Review Summary: Fantastically, Gloriously, Epically average.
Green Day is dead.
This shouldn’t really be a surprise to anyone. The harshest critics of American Idiot
called it career suicide, and they were right. American Idiot
was a Hail Mary pass of pop music, featuring a teenage band on the wrong side of thirty throwing s
hit to the wind and going for broke while composing the most ambitious songs of their lives by far. It should have been a mess: An aged radio band discovering politics and writing five part epics while tying it all together with a ridiculous concept sounds like a hilarious disaster, and yet the marvelous thing about American Idiot
was -impossibly- it all worked. From the vaguely ridiculous characters to the disgustingly gushing ballads, all of it worked. It provided the spark Green Day’s career desperately needed. It certainly made them relevant again, boasting 6 (!) radio hits, not to mention its influence in pop, as it undoubtedly held some responsibility for similarly bombastic records The Black Parade
and Underclass Hero
. So after this monumental circus, the only thing left for Green Day to really do was end. For what is a pop act pushing forty drunk off the success of their most impressive record to do? To regress would be a cheeky thanks-but-no-thanks, an acknowledgment that American Idiot
was great for what it was, but not Green Day’s true style, thus invalidating the vital honesty of that record. Still, to progress further would be to descend into pretentious obscurity, leaving the band with practically no identity left. Years after the Idiot
craze died down, the band announced the follow up: 21st Century Breakdown
21st Century Breakdown
expands upon American Idiot
in almost every way imaginable. It’s bigger, more ambitious, and somehow more
conceptually vague/ridiculous than American Idiot
(seriously). This time around, Green Day discard anything resembling subtlety, which is not to say that subtlety was ever their forte. It is to say, however, that listening to 21st Century Breakdown
in its entirety is an experience comparable to masturbating multiple times in succession. Every corner of the album is laden with production gimmicks and song constructions that make it clear that Green Day wanted to make 21st Century Breakdown
the most epic experience ever ever ever and to their credit, there sure are anthems abound in these eighteen tracks
of driving power chords and soaring harmonies. But rhyming “fighting for” and “dying for” can only be inspiring so many times before sounding trite, and 21st Century Breakdown
spirals out of control in its own heroic glory and never regains focus, thus ending with a product that Green Day couldn’t afford to produce: an average record.
And make no mistake, 21st Century Breakdown
is an average record. Yes, it is glorious, epic, and even addictive, but it inspires no real reaction of love or hate one way or the other. What made American Idiot
work was a certain level of restraint and coherence that made the album mean something. 21st Century Breakdown
lacks this. After all, there simply must
be a point to this beast of an album, but it’s practically impossible to derive amongst all the political posturing and continuous name-checking of Christian and Gloria (The protagonists of the record. Subtle
) as if they had any relevance in the direction of the album. Thus the simple truth is that 21st Century Breakdown
leaves no impression, no dent that in the soul that Green Day obviously wanted to smash in.
There are several reasons for this, none more prevalent than the fact that ironically, 21st Century Breakdown
’s general sound is rooted firmly in the 20th century (and features few to no breakdowns). 21st Century Breakdown
listens something like a name that tune gone awry as Green Day mine their own catalog along with the catalogs of practically every notable classic rock band from the late seventies to create something so wholly unoriginal, it’s embarrassing. Practically every song has a part that can be traced to either an earlier Green Day song or a song by an artist Green Day has admitted to idolizing. For example, on top of being one of the most horrifyingly catchy songs to grace the airwaves, lead single “Know Your Enemy” is decidedly Clash, “21st Century Breakdown” is heavily indebted to The Who, Queen, and “Jesus of Suburbia,” and both versions of “Viva La Gloria” come off simply as lesser versions of forgotten gems on other Green Day records (“Letterbomb” and “Misery,” for those interested). Furthermore, late album stinker “21 Guns” sounds like a terrible rewrite of something John Lennon never released, and “Restless Heart Syndrome” a rev-up of the worst and most popular song off American Idiot
, “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.” The list goes on. This is why it is difficult to feel any emotion towards this album. By the end of this schizophrenic adventure, 21st Century Breakdown
sounds less like a Green Day record and more like a parody, except no one is laughing.
Of course, the questionable plagiarism might be excusable if there was some reason to it that tied in with the album’s theme or something, but the band falls short here. Seventy minutes of material gives plenty of opportunity for Billie Joe Armstrong to make a strong statement of any kind, but seventy minutes of material also provides plenty of evidence that in all probability, Billie Joe doesn’t know what he’s talking about. There are a lot of lines about the government and religion in here, along with plenty of references to a vaguely defined “you” that Armstrong perpetually finds problems with, but trying to follow along with what Armstrong’s idea is will soon leave one without enough breadcrumbs to get home. Some real lyrical travesties include “Last of the American Girls,” which features the what-the-fu
ck-does-that-even-mean line ”She is riding her bike like a fugitive of critical mass,”
and “East Jesus Nowhere,” an indictment on religion probably, which boasts ”You’re a sacrificial suicide, like a dog that’s been sodomized!
” For a band that once bragged at how it lacked motivation, it certainly appears as if they have no motivation right now, but not in a good way. Instead Green Day sound as if they’re half-assing a punk revolution and their message, if it’s there, is getting lost in the laziness.
21st Century Breakdown
cannot be viewed as other Green Day records without over-arching themes such as Nimrod
. The band has made it very clear that there is a concept behind 21st Century Breakdown
, from the characterizations of Christian and Gloria (One’s a rebel, one’s an idealist! Will they ever get along??) in interviews to the bizarre dividing of the album into thirds with ludicrous names (“Heroes and Cons,” the first third, is best). Still, the concept is irrelevant. The “story” is too threadbare to make 21st Century Breakdown
significant. The album is left to ride on the strength of its songs, and it simply doesn’t have the stamina, which is a shame because although much of the material is inconsequential, there are really good songs buried here. “American Eulogy” is easily among Green Day’s best, one of the few straight up anthems on 21st Century Breakdown
that is actually anthemic, and “Christian’s Inferno” is the closest they’ve come to “punk” since Nimrod
. “Peacemaker” stands out as the most entertaining song on the record, a no-holds-barred Latin flavored track that makes up for lyrical dribbling with sheer catchiness and vital “ey ey ey ey ey”’s. Still, these tracks are too few and too far between to save 21st Century Breakdown
from imploding in on itself and sinking into indifference. Every Green Day record has its gems, and even on an album like Warning
, which had its fair share of crap, they all held together. Until now.
21st Century Breakdown
cannot sustain itself. It is overbearing, pretentious, huge, and begrudgingly catchy, but most importantly, it unveils a band without direction. The snot nosed punks of the nineties died long ago, and the reincarnation that stormed in with American Idiot
has exploded into a mass so unrecognizable, one can almost not regard them as Green Day. Sure, they still sound
like Green Day, but these are not the same men who struck pop gold with an absurdly brilliant rock opera, though they want to be. These men are different; they are older and tired, and have left a decidedly apathetic aftertaste with 21st Century Breakdown
. Maybe they’ll eventually rediscover themselves and come up with something revolutionary again. At any rate, that is a more comforting thought than the creeping suspicion they simply don’t have another good album in them.