Green Day – [Album]

Thursday, 20 September 2012

While it might not have come across through the numbers at which the band's last album sold, the inconvenient truth of the matter is that Green Day has been in a pretty tough spot creatively ever since American Idiot took off like wildfire eight years ago. After that explosion, the band had exactly no idea what to do next as they tried to play to an audience of unprecedented (by punk rock standards) magnitude but came up short of expectation consistently. With all eyes on, the band tried to diffuse a bit of the attention, scrambled and released the Foxboro Hot Tubs album to tepid reception and then back-pedaled for 21st Century Breakdown into a conceptual formula similar to that of American Idiot; but while it was good, it still felt a little like the wheels were spinning under the band and that record proved to not have the staying power of its predecessor. There's no doubt that Green Day desperately wanted to get back to basics and just write good punk rock songs, but they stumbled when they tried to balance that desire with their new-found stature in modern rock and the perception they had of the responsibilities (you know, like rocking out with U2) which came along with it.

It was then that Green Day came up with the idea to go so far over the top that jaws would hit the floor. Presumably, the logic was that, in doing so, somehow the scales would re-balance. So they came up with an enormous, three-album concept (which, really, is only a concept because it's enormous; there is no storyline) to be released over the span of five months. The ride begins with iUno! – an album which finally finds a balance by keeping any semblance of “concept” held only in its periphery. That way, Green Day is allowed have their cake and eat it too, and guarantee that everyone is not only satisfied by the end of the album's run-time, they're hungry for more.

Fans will know and immediately be thrilled when they discover that, yes, Green Day returns both renewed and with a tank full of piss and vinegar as “Nuclear Family” kicks off the proceedings, but the band also has a bit of swagger in them because they know their guns still work. Here, the images of a nuclear family falling out and leaving behind one unnoticed, under-appreciated generation of kids who'll drop punky hate bombs are about as old as Dookie but, now, singer Billie Joe Armstrong approaches such matter as the voice of a survivor from the previous generation relating with and reassuring the new kids coming into the same mess that it's not as bleak as they think. Lyrics like “Drinking angel's piss, gonna crash and burn/ I just want some action so give me my turn” and “Like a Chinese company conspiracy/ It's the death of the nuclear family staring up at you/ It's looking like another bad comedy/ Just as long as it comes in high fidelity for me too” tell the story perfectly as they lament there being nothing new under the sun, but that just means it's still a problem which needs attention. In that way, Green Day manages to find a sort of common ground between Generation X, Generation Y and the new generation who is just starting to become visible now, and plays strong to all three; “Nuclear Family” effective sets the tone and tenor for iUno! but, most importantly, it also makes sure the event is all ages and accessible for everyone.

The vibes set by “Nuclear Family” continue as “Stay The Night” pleads with a girl to stay over because Billie Joe doesn't want to say goodbye (though again, like on “Nuclear Family,” there's a slightly older mindset  in place because no lyric makes mention of parents) before “Carpe Diem” seizes both the day and a raging hot chord progression before the band just cuts loose with a classic display on “Let Yourself Go.” In each of those cases, there is no grand idea to rock out and no storyline which would slow the proceedings down, and the band just seems to relish in cutting loose; Armstrong's voice (which actually sounds younger and cleaner here than it has in years) and guitars punch hard while Mike Dirnt's bass bounds rambunctiously through every turn and Tre Cool's drums buoyantly chase the whole thing home. It's great to hear and their is no extra, enduring theme or storyline to monitor which runs through the whole proceeding which is totally refreshing; here, the business is just about thirteen great punk songs which have the chops and the attitude, and rock like hell for about three minutes each before giving way for the next one to do its own thing.

For some fans (this writer included), iUno! is exactly the record that Green Day needed to put out now. The band had long since crossed the line where punks become “serious musicians” and needed to take a step back; they needed to lighten up, and have done so brilliantly on iUno!. Sure, there may be some grandiose concept associated with it but, unlike American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown, it's not flagrant or even in the foreground here. Simply said, iUno! is really just about a set of thirteen great punk songs which are all able to stand on their own. After eight years, that's a refreshing change.


Further Reading:

Ground Control Magazine – Green Day [Discorgaphy]  


iUno! will be released on September 25, 2012 by Reprise/Warner Bros. Records. Pre-order it here on Amazon .


Green Day – [Album]

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Oh, what a corner Green Day found it had painted itself into following the release of American Idiot. When that album came out, it seemed like the greatest triumph the band had ever achieved; the band's initial foray into the concept album format was welcomed with open arms, yielded blockbuster singles in the title track and “Holiday” as well as a respectable follow-up in “Wake Me When September Ends,” the record sold 267, 000 copies in its first week of release and going fourteen times platinum worldwide – decimating the sales record for a punk album set by The Offspring with Smash – won a Grammy for Best Rock Album and spawned both a wildly lucrative series of tours as well as a live DVD. The success of American Idiot was a phenomenal pairing of great songs and ideal circumstance; as the American public came to the realization that it had been duped by the Bush administration into believing in and supporting a foul and money-grubbing conflict overseas, Green Day ended up supplying the revelatory soundtrack for revolt. The band was catapulted to rock stardom of an entirely different echelon too – now regarded as spokesmen, they had become punk's answer to U2.

Then a funny thing happened – or rather, didn't happen. No one lost interest in American Idiot and there was no backlash – fanfare didn't wane, hyperbole about Green Day didn't simmer down and, even five years after the album's release, those singles were still getting moderate rotation at least on modern rock radio stations. American Idiot proved itself to be more than just an excellent, award-winning record, it was (and remains) an enduring phenomenon.

How was Green Day expected to follow that? How could any band?

