TrevorPresiloski
21st Century Breakdown
May 26th, 2009

So, you could say that I’m a bit of a Green Day fan. Back in the 90s, I was pretty much obsessed with them, back when I was in my ‘punk’ phase (quotation marks cannot be emphasized enough here.) I think it started from a concert that was taped during the Dookie years, Green Day Live In Chicago. The live version of ‘Going to Pasalacqua’ just blew my mind and made me a fan. Dookie itself had a perfect storm of juvenile humour, rage, angst and fun that fit my adolescent self like a glove, while their followup, Insomniac was awesome. So awesome, that Insomniac is probably somewhere in my personal canon of Fucking Great Albums and I’ll probably do a longer post on that album at another time. The album channeled a lot of the frustrations and experiences they found post-Dookie: accusations of selling out, learning how to deal with live as a newlywed or as a father. Anyway, that was followed up with Nimrod, an album which was equal parts silly and dark. It also included another live show that was performed in an alleyway for a Toronto-area HMV for Muchmusic. During this whole period, I practically worshipped Green Day and they could do no wrong.

Then Warning came out, which wasn’t a bad record, as it had an interesting mix of stuff and wasn’t just them trying to recycle what worked before for them. You had juvenile rage with Dookie, a brooding ‘dark’ record with Insomniac and then a mixed, more mature bag with Nimrod. Warning, while not my favorite record of the bunch, continued to show a natural progression for the band: older, wiser, but still had that charm and energy that made you paid attention to them in the first place.

Following that came American Idiot, an album which was probably their biggest release in terms of significance, if not album sales. Along the lines of Insomniac and Nimrod, American Idiot seems to be a darker album, reacting to the current political and cultural climate in post-9/11 America. George W Bush had been elected, signalling a moment of triumph for the Religious Right of American politics, as Dubya was most assuredly ‘their man.’ Under his watch, we got to see the ‘War On Terror’ which heralded in the still-ongoing war in Iraq. We also got to see other Bush Initiatives come forth such as Patriot Act and administrative blunders such as what happened down in New Orleans with Hurricane Katrina. Opinions were polarized regarding the government, of which Bush was a part of, and folks in America (as well as a good deal of the Western world) were trying to come to grips with everything that had been going on.

While I’m not going to say that American Idiot was some profound, Chomsky-esque recording that helped shape the lives of a generation, what the album did do was tap into the feelings that a lot of people were experiencing and give them something that really resonated with them. It was affirming, if not revelatory, knowing that there were other people who felt the same way. The album didn’t just have the ‘fuck Bush, lawl’ sentiment that a lot of critics blasted it for: it also tapped into the feelings of the day-to-day life of people living in America. There’s a reason why there’s a song on the record called ‘Jesus of Suburbia’, in other words, rather than ‘GOP = Grumpy Old ‘Publicans’ or something equally insipid.

No surprise, then, that it became absolutely huge and put Green Day back on the map as one of ‘the’ bands out there in the music industry, a feat made all the more admirable as it happened in the post-Napster world.

Anyway, American Idiot landed the band another Grammy, a collaboration with U2 and gave Billie Joe the idea that covering John Lennon would be a good idea.

Things were looking very good and when the band announced that their new album, 21st Century Breakdown was going to follow in the mold of American Idiot, I was a little nervous, although interested. After all, Green Day really hadn’t tried to capture lightning in a bottle twice with their major studio records, so why start now?

Then I heard that the band had ditched Rob Cavallo, the man who had been worked with them for pretty much their entire careers. The replacement? Butch fucking Vig. Look, I’ve got no problem with Butch Vig: I’m a fan of Garbage, for one, and I happen to like Nevermind and Siamese Dream quite a bit, thank you very much, but his recent forays with bands like AFI and Against Me! were…well, I don’t want to say horrible as I’m not really a fan of either group, but they managed to alienate a good deal of both band’s respective fanbases. Punk and Butch Vig don’t seem to mesh very well in the 21st Century.

