Green Day are at a point in their careers where they can basically do anything. Almost all of their fans from the Gilman Street days are gone and they seem to appeal to a completely different crowd now. That's not to say that the "true punks" dont still enjoy then, but the band's audience has definitely expanded over the years and it reached a new height after American Idiot, an album that managed to spawn numerous successful hits and rejuvenate the band's popularity. Ever since Warning the band's sound has taken an interesting turn and it exploded with the rock opera, American Idiot. That album set the bar very high for them and it's apparent that the band that once made Dookie is now gone. They've distanced themselves from the pop-punk band that they used to be and have turned into a high-scale rock band.
On their eighth studio album, 21st Century Breakdown, Green Day aren't trying to win any old fans back and are looking to pick up right where they left off on American Idiot, only this time around, the band has made a three-act epic detailing the story about two lovers (Christian & Gloria) in a time of destruction. Sound familiar doesn't it? Yes, this concept is somewhat similar to the one on their previous album, only a lot more over the top and ridiculous. The thing with American Idiot was that despite it being extremely dramatic and somewhat vague, it was actually listenable the whole way through. 21st Century Breakdown basically continues to expand on this and Green Day sound bigger and more ambitious than ever, but what does that mean they still make a listenable album? Yes and no. There are parts to 21st Century Breakdown where the band sounds like they are literally trying to be the best band in the world and end up falling flat on their faces. Its understandable that an album that boasts eighteen tracks is bound to have a few filler tracks, but there are no real fillers on here; the music in general is just uninteresting and boring. Not to mention this album fails at what the band intended it to do, which was to leave a lasting impression.
All complaints aside, the band has their own agenda now. If they want to tackle more important issues in their lyrics, then thats fine but it would be nice if some of these lines would be a little more inspired. The line that sticks out like a sore thumb is from East Jesus Nowhere which reads, Youre a sacrificial suicide / Like a dog thats been sodomized! Now, I understand that its a metaphor but its a foolish one. Those who complained about Dookies lyrics being sophomoric might be a little surprised when they hear this. Theres also Last Night On Earth which looks like it was written by an 9th grade English student, My beating heart belongs to you / I walked for miles 'til I found you / I'm here to honor you / If I lose everything in the fire, I'm sending all my love to you. Sounds like something Ive heard before .in just about every cheesy love song. Oh, dont worry, it gets worse! The biggest disaster of a song comes on Last of the American Girls which may break the record for the number of atrocious similes used in one song, that and it sounds like a rewrite of Whatsername from American Idiot. Now, 21st Century Breakdowns lyrics really arent all bad. The title track boasts a few nice tongue-in-cheek references that pay homage to some of their influences. The last one born, the first one to run, My town was blind by refinery sun. Theres also a brief reference to their song Basket Case in Before The Lobotomy.
Things begin with Billie Joe Armstrongs voice coming through a static radio and then lead into the first piano chords of the title track, which alone, is an enormous piece of music. This reminds me of one of the nine-minute epics that were found on American Idiot as it starts off with the piano-chords and then leads into Green Days signature style of anthemic pop-rock, but it then transforms into a powerful dance-styled number and then ends epically in vein of bands like Queen. American Eulogy is another track that flows similar to this as it begins with the radio intro that began the record and then leads into a punk anthem, then it goes into a little acoustic interlude and then after a brief ending it goes back into the punk-influenced anthem with the repeated line of I dont want to live in the modern world. Theres also a nice solo contained in here too. These are the two songs that nearly save the record from descending into boring mediocrity, but unfortunately there are just too many bad things on this record that drag it down. Thats not to say that theres anything god awful on this record, theres just not really anything remarkable.
The other highlight of this record is the anti-war ballad 21 Guns which is likely going to be the albums Wake Me Up When September Ends. (Enjoy this track while it lasts because the radio is soon to ruin it in due time.) This track features Armstrongs best vocal performance where he almost sounds like hes channeling John Lennon. Its definitely a standout compared to the other ballads on the album which range from garbage to average, but its still very cheesy and comes off as a bit pretentious. Other ballads include the aforementioned Last of the American Girls and the horrible Last Night On Earth. Green Days been at their best when they write catchy songs and as monotonous as songs like Know Your Enemy, Christians Inferno and Peacemaker are, they will be stuck in your head after awhile. Christians Inferno is probably the closest thing to punk they have recorded in awhile. Horseshoes and Handgrenades carries a classic-rock feel to it and is probably the best track on here when it comes to short, catchy songs. Still, these songs are not nearly enough to save 21st Century Breakdown from the lyrical and musical mess that it is.
This is probably the most polarizing album Green Day have ever made. It will draw similarities to American Idiot but its a completely different giant than it, a bigger and uglier one too. Green Day sound like theyre going through an identity crisis and clearly dont sound like themselves in too many instances on this album. They sound like theyre trying too hard to become the next The Who or Queen, and while theres nothing wrong for a band to be doing that, Green Day just fails at it. Those old Gilman Street fans who gave up on them years ago might not ever restore hope but the people who have loved this band since their childhood might see past all the negatives in this album and may still hope they have one good album left in them. Its not impossible for them to make another Warning, but thats clearly what the band doesnt want to do and their sound will continue to expand and get even more ambitious than before after this album. Lets just hope they get it right next time around.
Im going to keep this brief, because Billie Joe Armstrong and company couldnt 21st Century Breakdown is Green Days first record clocking in at over an hour in length, comprising, as youre probably sick of hearing about, three acts and eighteen songs. It also picks up where American Idiot left off, except it lacks any of the character of that record.
Obviously the production is huge. The drums dont even sound like drums, and the once-exciting basslines of Mike Dirnt are left to amuse themselves as enormous power chords crash from the speakers and cocky guitar leads work their way to the forefront. Vocally, Billie Joe is on top form, but a preference for layering his voice with irritating atmospheric effects (reverb, that tinny "old-time radio" sound) becomes irritating.
Theres some sort of lyrical theme going on, but to be honest I couldnt get worked up enough by the pseudo plot to bother trying to figure it out. There are some recurring characters/themes, but the wording and lyrics range from vaguely interesting to downright devoid of meaning:
Dont test me / Second guess me / Protest me / You will disappear...
While Billie Joe has never quite been Elvis Costello, older records saw him wield some smart phrasing and wisecracks. These lyrics feel part Paul McCartney june and spoon rhyming, and part empty-meaning Bono-aping MOR.
Speaking of MOR, most of the ballad tracks here are lackluster and, well, boring. Green Day can write ballads: "Macys Day Parade," "Good Riddance," and most of American Idiot. But these feel empty, and that is the central problem with 21st Century Breakdown. For a band that so connected themselves to so many people with their bored, apathetic, horny and deviant music, it feels two thousand light years away to hear them writing such cold music.
Theyre clearly passionate about this, and cant be accused of phoning it in. But theres something missing from this record that they were half trying to shake off on American Idiot: their personality. Sure, theres a few catchy tracks youll find yourself humming, theres more than a few potential singles which will no doubt sell millions. But even when you disregard the theyre not punk anymore! or they slowed down and sold out! comments, youre still left with a band that feel like they left the best part of what made them exciting in the previous decade, despite their best efforts to reforge it.
5.6 / 10
Reviewed by 2 writers.
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