I feel like Green Day has been a crucial part of so many people in my generation’s musical upbringing. Even Generation X grew up with these guys in the mid-90s with records like Dookie, Insomniac, and Nimrod which are all classics as far as I am concerned. Then they died down before reigniting their careers in a big way with the epic rock opera America Idiot which still remains one of my favorite albums of all time. While their next few releases were unable to recapture that quality, 21st Century Breakdown deserves more attention though, I was still hopeful that this new record would at least be something new, as it seemed to be much more condensed than their previous decade and a half of material.
Sadly, this record really did not really hit this goal for me, letting me know right away that it was not going to offer almost anything new. This is not to say the music itself is poorly done, the trio prove they are still more than capable of constructing a more than listenable rock song and while Billie Joe Armstrong’s vocals are not what they used to be, he still gives a solid performance on all of these songs.
The opening track “Somewhere Now” feels reminiscent of The Who-inspired sound that the band was going for on 21st Century Breakdown. It is relatively slow, as Armstrong sings about his boredom and wanting to be in a better place. The lyrics, I assume, are supposed to parallel how Armstrong wants something greater for society as well for his music. That is why it surprises me how much he relies on his older sounds for several of the songs on here.
“Bang Bang” does not even bother to hide its influences, sounding incredibly similar to the band’s song “St. Jimmy” with a near identical guitar riff. It is a shame that this is so apparent because I do think the lyrics here are some of the best on this entire album. It dives into our mass shooting culture, making some subtle references to the Newtown shootings, and puts us into the minds of the deranged people who commit these horrific crimes. There is no subtly about the content but there does not need to be for a song like this.
The title track has the same problem for me, starting off sounding eerily similar to “Extraordinary Girl.” Luckily the sound is not apparent throughout the entire song, just during portions. Lyrically, the track is a battle cry for those who riot and revolt, having their actions seen but not having their words heard. It is a catchy song and works well for Green Day, despite the glaring problem I have with it.
“Say Goodbye” and “Outlaws” play well in this first half of the record, with the former commenting on the deterioration of our normal society, apparently commentary on the militarization in Ferguson a couple years ago. “Outlaws” slows things down a bit, and is more of a reflection on the band’s younger days. While the writing could be a little stronger, the sentiment is nice. It feels like the end of the first chapter of this record, which to be fair, is probably the most focused.
“Bouncing Off The Wall” is the kind of song I wanted to hear on this record. It sounds very similar to the band’s earlier material that got me into them in the first place. It is a high-energy, fun track that gives the album a boost of life.
Another one of my favorite songs on here “Still Breathing” is the more thoughtful, emotional cut that Green Day have always put in their albums. The song focuses on Armstrong’s personal issues that he has been dealing with and were made public after a meltdown at the iHeart Music Festival in 2012, causing him to check into rehab. The song was released on the fourth anniversary of that moment, and Armstrong’s emotion is very much present here. He is crying out that he has gotten better and he can still function on his own, not falling off the edge like he almost did earlier in the decade.
It is a shame that the song has to be followed up by one of the worst written songs Green Day might have ever put out. “Youngblood” is written for Armstrong’s wife, someone he has written about over the course of several albums. The lyrics here are just so terrible from the cringe-worthy lines “She’s a loner/Not a stoner” and the odd sentiment of shooting the moon into the sun. It is just a mess of a song I do not know where Armstrong was trying to take this but it just did not work out.
Luckily, the album regains its footing with “Too Dumb To Die,” another youthful song about being dumb and rebellious, something that is perfect for Green Day to sing about. The lo-fi opening works well to introduce the song before exploding into something incredibly fun.
“Troubled Times” would probably be more enjoyable to me if the guitar riff did not sound stolen from The Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” I honestly am not usually good at picking up stuff like this but it is just so obvious here I cannot believe I am the only one calling it out. Anyway, the lyrics are good, taking a stab at America in a time where Donald Trump could possibly be elected President in a few weeks, well he will almost certainly not but that is a conversation for another blog. Armstrong questions what is the point of facts if we are just going to ignore them, and what is the point of love if not everyone can experience it.
The next song “Forever Now” is really a combination of a few smaller songs, in the vein of “Jesus of Suburbia” and “Homecoming.” The first part is probably the strongest, going into Armstrong’s experiences with rehab and his mental health issues. The second half is a short proclamation of what the goal of the record really is. Green Day want a revolution and they want their music to help inspire that revolution. The song closes on a condensed reprise of the album opener, closing the ideas that started the album off, showing that Green Day are in that new place now they were hoping for at the start of the record.
Instead of ending their, Armstrong chose to include the acoustic ballad “Ordinary World” from his movie of the same title. It is a sweet song, even if it does not fit on the record too well. Armstrong gives a great performance, staying restricted while also showing emotion. It is obvious the song was not intended for the record but it does more good than bad in my opinion.
This is a deeply flawed album, and while better than the band’s last project, it still left me a little underwhelmed. It had a good amount of shining moments, but did not stay as focused as Green Day’s previous records, and that is saying something. It wants to be something new, while also combining elements of several of their previous albums, never hitting the same highs. Fans of Green Day will get plenty of enjoyment out of this, I am sure, and it is always great to see these guys trying again after so many years of silence.
Best Tracks: Bouncing Off The Wall, Still Breathing, Too Dumb To Die, Forever Now, Ordinary World
Worst Track: Youngblood