Green Day – 21st Century Breakdown (2009)

Didn’t I hear this in 2004? Didn’t they call it American Idiot? Didn’t it sell, like, loads of copies and make Green Day one of the big boys (you know, single with U2 for Katrina and New Orleans, that kind of thing?)

Let no-one say the formula doesn’t work. Almost every song on this 18 track, 70 minute, hip-hop proportioned epic sounds like the ‘classic’ AI pattern: mid tempo chug, slight rise and fall in dynamics, then all the bass drops out, the drums pummel a fairly obvious pattern and the crowd can sing along to the mildly inflammatory bridge that says something “deep” about “stuff”.

Jesus, where’s the cool folky instrumentation? The songs about wanking? Drugs? Dominatrices? Fun? Green Day got older, and Billy Joe Armstrong has seriously lost a lot of laughs. Between Dookie and Warning, there was a lot of that often forgotten component of good music, fun. The Beatles had a lot of fun (how else can you categorise Yellow Submarine as anything other than a druggy pisstake?). The Stones positively rolled with laughter. Even the Sex Pistols and the Clash had a laugh, occasionally.

Green Day used to be good for a chuckle, good for a bounce along, good for the occasional teenage anthem (Minority still is one of my favourite songs to shout along to, and Misery is based around a circus rhythm with a bleeding accordion!), good for a bit of harking back to the scuzzy days of proper punk – of which, obviously, I don’t remember, being something in the region of a decade off being born – but it’s a minor quibble. Now, it’s pretentious political wank and concept albums. Pink Floyd, yes, Green Day, no. It’s a pity they let all the fun go under the Foxboro Hottubs moniker, as now, the only thing left of the good times is the name.

What’s good about this album? ‘Christian’s Inferno’ sounds like the Green Day of old – furious, fast, no messing around with stadium sized choruses. The lyrics follow the pattern of the album artwork, with lots of fire and urban ‘grittiness’ but little specific bile being laden at anyone or anything. In some respects, it’s a bit Rage Against The Machine-esque – hate the system, rise up against it, viva whatever particular revolution you wish to viva. Lyrically, if not sonically, the high point is ‘┬íViva La Gloria!’, which is nothing less than Roth’s American Pastoral in three and a half minutes. Pity I can’t actually recall a tune.

That’s the thing – there’s nothing here that hits on a sonic level bar ‘Peacemaker’. Easily the best track, from the broken mariachi trumpets at the start, to the whole Tex-Mex undercurrent to it. It’s a better song than the rest of the album. Single ‘Know Your Enemy’ has such dull lyrics as “Overthrow the effigy/The vast majority/Burning down the the foreman of control” – do I suspect that someone wants to be the minority? On the other hand, there is actual menace in ‘Peacemaker’ – the snarling guitars before the solo reflect both Jonny Greenwood and Jack White, and there’s some funky lyrical tropes in the chorus: “Vendetta, sweet vendetta/Sweet Beretta of the night/This fire and the desire/Shots ringing out on a holy parasite”. It’s the high point of the album, and when that comes nine tracks into eighteen, that’s a worrying position to be in.

I can’t look past the sheer length, and thus the boredom engendered by listening to 15 or so songs that sound much the same, when with Dookie, Nimrod and Warning the band managed to kick arse, turn in on themselves and then not give a shit about what people thought, and turned out three top albums. American Idiot was the big angry political album, and a band should only be allowed one of them (unless you’re Bruce Springsteen, and the true ‘working class hero’ that ’21st Century Breakdown’ claims Armstrong never was) per career. It’s a shame, really, as this could have been a far far better album, if it lasted half the time and took a few more risks.


Key tracks – ┬íViva La Gloria!/Christian’s Inferno/Peacemaker

Listen on Spotify


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