I got my filthy hands on a copy of 21st Century Breakdown and I have to say that my apprehension is at least partly justified. It’s bloody obvious as to what the band was going for with the record: basically trying to achieve the exact same result that they did with American Idiot. I can’t blame them, but it seems that instead of trying to tap into the feelings of confusion, frustration, rage, etc. that worked so bloody well on American Idiot, Green Day (or Vig, I’m not sure who to blame here) seem to be eschewing that in favor of a big epic sound, trying to look (or sound) badass rather than stumbling in and ranting incoherently, which has always sort of been Green Day’s trademark. This is probably best exemplified with the abundance of autotuner going on here, such as in most of ‘Static Age’ or the chorus to ’21 Guns.’ I don’t know who thought that this was necessary. Compare ‘Static Age’ to ‘Church on Sunday’ off of Warning, as they’re pretty damn identical songs, but are sung radically different.

The title track is actually pretty good: it starts out slow and quiet with a distinct ‘movement’ that sounds like a Weezer c-side and then moves into a segue along the same lines as ‘Jinx’/’Haushinka’ and then into a third movement. Reminiscent of any of the longer tracks off Idiot.

Then we jump into the lead single, ‘Know Your Enemy’, which is repetitive and bland, horribly produced, which results in the whole song blurring into an unrecognisable mess. I dunno, I’m envisioning it as some sort of Oi Punk track rather than what was offered up, which was a really shallow paint by numbers tune.

And what the almighty fuck is with the overabundance of the piano on this record? I mean, I could tolerate it in parts, like ‘Tales From Another Broken Home’ off of Jesus of Suburbia when it’s like 20 seconds long and it fits into the song. But when it constitutes half a fucking song like in ‘Viva La Gloria’, ‘Last Night On Earth’, ’21 Guns’ (the next single, hooray!) or ‘Restless Heart Syndrome’  (the latter of which comes off as being so horribly wanting to be ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams Pt. 2’ it’s sickening) AND comes off sounding like something you’d hear on an Aerosmith outtakes tape? Barf.

On the upside, ‘Viva La Gloria?’ makes great use of piano and fits in with what the fucking band is about. I’m not saying that piano is bad or that experimenting is Wrong and Cannot Be Done, it’s just that hearing some of the aforementioned tracks was quite the ‘WTF’ moment for me.  ‘Before The Lobotomy’, which doesn’t feature piano, serves to take even more piss out of the record. That’s roughly a third of the record, if you discard the ‘intro’ non-track and…I mean, I’ve never picked up a Green Day record because I was looking for an alternative to fucking Coldplay.

That said, I absolutely love some of the tracks. ‘Christian’s Inferno’ is a great track that sounds like it could’ve come off The Network’s album before blasting straight out into full out Green Day theatrics. ‘East Jesus Nowhere’ really evokes ‘Welcome To Paradise’ in terms of sound, particularly the chorus, just showing that Green Day can still rock your fucking face off with power chords. The song is also probably Billie Joe’s strongest lyrically, which is unfortunate, as I’ve always found Armstrong to be a witty (not profound!) lyricist. ‘Peacemaker’, on the other hand, brings to mind that sort of growth I’ve talked about up above, sounding like a mutated crossbreed between a Warning and American Idiot track.

My other main complaint with the album is that the lyricism on the album falls flat for me. I really like Billie Joe as a lyricist and find that a lot of the writing for this album comes out sounding as very generic and vague. There’s nothing that really rolls around in your head like there was off of American Idiot (ex, pretty much all of ‘Jesus of Suburbia’: ‘get my television fix/sitting on my crucifix’, ‘in a land of make believe/you don’t believe in me’, etc. ‘Cigarettes and ramen and a little bag of dope/I am the son of a bitch of Edgar Allen Poe’ from ‘St. Jimmy’) I’d like to think that this is because Armstrong was trying to create a more structured narrative within the album and lost focus as a result, as he wanted to become more literal. It’s unfortunate, because it’s one of the things I really liked about Green Day. Hopefully he’ll get back to form for whatever album comes next.

If you can get past the horrible piano ditties that are obviously meant to pander to the ‘Wake Me Up When September Ends’ crowd and focus on the rock, 21st Century Breakdown is your ticket. I just hope that Green Day really doesn’t try to continue with these epic/thematic records in an attempt to be some sort of profound musical philosopher. Green Day has always been smart aleck, not smart.

Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t share this with you. If you hadn’t heard it before now, well, you’re welcome. I’m just glad that I wasn’t the only fucking one who had this jump out at him while listening to the record.

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