Green Day - 21st Century Breakdown

May 5, 2009 by Scott Heisel




Purchase it at:
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Released:
May 15, 2009 - Reprise

AP Rating:

The question for Green Day after 2004’s career-redefining American Idiot wasn’t necessarily, “Where do they go from here?” but instead, “How long will it take them to get there?” After the worldwide success of the concept album, it was a foregone conclusion that the band wouldn’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 let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first:

  •  “Restless Heart Syndrome” shares a frantic guitar break with Idiot’s “Boulevard Of Broken Dreams.”
  •  “East Jesus Nowhere” sounds like a less interesting “Holiday.”
  •  “Static Age” recalls “Church On Sunday” from 2000’s underrated Warning.
  •  The verses of the first half of “American Eulogy” line up with the verses of Warning’s “Deadbeat Holiday” too easily.
  •  “Viva La Gloria? (Little Girl)” bears more than a passing resemblance to Warning’s “Misery.”
  •  “Last Of The American Girls” feels like the long-lost sequel to one of Dookie’s more obscure tracks, the near-perfect “Pulling Teeth.”


When you’re two decades and hundreds of songs deep in your career, it’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 (“Viva La Gloria”), the Beatles (“Restless Heart Syndrome”); hell, “Horseshoes And Handgrenades” sounds like the goddamn Hives’ “Main Offender.” 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, it’s clear 21st Century Breakdown is meant to be arena rock for anarchists. It’s a slow, methodical, mid-tempo number that sets the stage for the disc to come. Unfortunately, the album stalls early on with “Know Your Enemy,” a repetitive call-and-response that feels more like an interstitial piece than a stand-alone song. Breakdown recovers nicely with the elaborate “Viva La Gloria” (piano! timpani! strings!) and the bait-and-switch of “Before The Lobotomy,” which sucks in the listener with an AM radio melody before exploding out in 7/4 time. It’s meant to feel epic, and it does. The circle pit-inducing “Christian’s Inferno” and highly pogo-worthy “Murder City” will remind listeners that Green Day are still a killer punk band; and “21 Guns” 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 there’s no reason it won’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 isn’t afraid to spit out exactly what he’s feeling, no matter how nihilistic (“I don’t give a shit about the modern age/I don’t wanna live in the modern world,” from “American Eulogy”), and that takes guts when you’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 Idiot’s Jimmy and Whatshername), it’s a safe bet that the listener will come out the other end having largely enjoyed the last 70 minutes and 18 tracks. Really, that’s all you can ask.

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