May 15, 2009 - Reprise
The question for Green Day after 2004â€™s career-redefining American Idiot wasnâ€™t necessarily, â€œWhere do they go from here?â€ but instead, â€œHow long will it take them to get there?â€ After the worldwide success of the concept album, it was a foregone conclusion that the band wouldnâ€™t be returning to writing three-chord pop-punk anytime soon. Coming nearly five years after Idiot, 21st Century Breakdown is unlike any record Green Day have made before. While it shares many stylistic similarities with Idiot, Breakdown brims with a type of self-confidence the band never before expressed on tape--the kind that only comes with a multi-platinum, universally acclaimed success and the attached feeling that you can do no wrong. (See also: Any U2 album of the past decade.)
The problem with this confidence is that it becomes remarkably easy to make some pretty big flubs and have absolutely no one involved in the recording process call you on them. So letâ€™s get the bad stuff out of the way first:
- Â â€œRestless Heart Syndromeâ€ shares a frantic guitar break with Idiotâ€™s â€œBoulevard Of Broken Dreams.â€
- Â â€œEast Jesus Nowhereâ€ sounds like a less interesting â€œHoliday.â€
- Â â€œStatic Ageâ€ recalls â€œChurch On Sundayâ€ from 2000â€™s underrated Warning.
- Â The verses of the first half of â€œAmerican Eulogyâ€ line up with the verses of Warningâ€™s â€œDeadbeat Holidayâ€ too easily.
- Â â€œViva La Gloria? (Little Girl)â€ bears more than a passing resemblance to Warningâ€™s â€œMisery.â€
- Â â€œLast Of The American Girlsâ€ feels like the long-lost sequel to one of Dookieâ€™s more obscure tracks, the near-perfect â€œPulling Teeth.â€
When youâ€™re two decades and hundreds of songs deep in your career, itâ€™s not surprising that a few ideas get revisited, but the band also wear their influences on their sleeves--the Who (the title track), the Ramones (â€œViva La Gloriaâ€), the Beatles (â€œRestless Heart Syndromeâ€); hell, â€œHorseshoes And Handgrenadesâ€ sounds like the goddamn Hivesâ€™ â€œMain Offender.â€ Is 21st Century Breakdown a wholly original work? Not at all. Are there still some absolutely incredible moments? You better believe it.
As soon as the title track kicks in, itâ€™s clear 21st Century Breakdown is meant to be arena rock for anarchists. Itâ€™s a slow, methodical, mid-tempo number that sets the stage for the disc to come. Unfortunately, the album stalls early on with â€œKnow Your Enemy,â€ a repetitive call-and-response that feels more like an interstitial piece than a stand-alone song. Breakdown recovers nicely with the elaborate â€œViva La Gloriaâ€ (piano! timpani! strings!) and the bait-and-switch of â€œBefore The Lobotomy,â€ which sucks in the listener with an AM radio melody before exploding out in 7/4 time. Itâ€™s meant to feel epic, and it does. The circle pit-inducing â€œChristianâ€™s Infernoâ€ and highly pogo-worthy â€œMurder Cityâ€ will remind listeners that Green Day are still a killer punk band; and â€œ21 Gunsâ€ will reinforce why Green Day are one of the biggest rock bands on the planet-this song will most assuredly be a single somewhere down the line, and thereâ€™s no reason it wonâ€™t be absolutely huge.
In terms of major rock releases, Breakdown still has enough lyrical heft to mean more than anything modern-rock mooks are currently shoveling onto the public--Billie Joe Armstrong isnâ€™t afraid to spit out exactly what heâ€™s feeling, no matter how nihilistic (â€œI donâ€™t give a shit about the modern age/I donâ€™t wanna live in the modern world,â€ from â€œAmerican Eulogyâ€), and that takes guts when youâ€™re a musician of his influence and celebrity. While the disc does get bogged down with a little too much force-feeding of the Christian and Gloria characters (just like Idiotâ€™s Jimmy and Whatshername), itâ€™s a safe bet that the listener will come out the other end having largely enjoyed the last 70 minutes and 18 tracks. Really, thatâ€™s all you can ask.