Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Review: Green Day - ¡Uno!

by Tim Bustin

(source: musictrajectory.com)
Green Day is one of the few bands willing and able to constantly evolve and experiment with their music, whilst still producing some of the highest quality songs and albums around. From their major label debut, “Dookie”, which kick- started the nineties punk-pop revival, to ambitious and political works such as “American Idiot”; from songs such as “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” to “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”, Green Day are able to retain talent throughout all projects and ideas and continue to earn new fans from all over the world.

Here’s another way of putting it. Green Day has been going downhill ever since “Dookie”. That mix of teen angst and punk ideals has never been truly replicated by the band; their later studio albums were punk, but of worse quality and their latest works (the rock operas “American Idiot” and “21st Century Breakdown”) were ruined by high-pitched vocals, multiple guitars, over five minute long songs and storylines that interfere with the music (lyrics that can’t be understood easily without attempting to learn the storyline).

Fans of the band generally tend to take one side: either that their best work was their earliest or that Green Day is continuously brilliant. The people most aware of this divide are of course Billie Joe Armstrong (lead guitar, vocals), Mike Dirnt (Bass) and Tre Cool (drums). And they’ve realised the answer to the question “How do you keep fans on both sides happy?” is to release three albums called ¡Uno!, ¡Dos! and ¡Tre! --- a return to the old Green Day sound whilst incorporating the music from their two rock operas. And that’s exactly what they’ve done.

Green Day
(source: isthismetal.com)
The album opens with the promotional single “Nuclear Family” and it is instantly noticeable that this is a giant leap away from “21st Century Breakdown” and a huge step back to early Green Day – raw chords from Billie Joe’s guitar pave the way for Tre’s powerful drumming (his high-hat slightly open to give the song a more punk feel) and showing off with fast bass drum and tom combinations; Mike Dirnt’s bass is audible when necessary and the song feels like relief from the extravagant rock operas. However, despite its catchy feel, the chorus is tainted by backing vocals performing high pitched “ooh”s – although this ultimately doesn’t ruin the song; however, the same technique does appear on more of the songs and does make the whole album sound slightly more odd.
 
The backing vocals are just one of the features borrowed from “21st Century Breakdown”. The verse on “Rusty James” actually sounds like it is a song from the album (although, one of the better ones). It sounds, throughout, as though the band are unable to drop the techniques used on their rock operas (such as weak choruses) and are trying to counteract its effects by trying to prove they are punk: ridiculously over-the-top solos, which are entirely out of place, a complete overuse of misplaced swearing and lyrics about teenage desire (“Sweet 16”, “Feel For You”, “Angel Blue” --- about another two thirds of the album) coming from a 40-year-old frontman.  The lyrics are so much more simplistic that the band sounds much like their former selves, except much ruder than before – just as if they have something to prove. This is unfair but it shows that the members of Green Day have aged and are not as able to produce the kind of punk they used to.


Even though the band is trying to reconnect with old fans, they still make room for experimentation. “Kill the DJ” is the group’s first dance song and hopefully their last. Apart from not sounding too bad, the song is far too simple. The bass can’t be heard, the drumming goes no further than variations of basic quarter note grooves (using open high-hats to cover this up in the chorus), the guitar attempts little apart from sounding cool and giving an amazing sounding variation in the last minute and the vocals are no different than on the rest on the album. “Oh Love” is an anthem for love itself – a completely different sound from anything else in Green Day’s entire catalogue; it is a song which you know has been written to play live and is easy to sing along with. It’s actually half decent, even with its ludicrous solo. Interestingly, these songs are two of the singles released from the album – either the band have so little faith in songs that aspire to be early Green Day, or they are still desperate to experiment and be different, putting their main energy into trying new ideas.

The rest of the songs cover the different types of emotion in songs and utilise all of the musical knowledge and talent that the band has, from the sentimental “Sweet 16”, with its soft vocals and lyrics of a “brown-eyed girl, throwing down a bottle of old English”, to its opposite, the raunchier “Troublemaker” – “Hey! I want to get inside of you/I wanna crack your cranium/delirium in the lower east side of your mind”; the solo is astounding. Just like the rest of the album, it is trying to prove that the last eight years of rock operas haven’t left the band anything less than premier punk. ¡Uno! may have debuted no.2 in the U.S. charts and been given 4/5 stars by Rolling Stone, but the album isn’t early Green Day. Yet it certainly isn’t bad. Now we’ll just have to wait for ¡Dos! and ¡Tre!

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