost nuggets from the Sixties garage punk era. As the songs began to take shape, the musicians decided that these songs needed to be heard. But, instead of releasing this music as a Green Day album, the assembled group of musician friend created pseudonyms and created a new band that they christened as the Foxboro Hot Tubs. Armstrong was now know as Reverend Strychnine Twitch, while some of the others did the same. And, in the Spring of 2008, the Foxboro Hot Tubs released their debut album, Stop, Drop and Roll, to generally enthusiastic reviews.
Personally, I had NEVER heard Green Day sound like they so much fun. Although the album was not a huge financial success, I would call it an artistic success. To me, the band had rediscovered how much fun they can have creating music. With songs such as the title song, “Mother Mary” and “Ruby Room”, Foxboro Hot Tubs were showing off their strengths lie not only in the punk world, but also in the world of Sixties garage rock. And, in doing this album, they also were nodding toward the influence of power pop icons Cheap Trick.
It has been nearly a decade Green Day released this album as their alter-ego, the Foxboro Hot Tubs. And, even though they released one of their finest albums, Revolution Radio, last year, I feel that occasionally working as the Foxboro Hot Tubs only focuses the main group on their influences as they push their pop-punk sound toward new ground with each new Green Day release. The boys have discovered a brilliant method for them to get their ya-yas all the while getting their groove back to bring the world the punk vision they have not just inherited but taken.
Green Day, I love you guys! But, when you find yourselves in a musical rut, instead of fighting or reverting back to self-destructive behaviors, just bring back Foxboro Hot Tubs instead. It is a much more creatively satisfying way to reignite everything that is great about Green Day.