May 25, 2009

"21st Century Breakdown" by Green Day

Green Day has been a staple of American culture for the majority of my life, and their new album, 21st Century Breakdown has been praised as a masterpiece, genius, and reminiscent of such greats as The Who, David Bowie, Queen, The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, and The Clash. Unlike these high paid reporters whose job is to blow hot air into the ego balloon of the better known bands pushed on us by record companies, I review more for myself and my friends, the average folk. When you go to, go to the Best Of (Insert Year Here) of the Music Section, you’ll see Top 100 Editor’s Picks… and Top 100 Customer Favorites. You’d think the Customer Favorites would somehow take precedent, but it’s the editors who are at the top of the page, and the lists sometimes differ quite a bit.

The CD is something of a concept album, in that Green Day set out to tell a story, through Rock Opera, about a young couple by the name of Christian and Gloria, living in the post-George W. Bush United States. Because of the Rock Opera format, the album is “divided” into three “Acts”, which really, you would only figure out by doing your research. So here we go – a track by track review, giving a brief reasoning and * rating between 1-5 (1 being I’m on the verge of killing myself and 5 being I have a new will to live)

1) “Song Of The Century” – 57 seconds long, so not much to judge by. It’s your typical “intro” track to an album, but it wasn’t bad. I’ve certainly heard more irritating intros. I typically wouldn’t rate an intro track, but this has enough songs on it to balance out any kind of impact this rating would have. 4 *’s.

Act 1: Heroes and Cons

2) “21st Century Breakdown” – Comes off very soft lyrically and vocally, whereas the guitar and drums maintain their Punk roots. Also felt the usage of piano in this song was utterly useless and even somewhat detracting. The album titled track did give me an idea of the taste in my mouth this album will leave, which is a very counter-Punk vibe. Kind of like how Metallica or Guns N’ Roses occasionally go ballsy enough to bring in a full orchestra because they’ve built up enough fan merit to do so. Not a great song, but not awful. A pretty sweet guitar riff at the 4 minute, 23 second mark really did wonders for the song, even if it was brief. 3 ½ *’s.

3) “Know Your Enemy” – The first single of the album; the first song that the band felt comfortable enough to put out to the public as a first impression of the album, and frankly, I’m not a fan. I know there are fans of this song, but it just weighs as too repetitive for me, and nothing about the music says daring. The best part of the song is the “oh-wey oh-wey”, which you’ll hear a lot. 3 ½ *’s, but being generous.

4) “¡Viva La Gloria!” – This is kind of a fake-out track, as it starts with a Paul McCartney on piano feeling melody, love-song, with fourteen year old emo poetry lyrics, then the only thing missing is some obnoxious static as a “HA! HOPE YOU HAD THE VOLUME CRANKED!” Things jump into a more Punk ruckus that’ll be sure to start mosh pits in concerts. Sadly, the lyrics don’t much improve, but at least you’re reminded of some good classic Green Day. 4 *’s, maybe 4 ½ depending on how much the album is going to need a favor.

5) “Before The Lobotomy” – Really hammering in that this is meant to be a “rock opera” album, we get an opening homage to “Live And Let Die”, or so it sounds to me. Things pick up, but lack their punk edge, feeling more folksy and Jimmy Buffett at times. I like Jimmy Buffett just fine, but when I’m looking for some Green Day, I’m not looking for “Margarittaville”. I’d say 2 ½ *’s. Pretty mediocre stuff that was especially hurt by its runtime. The length of the song drew out the lack of focus and its jumping around of tone, which lacks any sort of flow.

6) “Christian’s Inferno” – A very gnarly guitar opening that surprisingly had me headbanging for a little bit. Chorus is painful to listen to, and the bridge into the chorus is even worse, but the delivery on the verses are very rad. As much as I like this song for the verses, the chorus and bridges to the chorus really take it down probably a whole star to 3*s.

7) “Last Night On Earth” – Very 50’s doo-wop ballad, that I’m actually really big on. Heavy on the piano, but with the right balance of soft guitar picking and lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong really keeps the high school prom dance mood. 5*’s.

Act II: Charlatans and Saints

8) “East Jesus Nowhere” – Of all the crossovers I never thought I’d be wishing for, I’d love to see Marilyn Manson cover this song in his live performances, or do a duet with Green Day on this. Cynical, morbid, dark, heavy and if it weren’t for Billie Joe Armstrong’s high pitched Punk voice, it’d be officially Metal. It’s lacking any sort of Green Day feel to it, but it’s still an excellent song. 5*’s.

