Review Summary: Green Day's most ambitious album to date is here, but is it their best effort?
I should note that I originally wrote this review for my university's newspaper, so I had quite a strict word limit to work with. I am planning to hopefully write more extensive reviews for this site in the future.
Watching the journey that has been the evolution of Green Day has been a fascinating one. For a punk band renowned for juvenile jabs at profound topics such as masturbation, the band’s sudden rise to prominence as a result of 2004’s American Idiot was a sensational breakthrough.
The unthinkable had happened - Green Day was suddenly taken seriously and American Idiot achieved overwhelming success and mass critical acclaim, with front man Billie Joe becoming something of a spokesperson for the generation. After five long years, with American Idiot having sold over 12 million copies worldwide, it’s fair to say that Green Day’s eighth studio album 21st Century Breakdown has a lot to live up to, and has rapidly become one of 2009’s most eagerly anticipated albums. But can Green Day live up to these astronomical expectations or have these renegade rockers finally out stayed their welcome?
Like its predecessor, 21st Century is a hugely ambitious, conceptual rock opera, with an ever more prevalent classic rock influence. Comprising of a substantial 18 tracks admirably divided into three separate acts, the album follows a narrative featuring a leading pair of protagonists, Christian and Gloria, as depicted in the affectionate artwork, and their expeditions through the modern post-Bush world. The running plotline may be loose, but it provides a cohesive flow throughout the album, with outstanding production.
The opening title track for example is a multi-part epic which has been compared to the likes of Bohemian Rhapsody, easing you in with its soft acoustic guitars before launching into an exceptional, full blown anthem. Veteran fans will also be right at home with lead single Know Your Enemy, a repetitious but catchy romp, whereas tracks such as Murder City, Horseshoes and Handgrenades and East Jesus Nowhere, a scathing attack on contemporary religion, find Green Day at their most supercharged, pop punk angst best.
There are also many signs of experimentation, as Peacemaker delves into a decidedly Mexican theme, complete with an abundance of merciless “hey heys,” and the 2 part album highlight Viva La Gloria adopts a folk style premise, which harkens back to Misery from 2000’s Warning, before suitably picking up the pace. Some of the highlights however occur when the album slows things down, such as with Restless Heart Syndrome and 21 Guns, a gratifying and soothing standout that’s just a trifle reminiscent of their previous hit, Boulevard of Broken Dreams. It doesn’t work quite as well however with tracks such as the filler Last of the American Girls and Last Night on Earth, a dozing piano driven ballad revealing Christian and Gloria’s relationship. Nonetheless, these slower moments allow Billie Joe to truly shine, with his new found varied vocals.
21st Century Breakdown represents Green Day’s most solid and diverse effort yet, and, dare I say it, overtakes American Idiot in some aspects. It is a sublime package that demands to be heard as a whole, and is surely a strong contender for the album of the year. And yet it provokes the same question that arose with American Idiot – where exactly do they go from here?