CD Review: Green Day, “21st Century Breakdown”

Written by CD Reviews, Music

Music pundits are calling this the big rock release of the summer and predicting Green Day’s official return to the racks to be a major release for the year, so we at Popdose decided that one single review couldn’t live up to 21st Century Breakdown‘s prerelease hype. Ted Asregadoo, Dave Steed, and Dw. Dunphy take a crack at the boys’ post-American Idiot, post-Foxboro Hot Tubs offering and find themselves in completely different corners.

Dave: 21st Century Breakdown (a.k.a. “American Idiot Part Deux”) probably isn’t a bad record at all, but I think to appreciate it you have to be 15. See, if you’re 15 your introduction to Green Day was probably American Idiot, so as you sit on your mom’s couch with your “punk” girlfriend and marvel at how their new record sounds “just like them,” you probably think this is the shit.

Unfortunately I’m not 15, which means I threw up in my mouth a little bit when I heard the new album. There’s certainly no mistaking a Green Day release even when they aren’t Green Day (see: Foxboro Hot Tubs), but this is a little much. Ever since they released Dookie in ’94, every Green Day record has had some new sounds or concepts on it, but I have to dig really deep to find either of them on this album. The sad thing about it, though, is that I had to have seen this coming. The last record felt like a career revival, despite the fact that I never think they dropped off, so why not ride that wave all the way to shore? I don’t necessarily blame them, but if there was ever a point where Green Day “sold out,” this sadly feels like it.

That said, the one moment on 21st Century Breakdown that really gets me excited is buried three-quarters of the way into the disc: “Horseshoes and Handgrenades,” where Billie Joe screams, “I’m not fucking around.” Well then, prove it — take the fire and energy on that track, give me 11 more of them averaging two and a half minutes in length, and make me a real fucking Green Day record, because if you give me “American Idiot 33 1/3” a few years from now, I’m through.

greendayTed: After the megasuccess of 2004’s American Idiot, the boys of Green Day had some choices to make. Where would they go next after writing an album that came together relatively quickly, sold a zillion copies, and made them the darlings of preteens, critics, and cynical Gen Xers? Go back? Go forward? Make “American Idiot 2.0”?

On 21st Century Breakdown they’ve managed to go in all three directions with wonderful results. There’s the snottiness of their early albums in songs like “The Static Age,” what sounds like an outtake from American Idiot in the lead single, “Know Your Enemy,” and musical maturity with the title track, “Before the Lobotomy,” and “See the Light.” Overall, the album bucks the current trend of churning out singles in favor of creating deep tracks that beg for repeated listens — and may the gods bless ‘em for it!

In the three years it took Green Day to write these songs, it’s clear that these are not the same guys who used to sit on the couch, twiddle their thumbs, and revel in their laziness. Now? Well, they’re clearly spending less time reading porn magazines, because they’ve jumped head first into the cultural fray to make sense of what the U.S. has become in the last decade, and they’ve done it with a sense of theatrical drama that the Who and Queen used to deploy so well. Will 21st Century Breakdown have the same staying power as American Idiot? Does it matter? Not really. Green Day isn’t a pop-punk band anymore. Rather, by design or by accident, they’re now on the cusp of “elder statesmen of rock.” At 37 years old, Billie Joe Armstrong certainly possesses the credentials, but with the maturity with which he’s writing songs these days, calling him an elder statesman is a compliment.

56033136MT066_Arrivals_At_MDw.: How you approach the new Green Day album will directly affect your appreciation of it, which I suppose is faint praise considering both the critical and commercial appeal of American Idiot. By now, such cultural divisions should be impossible. After all, Green Day did create punk’s first concept album (if you’ve never encountered Husker Du’s Zen Arcade, that is) and manage to score huge hits at the same time, essentially unifying the two theories into one. Having cracked the code, 21st Century Breakdown should have been a cakewalk.

The problem is, on its surface it’s a supercatchy pop-punk album sure to tickle ears and garner sales while at the same time having some big ideas to work with too. It’s only when you really dig into it that you start noticing they’re the same ideas Idiot swam through. Worse, when you listen even harder, you find the band being seriously self-referential. “East Jesus Nowhere” has that same “Longview” hocka-chicka rhythm found on all previous Green Day albums (and the Foxboro Hot Tubs disc). “Restless Heart Syndrome” is a proxy for “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” and, most tellingly, the one-two opening of “Song of the Century” and the title cut sounds awfully similar to My Chemical Romance’s The Black Parade. It smells a bit like the teacher learning some tricks from the student.

Now, if you can turn off your intellectual side and just go with it, 21st Century Breakdown is 70 minutes of ear candy. Even though “Restless Heart Syndrome” isn’t particularly original, it’s darn pretty. Even if “21 Guns” sounds like you popped in another band’s disc by mistake, it’s not a musical failure by any measure. “Horseshoes and Handgrenades” begs to be blasted, and you, the listener, will likely oblige willingly. Producer Butch Vig’s sonic palette gives the band lots of room to do interesting things, and at times they’re throwing all of it at you at once.

If this is your first experience with Green Day, you’ll be duly impressed. But if you’ve been following the band all along, you might feel like they’ve given up a best-of in a new album’s clothing. That’s the final catch: 21st Century Breakdown works best when you don’t think about it too much, even though Green Day wants you to.