Review Summary: Green Day get casual again, with mixed results.
Few modern bands inspire as much rabid hatred as Green Day, and it's not difficult to understand why. After breaking their way back into relevancy with American Idiot in 2004, they paraded their rock star politics around for about a decade, eager to take shots at easy targets, make vague references to caricatured conservative concepts, and generally preach to the choir. Their new fanbase (at least the most vocal portion of it) was mostly made up of an intriguing mix of angsty emo teenagers and girls who loved "Wake Me Up When September Ends". 2009's grandiose, magnificent swing-and-a-miss 21st Century Breakdown made matters worse, as the politics and messages of their music became blurrier than ever. It began to seem like Green Day - who had always at least tried something new with each release - were treading water, attempting to soak up as many album sales and rave Rolling Stone reviews as possible before their renewed relevance finally ran out. Many just wanted the band and their middle-aged lesbian haircuts to go away, and even hardcore fans were longing for a return to their carefree nineties pop-punk style (if only for a break from vague, bizarre political statements such as "Homeland Security could kill us all").
Well, while Green Day still refuse to go away, at least they have adhered to the latter. iUNO! is not an extension of the sprawlingly repetitive 21st Century Breakdown, nor the radio fodder of American Idiot. It shares more in common with their 2000 effort Warning, which while garnering mediocre reviews (and public indifference) at least didn't earn itself any rampant hatred. Green Day may still be a bit high minded, but at least they seem to finally understand that their time as a bastion of social change and justice is up, and they might as well have a little fun for once. "Nuclear Family" is an immediate indication of that; the lyrics may be clumsy and the riffs may be textbook, but the song is driving and catchy, and you can enjoy it on a superficial level without having to deal with any misguided ideas of self-importance. iUNO! is a pop-punk album at heart - not a great one, but solid enough that Green Day fans will enjoy the hell out of it. Most of the songs, especially standouts "Let Yourself Go" and "Loss of Control" would sound completely at home on a Nimrod or Warning, and even the more "new Green Day" songs ("Carpe Diem" specifically) are more tolerable than any of the over-serious rock opera filler.
A major problem with the album, however, is filler; the band have justified releasing three full length albums with how much more productive musically they are now than in 2009 (crazy things happen when your music doesn't have
to protest a million things at once), but more than a few songs could have been left on the cutting room floor, or at least thrown on an EP or a live compilation. "Sweet 16" and "Kill the DJ" are almost embarrassing in their adolescent simplicity, and the bizarre and nonsensical lyrics on poorly chosen lead single "Oh Love" are accentuated by the stripped down guitar verses. Returning to a more casual and straightforward pop-punk sound is no excuse for sloppy and poor songwriting, and about a third of the album is guilty of that.
If you hate Green Day, iUNO! will probably not change your mind. It's by no means a "great album", but it never tries to be one. It's a mess; half of it good pop-punk and the other forgettable filler. No one will ever call it "life changing", but it is what it is: a solid collection of songs by a band who are finally having fun again. For old school Green Day fans, that's about as good as we could have dared hope for.