You may not get any deep insights, but you are getting some great tunes.
Chris Jones 2009-05-08
Three years in the making and 71 (yes, 71) minutes in length, pop-punk provocateurs, Green Day return with another concept album to rival their last, American Idiot. The intervening years have seen several pop bands absconding with their USP and making lightweight mincemeat of it, making it harder for us to take them seriously. This is a shame, as Green Day really know their pop smarts and are as ruthlessly efficient as a Swiss watch with dayglo hands. You may not get any deep insights, but you are getting some great tunes.
Like the Ramones with A-levels the band split the album into three 'acts' (Heroes And Cons; Charlatans And Saints; Horseshoes And Handgrenades): It's loosely based around a young couple, Gloria and Christian, and their travails in this contrary age. Musically it's business as usual, taking the punk template and strectching it into stadium grandiosity. While the title track expands its brief to three time signatures, Viva la Gloria enters the room borne on Billy Joel-esque piano chords, or Last Night On Earth is essentially a 70s power ballad with dreamy vocals, the core of 21st century Breakdown is still great pummelling party rock, infused with producer Butch Vig's classic sense of quiet/loud dynamics.
Conceptually it's a little harder to muster enthusiasm. Griping vaguely against 'authority' tends to be the domain of the teenager, and these guys are now approaching 40. Murder City sees its protagonists, ''crying in the bathroom'' and ''bumming cigarettes'', but they're ''desperate but not helpless''. Green Day are best at summing up the ennui of white middle class America. It doesn't have the romantic sheen of, say, Springsteen's evocation of the early 60s, but this is the sound of shopping malls gone to seed; homogenised and railing against 'stuff'. This isn't to say that their hearts aren't in the right place, and the USA needs its social commentators now, more than ever, but they speak far more eloquently with their guitars than their lyrics.
Too many buzz words obscure incisive meaning, and it's only by the third act that any sense of true ire creeps in: ie: war (huh) what is it good for? etc. But it's probably more to do with the fact that Billie Joe Armstrong finally gets all sweary (''I'm not f*****g around!'' he bleats on Horseshoes And Handgrenades). Yet at its climax the most profound thing they can say is, ''I don't want to live in the modern world'' or ''I don't give a s*** about the modern age''. Join the club, chaps.
Ultimately 21st century Breakdown is a startlingly hummable album that breathes life into a musical form that should, by rights, have died out 30 years ago. Such creativity is to be lauded, but this isn't a record that will change the world one iota; except by making kids dance. And sometimes there's no greater achievement in life.