Review Summary: An honest, if calculated, return to roots, which puts the emphasis on the fun and shatters scores of lowered expectations as a result.
When Green Day announced their intent to put out a trilogy of albums as their next major project, many fans feared the worst. With the group's millenial trajectory progressively taking them further and further away from their pop-punk roots and into the realm of overbloated pseudo-rock-opera preposterouness, even the most optimistic of fans could predict nothing better than a milquetoast rehash of the group's previous effort, 21st Century Breakdown
- itself a milquetoast rehash of massively successful second-wind effort American Idiot
. Two strikingly awful advance singles did little to dispel this notion, and fans old and new braced themselves for an opus of overbloated self-importance the likes of which had not been seen since the 1970s.
That is why it is so refreshing to ascertain that !Uno!
- the first volume of the Spanish-numeral-titled trilogy - is anything but 21st Century Breakdown
on ridiculousness steroids. In fact, it is mostly the opposite: while not the Dookie
-sounding opus promised by the band - but who seriously expected it to be? - it certainly does hark back to the carefree days of the late 1990s, when the band's main concern was to spread their snotty, edgy brand of pop-punk through the airwaves of the world. And while the final result does, at times, seem a little calculated and safe, the truth is Green Day have not lost their knack for writing power-pop songs and, as a result, !Uno!
is a satisfyingly strong offering, and an encouraging start to the trilogy.
The best way to describe !Uno!
's overall sound would perhaps be to call it a simplified mixture of the punkiest moments on Insomniac, Nimrod
, with sprinkles of 21st Century Breakdown
and the group's side project, Foxboro Hot Tubs, thrown in for good measure. There is nary a piano to be found throughout the course of these twelve songs (though a Hammond organ does feature on Oh Love
) and 8-minute multi-part epics are also in thankfully short supply. Instead, songs such as Nuclear Family, Stay The Night, Let Yourself Go, Loss of Control
or Angel Blue
are guitar-driven power-pop ditties with an emphasis on fun, the kind the group used to put out in their early days. Which is why it comes as even more of a surprise that the band have chosen the two least
representative cuts on the album to serve as singles.
And because every discussion about !Uno!
is bound to inevitably come back to those two songs, they may as well be taken out of the way early on: both Oh Love
and Kill The DJ
are awful. The former is an even sappier variant of the group's singles from the last decade, while the latter (a failed stab at a Clash/Franz Ferdinand/My Chemical Romance shuffle) achieves the prowess of being worse
than Know Your Enemy
, effectively making it the worst Green Day single of all time. All in all, if the group's intention was to turn listeners away
from this album, whilst legitimizing the claims of the naysayers, it may be said they excelled.
What the many casual fans (understandably) put off listening to !Uno!
will not come to realise, however, is that the singles are two of only three
weaker cuts on the album, the other being the unremarkably sappy Sweet 16
) and the only two to not follow the Nimwarniac pattern of songwriting. Every other cut on this album (even more midtempo efforts such as Carpe Diem
and Fell For You
) follows the pattern of bouncy guitars and catchy choruses which made the group famous, making !Uno!
an overall very pleasant listening experience.
Particular highs are to be found in the irrepressible, irresistible Let Yourself Go
(the group's best song since American Idiot
, by a landslide) and Loss Of Control
, a similar-sounding but slightly more complex late-album gem. Opener Nuclear Family
, frenzied Kerplunk
throwback Angel Blue
-period soundalike Carpe Diem
(the most immediate chorus on the record) bring up a solid rear, all but nullifying the vortex effect of DJ
(the sole black hole in an otherwise stellar first half) and Love
, thankfully placed as the last track for maximum damage control.
But while the sense of fun imbued into these songs may cause the listener to overlook some of !Uno!
's main flaws, the truth is, some of the criticism lobbed at the album has been justified. !Uno!
does indeed have exceedingly simple musical and lyrical structures, even if they seem entirely intentional, as if the group were trying to finally justify the endless comparisons to The Ramones. Furthermore, Billie Joe Armstrong's poems seem particularly idiotic this time around, even when peppered with his trademark wordplay ("I've got an impulse so repulsive that it burns"
). The snot-nosed ***-you posturing he adopts in most of these lyrics (and, as many have seen, also in real life) does not help the aging singer's case any, either; as much fun as these songs are to listen to, at one point, it the listener does come to the realisation that they are witnessing a 40-year-old man sing about teenage drama and being "too young to die"
. This ends up detracting somewhat from the album as a whole, and overshadowing genuinely good lyrical moments such as the youth reminiscing on Sweet 16
, which wastes the album's best lyrics on one of its worst songs.
Armstrong's Peter Pan syndrome is, however, not the only problem keeping !Uno!
from widespread approval. In a tendency which has sadly been increasing since American Idiot
, Tre Cool and Mike Dirnt also insist on producing exceedingly basic bass lines and beats; and while Dirnt takes a few more risks this time, Cool seems to be regressing in his mastery of the instrument, leaving long-time fans to imagine how these songs would sound with the "old" rhythm section from albums like Dookie
Additionally, aside from the trio of weaker cuts, there are a couple of far less remarkable songs interspersed among the twelve, with the bland Troublemaker
and "generic Green Day song prototype" Rusty James
as the main offenders. Together with the simplistic and somewhat formulaic nature of the songwriting, and more than a few instances of selp-ripoffism (compare and contrast the bass line that opens Let Yourself Go
with the one that opens twelve-year-old classic Maria
, for example) these factors may contribute to many fans perceiving !Uno!
as just another middle-of-the-road album for a flailing band.
In the end, however, it all comes down to fun. !Uno!
is an album which - unlike the previous two - does not take itself too seriously, and aims for nothing more than to offer older fans an apology, by way of fun, catchy guitar-pop songs, in a manner not unlike Green Day's eternal measuring stick, The Ramones. To be sure, side-effects from the rock-opera period still make themselves felt here and there, contributing to create the most cringe-worthy moments on the album; but when the trio put them aside and focus on what they do best - fun, bouncy pop-punk anthems - it definitely works. Those disillusioned with the group's output in the last decade will therefore be pleased to know that, while !Uno!
is not Dookie
(but what is?!), neither is it 70 minutes of former teen-punk icons fancying themselves The Who. Instead, it is a calculated, but honest return to roots, which turns the fun dial to eleven and hopes to soar through the airwaves once again, shattering scores of severely lowered expectations along the way.
Let Yourself Go
Loss Of Control