Skill, infectious energy characterize Green Day’s latest
Album Review | 3.5 out of 5 stars
Published: Friday, October 5, 2012
Updated: Friday, October 5, 2012 02:10
“I’ve got no motivation! Where is my motivation?” bawled a wasted Billie Joe Armstrong on 1994’s “Long View,” one of Green Day’s earliest mainstream singles. If Green Day’s fans bought into these lyrics 18 years ago, they’re forgiven for doubting that this trio of Californian stoner kids — lead singer Armstrong, bassist Mike Dirnt and drummer Tre Cool — would ever make much of an impact in the world outside of their mothers’ living rooms.
But what a difference time can make. Green Day has since gone on to be one of the most productive and accomplished rock groups of the past generation, and has now capped off its already−impressive catalog with a trilogy of LPs to be released consecutively over the next four months: “¡Uno!,” “¡Dos!” and “¡Tré!”
Green Day has grown tremendously more aspirational in the last two decades, as evidenced by the world−in−my−palm mentality of “¡Uno!’s” first track and album highlight, “Nuclear Family” — “Gonna ride the world like a merry−go−round/ Like a Ferris Wheel like it’s breaking down!” Yet its newest album is decidedly smaller in scope and ambition from the apocalyptic rock opera format of its previous two efforts, “American Idiot” (2004) and “21st Century Breakdown” (2009). “¡Uno!” is substantially shorter than either record, at a scant 41 minutes long, and in contrast to the somber storylines upon which those two albums were structured, the band’s latest record marks a return to the youthful, care−free outbursts of energy that characterized its earliest work, most notably its breakout album, “Dookie” (1994).
Throughout much of “¡Uno!,” Armstrong is found comically harping over his love interests in much the same style of “Dookie” cuts like “She.” On the tender “Sweet 16,” he describes some of his gruesome hardships — “I sleep on the floor on cardboard/ Stab out my heart like a dart board” — all to earn the love of the woman whom he claims “will always be my sweet 16.”
This is far from the only point on the album at which shocking subject matters get an infectious punk rock treatment. “Kill the DJ” details an “I Shot the Sheriff”−type desire to gun down a New York City disk jockey — perhaps a metaphor for the ongoing brainwashing of youth culture, a topic which Green Day has touched upon previously. On “Loss of Control,” lyrics such as, “Well we’re so crazy, you’ve all gone insane/ Loss of control, loss of control,” recall the famous paranoiac rants of the group’s classic single, “Basket Case.” In short, “¡Uno!” finds Green Day living the good life, and inviting its masses of fans to join in on the fun.
Sonically speaking, “¡Uno!” is as professional as anything the band has ever done. Songs like “Troublemaker,” “Angel Blue” and the lead single “Oh Love” feature some of the band’s most impressive guitar work in recent memory and Armstrong demonstrates consistent prowess as the lead vocalist.
In terms of songwriting, though, the record is less of a step forward for the band. While the record features plenty of variety in subject matter, rarely does the group ever go out on a limb to make the bold statements that it did in past songs like “21 Guns,” “American Idiot” and “Wake Me Up When September Ends,” on which Armstrong denounced the horrors and purposelessness of the Iraq War and criticized his home country as being subverted and manipulated by the national media. From this standpoint, “¡Uno!” is either a less brave Green Day record, or a breath of fresh air after the seriousness of the other LPs from the second half of the band’s career. It remains to be seen how the November and January releases of “¡Dos!” and “¡Tré!” will build thematically upon this first installation in the series.
In this first chapter of Green Day’s upcoming album trilogy, no songs are as towering or narratively profound as the standout tracks from their last two records. Nonetheless, more than 20 years after these three pot−smoking punks first gathered with their guitars in their East Bay garage, they continue to provide some of the freshest, most involving music in the mainstream rock scene.