Review: Green's Day's 21st Century Breakdown

If Green Day had filtered their message through some interesting characters or narratives, I might be more receptive, but, as far as Breakdown is concerned, I’ll take my bludgeoning from power chords instead of The Message.


And so I turn my attention to the music. When Green Day’s Dookie album blew up in 1994, a new genre was coined: pop-punk. Fifteen years on, no one does it better — not even close. The Northern Cali trio can really work wonders with a limited bag of simple chords, crafting them into ever-catchy progressions. They are also superior hooksmiths; Breakdown contains nary a clunker melody.


And to further add to the album’s success, Green Day includes several songs that break from the pop-punk mold, or at least stretch it: the piano-driven ballad “Last Night on Earth,” a love song (even angry geezer punks take time out for love); “Restless Heart Syndrome,” a wistful mid-tempo piece that dials back the guitar and finds Armstrong sliding into a vulnerable falsetto; a few songs — notably “21 Guns” and the closer “See the Lights” — that emphasize the pop over the punk, and take their cues from ’60s titans like The Who and The Beatles.


The title track, which follows a short intro song, is the grandest of all the statements, the theme- and tempo-setter. It forcefully flows through three sections: straight rock, followed by a jiggish, Celtic-inspired romp, capped by an epic, slowed-down coda. Triumphant.


So you might be thinking about now: Does this dude like the album or not? Short answer is yes, I do. But here’s the qualifier: Listening to any one, two, even three or four songs from 21st Century Breakdown is an absolute treat. But trying to swallow the thing whole tends to trigger my gag reflex.


Green Day

21st Century Breakdown

Reprise

It may be a quaint notion in the download era, but I still think of the Album as a distinct artistic statement. Green Day obviously agrees, because 2004’s American Idiot was a rock opera and their new one, 21st Century Breakdown, out today, is a 70-minute, three-part song cycle.

And therein lies the problem. 21st Century Breakdown, as an artistic statement, is ultimately too much of a good thing. Listening to all 18 songs becomes, at some point, burdensome — an exercise in pop-punk overload.

That the disc is essentially a big slab of agitprop set to catchy hooks and big guitars only compounds the problem. As if the title “Know Your Enemy” wasn’t evidence enough, here’s a sample lyric: “Bringing on the fury/ The choir infantry/ Revolt against the honor to obey.”

Angry, alienated sick-and-tired Green Day rail against religion, conformism, complacency, consumerism, media overload, all the usual tropes. Americans are little more than zombies. Did you know, for instance, that according to Green Day, “You’re the victim of the system/ You are your own worst enemy?”

Maybe I’m cranky, maybe I’ve heard it all, but I’m not of a mind to be preached to and berated by Billie Joe Armstrong and his wingmen.

About The Author

Eric Snider

Eric Snider is the dean of Bay area music critics. He started in the early 1980s as one of the founding members of Music magazine, a free bi-monthly. He was the pop music critic for the then-St. Petersburg Times from ‘87-’93. Snider was the music critic, arts editor and senior editor of Weekly Planet/Creative...
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