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Green Day – 21st Century Breakdown

2009-06-09 07:54
21st Century Breakdown

At first glance, Green Day appear not to have reacted to their country's new dawn with a particularly cheery outlook. How could they? The past eight years have clearly taken their toll, but ironically the Bush administration was the best thing to ever happen to the Californian trio. Somehow, Green Day - best known for songs with titles such as "Basketcase", "Geek Stink Breath" and "Brat" - became the voice of a disaffected generation grown weary (and wary) of the enchanted future they were promised. The Boulevard of Broken Dreams was too real to contemplate.

Amazingly, American Idiot and the resurgence of Green Day happened five years ago. It's a sobering realisation, especially when the world has adjusted so quickly to a post-Bush reality. Was it all just a really bad dream? Followed by an even worse hangover?

At the cusp of the unknown comes 21st Century Breakdown, sounding as epic, bloated and ominous as that title suggests. The term "rock opera" will be bandied about again. But, of course, that's precisely how we all prefer Green Day. Split into three acts –"Heroes and Cons", "Charlatans and Saints", "Horseshoes and Handgrenades" - it goes without saying that we're in concept album territory here.

A couple named Christian and Gloria navigate misery and gasoline-soaked landscape, the boulevard of broken dreams still in a state of disrepair. The soundtrack to this devastation, "Before The Lobotomy", is eerily sweet and comforting, like a lullaby that jerks into life halfway through. "Know Your Enemy" lacks the punch and immediacy of "American Idiot" but still feels like a winner: "Silence is the enemy/Against your urgency/So rally up the demons of your soul". Arena rock bluster and guilt-ridden rhetoric? You're spoiling us, Billie Joe.

They can still bring the pretty though, these masters of the unseemly – and that is no more evident than the warm and fuzzy feeling you get from "Last Night On Earth" and "21 Guns", two songs that are as much about regret over America's violent heritage as it is about true love. That easy co-existence is down to producer Butch Vig, who makes the blustering ballast here sound warm and inviting.

Breathe easy, Green Day are still punk at heart. Their music would be the equivalent of a church sermon had they not been able to inject their caustic, ironic laments with the spit and attitude that has become their hallmark. The anger endures into the album's closing act, calling out the "deceivers and cheaters" and bemoaning "the class and the paranoid". But like a true punk, Billie Joe is more comfortable venting his frustrations than offering any real solutions. We wouldn’t want him to do that anyway.

What is this? More tales of alienation and revolt from the former punk pop pioneers? Another reason for America's under-35's to look at their lot with derision, regret and anger?

What to read next: Kalahari
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