Review Summary: No rock operas to be seen here: Green Day goes back to what worked for them in the nineties with good, but not astounding, results.
When I first heard Green Day was releasing a trio of albums within six months, the 13 year old inside of me jumped for joy. After all, there was good reason for this immediate reaction: it has been more than three years since the overblown, overproduced, and completely aimless 21st Century Breakdown
was released. That being said, the joy that my inner 13 year old gave was quickly overshadowed by the doubt that the more realistic 21 year old in me brought to the table. Three albums in less than six months? It took the band five years
after the game-changing American Idiot
to follow up with the aforementioned Breakdown
, and even though it got good reviews initially, it was eventually forgotten about, and only fueled anxiety towards the band.
Among my conflicted thinking, I began to put myself in the shoes of the band. Here was a band who earned critical acclaim when they were in their early twenties (lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong was only 21) when their major label debut Dookie
was released in early 1994. They were proclaimed as one of the biggest bands in the world, infamous for starting mud fights and getting their teeth knocked out at their shows. It was only six years and three albums later that they released Warning
, unfortunately mainly known for being their first major label album that didn't go multi-platnium upon its initial release. Devastated by the prospect of only selling 500,000 copies of a good (and underrated) album, the band began to fall apart.
It was a miracle that American Idiot
worked. Ten years after their initial success, the band once again elevated to an almost unheard level of stardom. American Idiot
was a spark of genius, something so dynamic and dramatic, so broken and yet and so indicative of the time we were living in, and, most importantly, so out of left field for a band that once sung about sitting around masturbating, that it had to be listened to. A legion of new fans arrived, and with it, complaints from the old fans about the fact that the music that Green Day made in the nineties was better.
But, what does any band do when you have success with something? They follow it up with something similar in every way possible
. And that is where the “trying so hard to mean something but ultimately pointless” 21st Century Breakdown
So when the band announced this trio of albums, as well as a promise to restore their old sound, it all made sense. What does any band do when something crashes and burns? They follow it up with something completely different
is that something. The fact that the band went back into the studio in February and came out with a finished product by the end of June says something about the overall simplicity of the album in comparison to their studio releases of the past decade. The album is a throw back to the Green Day of the nineties, but this time, the band has a better sense of layering melodies, a trait picked up from their forte into “rock operas,” so that even the sparsest three-chord arrangements sound big enough to fill a stadium.
When you begin to look at the single releases from this album, you begin to see the changes in the band. “Oh Love,” the first single released and the last track on the album, is a middle of the road song that is simply meant to not offend anyone. There are traces of the grandeur of their last two albums in the chorus, but the verses are so sparse both instrumentally and lyrically that it almost falls too much in the gray zone for anyone to really enjoy it.
Second single “Kill the DJ” is the complete opposite of “Oh Love.” It is the most experimental song that the band has done since Nimrod
, and, that being said, the song takes a while to get used to. It's not a terrible song, and it does throw a little bit of diversity into the track list. That being said, it's something that the band should pursue in the studio, but then not release.
Things begin to turn around with “Let Yourself Go,” which has Dookie
written all over it; punchy guitars, some nonsensical screaming, a sing-along chorus, and a sense of, well, letting everything go. There are some other high points on this album, most notably “Nuclear Family” which opens the album on a great note. It is a catchy, three chord, three minute statement of intent from the band, and gives you a distinct idea of where the rest of the album will be heading. “Angel Blue,” “Sweet 16” and “Rusty James” actually solidify the second half of the album quite nicely, even though the last is a dead ringer for both Nimrod
's “Scattered” in the verses, and 21st Century Breakdown
's “Before the Lobotomy” in the guitar solo.
The main problem with this album is where Green Day albums usually falter: the lyrics. The band has never been the best at lyrics (there's nothing nearly as bad as “she is riding her bike like a fugitive of critical mass,” from one of the brighter points on 21st Century Breakdown
: “Last of the American Girls.” Where the band makes up for it is with focused, and surprisingly energetic playing. For example in “Let Yourself Go,” some of the lyrics in the bridge near the end are “Always *** ***in' with my head now,” and in “Troublemaker,” Armstrong proclaims that he “wants to get inside of you.” They may be a little bit old for this sort of thing, but this album isn't about deciphering lyrics and their “hidden” meanings, it's about sitting back, and, ironically, letting the music do the majority of the talking.
, nor any of the upcoming albums in the ¡Uno! ¡Dos! ¡Tre!
trilogy, are going to break any barriers or induce a new generation of listeners like Dookie
or American Idiot
did. But, ¡Uno!
does provide a solid 42 minutes of pop-punk for those who are willing to put the past in the past and simply listen. ¡Uno!
may not be even close to being your favorite in their discography, but it is Green Day starting to go back to being themselves, and that is something that every listener, whether you were listening in 1994 or 2004, can appreciate.