james debate
james debate

Wednesday 20 May 2009

Genre Punk Rock, Alternative
Label Reprise
Producer Butch Vig
Release date(s) 15th May 2009

I have to say, I was actually not expecting too much from this one. American Idiot saw a group of formerly great punk rockers who had not done anything in a long time, now on the wrong side of thirty, decide to go the rebellious political activist route, a trick which rarely comes off as desired.

For all its failings, American Idiot did produce one or two good songs, like Holiday and Wake Me Up When September Ends, but other than that it paled in comparison to classic Green Day. Their ill advised anti-iraq single with U2 (which was mediocre at best) did little to reassure me that they had much left in them besides milking rebellious teens for all they're worth.

So here comes 21st Century Breakdown an even more ambitious and epic production. This album follows a much stronger narrative than before, following the lives of a young couple named Christian and Gloria as they deal with the mess George W. Bush has left our country in. Not that any sane person can disagree with the concept, but really doesn't it seem a tad over the top to focus an entire album on how much the last 8 years sucked?

Indeed this is one of the more epic albums you will ever here, more rock opera than radio playing fare, and this makes for a very long album by today's standards. Most recent albums I've bought featured like 10 songs as artists seek to streamline albums to cut out all the filler, which has its advantages, but then they go ahead and release a b-sides album a few months later to milk more cash out of you and I lose all respect for them. In this regard it is refreshing to see an album with 20 tracks on it again.

But the problem with an album as long as this is that whilst there are a few very good songs, there is also a fair bit of filler. The album gets off to a very good start with the mournful intro Song of the Century. Even though this is just a short little snippet rather than a real song, the melody is beautiful and shows that Billy Joe has more musical talent than one might credit him with after hearing some of his aimlessly noisier songs, would have loved to hear a full song with such a pretty melody.

The album then properly begins with 21st Century Breakdown, an epic powerhouse of an anthem that establishes the world through the protagonist Christian's eyes. The next track, Know Your Enemy is well known as the first single from the album, though to be honest I was never that impressed with it. It seems a lot like American Idiot, and doesn't interest me at all really, though it's not terrible song either.

¡Viva la Gloria! then takes the album to the next level. More like something out of a big broadway musical than a punk album, this song begins with a sweet melody, an ode to Christian's love mixed with a determined ambition of future struggles to come, before exploding in to Green Day style action.

Also worthy of note on the album are Last Night On Earth, a Paul McCartney style piano ballad that allows us to see a softer side of Green Day not often seen. It's songs like this that really show off the immense talent Billy Joe possesses.

¿Viva la Gloria?, not to be confused with ¡Viva la Gloria! is probably the most interesting song on the album. A quirky, folkish ditty, this song serves as the negative counter point to the earlier ballad of a confusingly similar name. Also I bet an accoustic version of this song would sound fantastic, make it happen.

And lastly, the best song on the album, and an instant Green Day classic. 21 Guns is simply epic. It sounds a bit like a cross between this song by Fountains of Wayne and Green Day's Wake Me Up When September Ends. This takes an album that has bordered on broadway musical territory and goes into full blown Les Miserables epicness, talking of war and peace and redemption.

In the end however there is one BIG problem with this album. Simply put, it's so forced, all this rebelliousness and activism. American Idiot was one thing, but to then try and do the exact same thing with their new album? The concept is getting stale, Green Day are just milking it now, and it's painfully obvious for all to see. Bush is gone, let's move on, and you guys are 40 let's please grow up and make some more mature music. Billy Joe is fast becoming the rebel without a cause, in the most literal sense, and it's getting a bit sad. And for pete's sake lose the eyeliner already.

HOWEVER, that should not take away from an album which does have some good music on it. As flawed and hackneyed as the concept may be, no one can scoff at the impressive production values and the cohesiveness of the whole. Though personally I really hope that they settle down a bit for their next album. Billy Joe is a very talented musician, you can see it in glimpses all throughout this album, he just doesn't show it much when he writes nothing but angsty hackneyed rebel anthems like this.

Must Listen:
21 Guns

21st Century Breakdown

Last Night on Earth

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