As it turns out, they set it up better than anyone could have envisioned or expected. Taking a page from The Who and Mike Watt, Green Day has followed an ambitious, concept-driven rock opera with an even more ambitious concept-driven rock opera that tells the story of a young couple, Christian and Gloria, as they experience the disappointment and promise of the new millennium.

Now, some might scoff and say that the whole premise of 21st Century Breakdown is a soft option; another concept album in follow-up to Green Day's defining moment? Cynics will scorn the band for turning the same trick twice and instantly start trying to route out the same-y tracks from the album's runtime to illustrate how Green Day's creative process must have stalled out and, for the uninitiated, it's a reasonable argument; five years hence or not, covering such similar methodologies does seem questionable, but the band must have taken that line of thought into account when they began this album. Opening with “Song Of The Century,” Billie Joe Armstrong (perhaps as Christian, or perhaps the song is designed to be a pre-amble or foreword) is found picking his way through the rubble and desperately trying to find some relief from a road hard run. One could interpret it as a look at the aftermath of the seemingly unending swath that American Idiot cut through the popular consciousness and, tired and meek, our hero hopes for “the song of the century/of panic and promise and prosperity” to guide him through.

How he got to that lamentable point is how “21st Century Breakdown” starts and so an extended flashback tells the story of joy and loss, triumph and tribulation and, when the whole thing crumbles in the end as our hero recounts all of the things he's done to kill the pain to no avail (drugs and alcohol, and listeners are given the stoic image of a man setting a fire just to see the flames), the grim resignation is still tempered by the glowing embers of hope supplied by Armstrong's sonorous lead guitar figure.

That said, there's no arguing that 21st Century Breakdown does bear common themes to American Idiot, but what makes this album a fantastic leap beyond its predecessor is the firmer form of the eighteen individual songs that comprise it. While American Idiot exposed a great and unexpected storytelling ability in Green Day, it followed the conventions of staple albums like The Wall and Tommy in that there were softer tracks that were specifically designed to drive and/or support the story. On 21st Century Breakdown, each song still keeps the story moving forward, but each can also stand apart from the story and play like an autonomous unit; in that way, it might be one of the best concept records/rock operas in pop history because it can be taken in whole or in part and that versatility is one of the album's best qualities.

Forgetting the story line and taking each of the tracks on its own, there's no arguing that 21st Century Breakdown is Green Day's finest, most mature songwriting effort to date. Opening with a completely scaled back and heartfelt plea, “Song Of The Century” recalls Billie Joe Armstrong at his heartbroken-but-hopeful best and, as the track winds to a close, hints at the scale of what's to follow: Green Day always contrasts warm little songs against enormous ones (think about “Good Riddance” sandwiched between “King For A Day” and “Prosthetic Head” on Nimrod) and, with tat track record in mind, listeners are already expecting to get slapped upside the head.

Both the following title track and bombastic single “Know Your Enemy” bow brilliantly to that tradition and blow the heads off of even those expecting to get hit hard. Those tracks are, in many ways, the quintessential Green Day; in both cases, Mike Dirnt's bass dances while Tré Cool knee-caps the unsuspecting with snare/kick volleys and Armstrong rides the current his band mates create with a Stratocaster driven more by volume and attack than distortion. Those songs set the standards of operation for the duration of the album too; while the conceptually bent, operetta-esque dynamic shifts between punk rock verse-chorus-verses and slippery, ultra-slick bridges reappear from American Idiot, the Sixties pop and troublegum punk that Green Day rode to glory as early as Kerplunk! and 1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours re-manifests for the first time in years and the whole conglomeration is tempered by a distinct, self-confident swagger that's instantly infectious. With that mood set, the band sets to touching on every base that that any long-time fan would hope for and hits a home run every time; from teenaged drinking, drugging and misbehavior (“Before The Lobotomy”) to punky Beatles bubblegum pop (“Last night On Earth”) to a revisiting of Mr. Whirly's cabaret (“Viva La Gloria”) to Seventies-issue power pop (“Restless Heart Syndrome” sounds eerily like Aerosmith's “Dream On”) and even a Pistols-marching, Brit-pop smart-mouthing hybrid (“Horseshoes And Hand Grenades”) and more that work out simultaneously to a well-rounded and incredibly ambitious affair.

As the record progresses, the tenor of the songs gets progressively more manic and swirling (obvious exception being “21 Guns” which is the second-best ballad on the album behind “Song Of The Century”) and nerve-wracking, culminating in the three-part “American Eulogy” which floors the proceedings to a monolithic and explosive climax. It's as dramatic a movement as anyone has ever heard from Green Day as Armstrong's buzzsaw guitars finally boil to meltdown and the whole narrative world burns. In the end, the story's protagonist screams – still hoping to see the light at the end of the ordeal – and, given Green Day's elating, up-tempo run for the finish, it certainly feels like the good guys won and that uplifting promise provides the warm ending that any good comedy needs.

So, in the end, it becomes apparent that Green Day actually managed to make what even the true-blue fans questioned the wisdom of work: they backed a concept album with a concept album and even managed to top their previous work by making it both more individual song-serving and accessible. It's always an unwise claim to make given that it's so easily disproven but, while American Idiot set a precedent for Green Day as being an incredibly ambitious work miles beyond what anyone could have expected of the band, it was a first effort at a new approach and, in retrospect, it shows. On 21st Century Breakdown, Green Day has discovered how to make high-concept ambitions work for them in a context more befitting their strengths; it might be the same game twice, but this time they illustrate just how much better they can play it when they play by their own rules.


Green Day's official homepage

Green Day myspace


21st Century Breakdown
is out now. Buy it here at Amazon .

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