9) “Peacemaker” – Green Day does a Mariachi! Ay yi yi! I don’t expect this track to make it to radio, but a nice soundtrack positioning would do wonders for it. Possibly the hidden gem of the album that will be overlooked, but should be sought out by fans. 5*’s.

10) “Last Of The American Girls” – As soon as you turn this song on, you know the predictable path it’s going to take, but it has a lot of promise in taking that path. Well, it doesn’t live up to the promise. Everything builds up to that moment you get excited for – the music drops off and the vocals carry through something really catchy you can sing with. No dice. Lyrically, it’s a great song, and if you can just concentrate on that, it’d probably be a 4* number, maybe 4 ½ *’s, but the floor has dropped out on Billie Joe Armstrong and this performance. There was no umph, no kuzunga, no pizzaz. For that, I’m dropping it to a 2 ½ *’s, which is a big dip, but it’s an easy path to take and the listener doesn’t like to be bait and switched.

11) “Murder City” – This song just irritated me because it had the delivery I was looking for in “Last Of The American Girls” but without the hype that the previous mentioned song did. Some great guitar work but as an overall song, very meh. 2 *’s. I actually couldn’t wait for it to be over.

12) “¿Viva La Gloria? (Little Girl)” – Predating even the earlier played 50’s doo-wop, this song sounds to be a re-mastering of a 20’s song or earlier. Very basic format to the point you’d expect to find it in a musical like Sweeney Todd or Moulin Rouge. Definitely daring, but I’m uneasy about the delivery. A downright tasty guitar solo at 2:40 that you think is going to be a sample from They Might Be Giants “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” but definitely molds it into something with more punch. 3 *’s, which was earned majorly off of the music, not the lyrics or vocals.

13) “Restless Heart Syndrome” – Not a song meant for album listeners, but more so when people see the actual concert they recognize it’s on the album. For a live concert, likely a very breathtaking experience, but when the music alone is your sole activity, it’s downright boring. At 2:45, we’re reminded how in your face the guitarist is with a thrasher of a solo, but it’s become a novelty that’s worn thin and can’t save this track. 1 1/2*’s.

Act III: Horseshoes and Handgrenades

14) “Horseshoes And Handgrenades” – Nothing really original about the track and nothing breathtaking about the performance either, except Billie Joe Armstrong tries his hand at Screamo, but the gimmick isn’t strong enough to salvage much hope for this track. 2 *’s.

15) “The Static Age” – I’m hoping this becomes the second single of the album, not because it’s going to blow anyone’s mind, but because it’s almost Summer, and this is exactly what I think of when listening to this. How Summer? Bryan Adams’ “Summer Of 69” or Don Henley’s “Boys Of The Summer” Summer. That Summer. If I had a stunningly nice car, this is what I’d pull up to my friends blasting out of my radio. 4 1/2*’s.

16) “21 Guns” – It’s like someone made a tribute band of John Lennon based off of a love of “Imagine” but then tried to create some fresh material… and sucked. I kind of wished I could think of something productive to be doing while listening to this, like clipping toe nails or something. And GOD does this f’n track drag on, and on, and on, and on. 1 *.

17) “American Eulogy: Mass Hysteria/Modern World” – Pushing the envelope all the way to white boys from California using the N-Word. It’s got a great beat to it, that’s very early 90’s Punk. If any of it was made a point to stand out vocally, you’d probably be singing along with it, but in that department it’s pretty flat. You kind of want to sing along “I don’t want to live in the Modern World” but it’s sung so fast and bled together that it’s almost surprising they can sing it. 2 ½ *’s.

18) “See The Light” – Really relying on the music as opposed to the lyrics or vocals, but the music is quality here. A solid end to the album that left a decent taste in my mouth overall. 3 ½*s.

My Highlights: Forget the mainstream feeding you singles like “Know Your Enemy”, here’s what you’re looking for: “Last Night On Earth”, “East Jesus Nowhere” and “Peacemaker”. You’ve got a romantic slow dance song to make your lady swoon, a ‘throw you out the window for looking at me wrong in the bar’, ‘put out a cigarette on my arm because I can’, ‘to hell with the establishment’ Punk-Metal song, and a desperado, there’s a new sheriff in down, I do my talking with my six shooter rocker song.

Overall Rating: 3 ¼ *’s. It’s rare to come across a real high quality must-buy album these days where every song is a winner, unless you’re picking up a best of compilation, but this is a pretty excellent CD overall. It’s not something you can put on shuffle and be content with whatever comes on, but if you’re a Green Day fanatic, this is a must-have, and if you’re just looking for some quality tunes, it’s not a bad find. I say with your financial situation on my shoulders, go ahead and buy it.

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