Music Review: Green Day by uncdiversions
May 27, 2009, 7:23 pm
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Green Day

21st Century Breakdown

(Warner Bros./Reprise)

Green Day really should have known better than to try it again. The groups that have successfully made rock operas back-to-back can be counted on one hand, and the last time I checked, Pete Townshend isn’t a member of this group.

But while the fact that Billy Joe Armstrong, Tré Cool and Mike Dirnt’s second-straight attempt doesn’t live up to 2004’s solid and effective American Idiot might not come as a surprise, the fact that it is as shoddy as it is, both in terms of the music and in the quality of Armstrong’s new narrative, might.

Built on the incomprehensible tale of Christian and Gloria, two members of the “Class of ’13” (what that is, I really couldn’t tell you), 21st Century Breakdown is the result of a band trying to replicate its greatest success not by coming up with a new, equally great idea, but by reusing the same tactics. Filled with almost 70 minutes worth of bombastic classic rock carelessly stuck onto bland pop punk, this record is large for no reason with lyrics of clichés shot out at high speed or croaked over slow piano drudgery.

It’s a shame that American Idiot will have its memory tarnished with this. That record’s ingeniously chaotic arrangements relayed a story that perfectly encapsulated the liberal youth in the time of the conservative Bush administration. And with ballad singles “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and “Wake Me up When September Ends” as its only duds, it was an incredibly solid affair that put Green Day back on the map after a near half-decade of misses.

Apart from lazy arrangements and lyrics that at their worst are as headache-inducing as any you’ll find in top 40, Breakdown’s most glaring misstep is the hollow production of Butch Vig. Piling on a level of varnish so thick that every note is zapped of its expressiveness, Vig gives the music all the emotion of a fallen log.

That said, the main thing that makes Breakdown so frustrating is that Armstrong actually presents a shtick on the handful of good songs that could have possibly propelled a good album: he makes fun of his fans.

American idiot’s success was one of the main catalysts in a mainstream emo rock movement that has, by almost any measure, delivered far more hideous failures than actual successes. And Armstrong seems to resent the fact that the beginning of this movement is due largely to the success of his album.

Beginning with the second of the album’s three acts, Armstrong rips the people who listen to this music a new one. In “Last of the American Girls” he sets his sights on emo girls and tears apart their aesthetic with cruel sneering sarcasm over a pleasing bit of bouncy piano. “She wears an overcoat/For the coming of the nuclear winter,/She is riding her bike/Like a fugitive of critical mass,” he sings indicating the pointlessness of such girls’ stylistic gimmicks.

But Armstrong’s anger isn’t reserved for the kids who buy his records. In raging barnburner “Horseshoes and Handgrenades,” which actually hits with enough fury to break through Vig’s horribly white-washed production, Armstrong growls “I’m a hater, I’m a traitor, I’m a pair of Chuck Taylors now.” Just like that brand of shoes, which was once the mark of being “different” and is now worn by most every teenager, Armstrong sees himself as a turncoat.

And after listening to Breakdown it’s hard not to see him as one too. Lazily replicating his most successful work with a band that sounds like its heart just isn’t in it anymore, Armstrong truly has sold out to the almighty dollar. Because despite the moments of self-awareness that actually admit to the meaninglessness of this enterprise, the only reason to come out with the record is that every black-t-shirt-and-eye-liner-wearing teenager will pick up a copy and then rush off to see the band in concert. In this way, Breakdown is little more than a Green Day commercial, and a bad one at that.

– By Diversions Editor Jordan Lawrence


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