’s 21st Century Breakdown
quite successfully completes the band’s transformation from punk revivalists into unapologetic classic-rock traditionalists. Taking on the challenge of following up their masterful 2004 concept album American Idiot
, Green Day have made another concept album, but while the record’s storyline isn’t all that engaging, the songs most assuredly are. This collection of straightforward rockers, moony ballads and stylistic excursions should be a hit with anyone who embraced Idiot
’s ambitious reach.
A Story in Three Acts
21st Century Breakdown
concerns the love story of two young people, Christian and Gloria, which is told in three acts. Along the way, frontman Billie Joe Armstrong weaves in commentary about politics (“Know Your Enemy”
), religion (“East Jesus Nowhere”) and mass media (“The Static Age”), but Armstrong’s lyrics are often not as smart as he thinks they are – they’re often simplistic slogans like “Overthrow the effigy/The vast majority/Burning down the foreman of control” that are fun to sing but don’t quite make sense. Instead, the words on 21st Century Breakdown
are mostly a placeholder for the music. In this way, the new album lacks some of the urgency and poignancy of American Idiot
’s most stirring moments, which accurately chronicled the despair and disillusionment of the Bush years. Thankfully, 21st Century Breakdown
compensates in other ways.
A Wealth of Catchy Songs
In terms of pure music, 21st Century Breakdown
might be Green Day’s strongest batch of instantly accessible tunes. There will be those who complain that Green Day have irreparably compromised their punk purity with these catchy songs – of course, others back in the ‘90s accused the band of watering down punk’s raw energy by setting their sights on radio success for hits like “Longview” – but the fact is that if Green Day now want to be an extremely ambitious classic-rock group like the Who
, why argue when the results are this enjoyable?
An Ambitious Scope
Like American Idiot, 21st Century Breakdown recalls the scope of ‘70s records like Dark Side of the Moon or Tommy where bands stretched out to encompass narratives and different musical styles within traditional rock parameters. Whether it’s the Mexican-flavored mariachi leanings of “Peacemaker” or the pseudo-industrial rock intro of “Christian’s Inferno,” the album finds Green Day pushing themselves while at the same time focusing on adrenalized choruses and ear-catching hooks. Without question Green Day (and Nevermind producer Butch Vig) have polished 21st Century Breakdown to maximize its audience, but in terms of expert craftsmanship, this album is hard to beat.
Rockers and Ballads
Unlike many of his aging contemporaries, Billie Joe Armstrong still manages to write stellar ballads and
rockers. (Usually, the ability to write visceral up-tempo songs starts to fade while slower songs begin to come easier.) “Know Your Enemy” and “Horseshoes and Handgrenades” both leap out of the gate with snarling fury, and, perhaps even more impressive, they don’t just sound like knockoffs of “American Idiot.” As for ballads, the piano-and-strings “Restless Heart Syndrome” is an ace wave-your-lighter moment that morphs into another guitar stomper. While some of Armstrong’s songwriting tricks are becoming familiar, 21st Century Breakdown
rarely feels like a carbon copy of earlier Green Day hits. The man has a formula, but he keeps screwing with its components to great effect.
Green Day's '21st Century Breakdown' - Bottom Line
Massive expectations greet 21st Century Breakdown
, and while the new album can’t possibly live up to all of them, it’s impressive just how strong this record is. The plight of Christian and Gloria may be a bit murky, and you may not care what Armstrong has to say about the world around him, but 21st Century Breakdown
succeeds in its most crucial criterion – it sounds amazing.
'21st Century Breakdown' – Best Tracks:
“Know Your Enemy” (Purchase/Download
“Before the Lobotomy” (Purchase/Download
“Last of the American Girls” (Purchase/Download
“Horseshoes and Handgrenades” (Purchase/Download
“Restless Heart Syndrome” (Purchase/Download
Release date – May 15, 2009