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21st Century Breakdown
Out May 15th
“Dad,” I used to whine, “you had the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Springsteen. All of those bands managed to be both popular and good. But ‘mainstream’ music stinks today. All I have is N*Sync, Nickelback, and Fall Out Boy. All the big bands are one-hit wonders, and it’s embarrassing to actually like them. Even worse, it’s hard to actually like them because of how bad they are. When will I have a band that, years down the road, I can see playing a reunion concert to the same amount of fans they had when I was a kid?” My dad simply reassured me that I would have my generation’s defining rock stars, a band that I could like with no shame. And after two epic rock-operas that revitalized the traditional album, that band has proven itself to be Green Day.
To this day, American Idiot remains one of my all-time favorite records. Sure, it had a more powerful impact in 2005, when anti-Bush fever was high and my musical taste wasn’t too expansive. But when listened to in full in 2009, it still packs a mighty punch, with fist-pumping anthems, sing-along singles, and 9-minute epics.
Green Day didn’t need to make another rock-opera this year, their message was made pretty clear and their money was made. But contrary to popular belief, Billie Joe Armstrong and company were never sell-outs. They weren’t making radio-ready tracks just to cash in. Instead, they just got better, making catchier, bigger music than they used to- and the world caught on. With 21st Century Breakdown, they continue to evolve, making yet another album that deserves to be listened to in its entirety. And while it may not have the cultural impact that American Idiot did, the music is just as good.
The album’s titular track and true opener breezes along with a true classic rock feel, one that recalls The Who to an extreme degree, with Baba O’Reilly piano chords and Armstrong emphasizing the words “my generation” in the line: “My generation is zero, I never made it as a working class hero.” Complete with a guitar riff in the middle, “ooo-s” throughout, and multiple bridges and facets, it’s a song that’s instantly likeable; original yet quintessentially Green Day. It lays the groundwork for what the rest of the album tries to do (and succeeds in doing).
The album shows impressive range: while all of the songs are radio-ready rockers, they span a wide variety of musical elements. “Last Night on Earth” is one of Armstrong’s best ballads, with an Elton John-inspired piano line and a Beatles-y chorus. “Restless Heart Syndrome” is straight out of the Beatles’ playbook as well, with swelling strings and vocal harmonies. Continuing to draw influences, “Last of the American Girls” is pure Beach Boys power-pop at it’s finest. “Christian’s Inferno” is Nine Inch Nails punk with a radio-friendly chorus. “Viva La Gloria?” borrows from My Chemical Romance’s “Mama,” paying respect to the very band that copied their formula. “Viva La Gloria!” (notice the differentiating exclamation point) takes its cue from Springsteen’s “Jungleland.” And continuing the album’s all-over-the-place feel, “Peacemaker” is a valiant attempt by Green Day at a wacky mariachi-band track (unlike the others, it doesn’t really work).
But as good as these evocative songs are, Breakdown is at its best when the band stays in their comfort zone. “21 Guns” is fantastic, the “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” of the album. “East Jesus Nowhere” is Breakdown’s “Holiday,” a clap-along stomper with Billie Joe at his pedestal, preaching to the choir. “Know Your Enemy” is “American Idiot” redux, warning the masses to stay aware and alert of who they’re against. And “Before the Lobotomy” has a slow-starting ballad that builds to a pulsating climax- evocative of “Jesus of Suburbia” with its similarly epic, ambitious swagger.
I guess I didn’t mention the characters, the plot, and the different acts of this rock opera. But it doesn’t really matter. You should definitely listen to the album in full, but it’s mostly due to the way the songs flow into each other, not the story that’s being told. Both corny and extraneous moments are certainly present, as they should be in a 17-song punk-rock opera. But they never spoil the overall feeling of the album, which kicks along with the kind of energy and urgency that a band like Green Day normally wouldn’t still have. But they do, and somehow, a band of 30-somethings is becoming the YouTube generation’s defining rock band. Be glad it’s not the Jonas Brothers.
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