Friday, 11 January 2013

Green Day - ¡Tré!

by Tim Bustin

With the release of ¡Tré!, Green Day finally completes its triple album project. On the whole, it’s fair to say that it’s been successful. ¡Uno! was voted the Eighth best album of 2012 by Rolling Stone magazine and both ¡Uno! and ¡Dos! charted within the top ten on both sides of the Atlantic. Songs from the albums are already being used to advertise on TV (“Troublemaker” from ¡Uno!) and “The Forgotten” from ¡Tré! makes up part of the soundtrack for the final Twilight film. Putting the achievements aside, the important question is where Green Day is in terms of their musical direction. All three albums have experimented with different musical styles, different techniques, use of a larger range of instruments and more. Anyone who has been a fan of the band for long enough knows that Green Day constantly try to take the punk format and expand and alter it, for example on their rock operas “American Idiot” and “Twenty-first Century Breakdown”. But (and it was after those albums) some fans felt that the band’s style had deviated a too far from the essentials of punk, both in their music (which had become more extravagant) and their lyrics (which had become more political). Part of the idea of releasing ¡Uno!, ¡Dos! and  ¡Tré! was to get back to basics. Hiring original producer Rob Cavallo, simplifying the lyrics and making sure most songs don’t slip past the five minute mark were some of the ways that Green Day tried to reconnect with the fans that still missed “Dookie” (their original punk masterpiece). But Green Day were never going to make a Dookie mark ll (Bille Joe Armstrong saying as much) and all three albums contain experimental songs. If this is good or bad is a question sure to split fans down the middle: on the one hand, without evolving, any new tracks start to sound the same as the old ones (and that’s true for any band); but on the other hand, fans want to listen to songs which sound like the music that first got them into Green Day. Despite the success of the albums, it can be hard to tell if the albums are overall decent or not.

¡Tré! follows the power pop style of ¡Uno! and the garage rock sound of ¡Dos! by trying to sound more “epic”. As Armstrong put it, playing all three albums in order would be like before, during and after the party. A sombre mood certainly finds itself amongst most of the tracks and the first song on the album is a prime example. “Brutal Love” is not punk. Far from it. In fact, the only clues in the song that you are listening to Green Day are Bille Joe’s voice (in the style of “Twenty-First…”) and the rare drum fill from Tré Cool (whom the album is named after). It’s a song made of “glam rock, doo-wop, soul music”. Starting simple with epic-sounding vocals and basic guitar (which gives an effect of constantly falling), it gives the listener a sense of grandeur along with sweet depression. The almost ballad-like song can’t help but continuously build; from a feeling of “anguish and shame”, the drums enter, followed in succession by horns, leading towards a climax. Elements of piano seep in for the finale and the song stays at a high until it finally ends. There is a sense of the piece being too drawn out, and despite its simplicity, the perhaps overuse of instruments as well as longevity makes the song too much; over the top, like something off “Twenty-First…”.  It is also a clear betrayal of punk music; one might wonder how, after listening to this, Green Day can even claim to be punk musicians. Thankfully before we get too bogged down by these thoughts, the opening chords of “Missing You” save us. The title almost seems deliberate from Green Day; reminding us of missing earlier Green Day (even if the vocals occasionally sound like they’ve been borrowed from their rock operas). The song treats us to some rapid drum fills and allows the bass (Mike Dirnt) to take the lead at one point and although the song’s energetic, there is a slightly sombre touch that can be found in more songs on ¡Tré! than ¡Uno! or ¡Dos! had.

From here onwards it’s more punk-like most of the time. The cover of the album boasts “Features: “X-kid”, “Eighth Avenue Serenade” and “99 Revolutions””; they’re certainly the most exciting and energetic songs of the whole album. They’re also some of the most listenable tracks. “X-kid” is easily the best song on the album; the opening chords sound raw yet saddening, epitomising precisely what Green Day is attempting on ¡Tré!. The song manages to be cool whilst conveying a feeling of sadness; the simplicity (of inaudible bass, being a song based upon chords and not overly exciting eighth note groove drumming) can be forgiven as the overall product is brilliant. For all of “Brutal Love” and “The Forgotten”’s balladry, it is the simpler and more easily understood songs (music wise) that overall triumph. “The Forgotten” relies on piano as lead instrument but is backed by beautiful string arrangements; “Don’t look away/from the arms of a bad dream/don’t look away from the arms of love”. The song is admittedly a soft ending for the album trilogy; the guitar enters on a solo, carrying out a subliminal transition from piano lead to guitar lead, simultaneously altering the mood of the song. Surrounded by strings and simplistic drum beats, played on cymbals, the song almost washes you away in its epic sound. There is great variety on the album, even if some of the tracks, such as “Amanda”, “Sex, Drugs and Violence” and “Dirty Rotten Bastards”, can be thrown away.
One of the major criticisms of the album is the standard of the lyrics. We’re used to hearing intelligent, political messages encrypted in Bille Joe Armstrong’s writing and although the band seems to self-promote basics as the answer on ¡Tré!, most of the lyrics sound like they written in five minutes in the bath tub. Occasional vaguely clever lines which are underdeveloped, such as “I don’t want to be an imbecile but Jesus made me that way” do appear, but it seems like Armstrong is overdoing it on dumbing down his words. The vast majority are “Amanda, I couldn’t be your man”, “You fell in love but then you just fell apart”, “Everyone’s drama queen is old enough to bleed now”; i.e. love and other teen issues. Armstrong sounds like he wants to be a twenty-year old again (half his age). Whether this is a clutch at his slipping youth, a Peter Pan feeling of the mind or an attempt to connect with fans is unclear. The overall poor lyrical quality is attempted to be made up for by the music; not in quality but in technique. Every trick in the book is used on ¡Tré!, from pauses to vocals. Again this feels more like overcompensating for the lack of complexity in the composition. It does make the songs sound more fake; overly produced, less raw than “proper punk”. But from all Green Day’s learnt over the years, maybe it’s expected than they would eventually rely more and more on technique.

Giving an overall opinion on ¡Tré! is too tricky a task. In a way, it’s an album that contains every aspect of Green Day; “Dirty Rotten Bastards” is meant to be a “Jesus of Suburbia” sound-alike; there are references to The Who (one section of bass solo split into four pieces by guitar in between, mimics My Generation). There are also references to the Stones, the Clash, Bowie, Iggy Pop and more. There are motifs both lyrically (like the line “Stop where the red lights flash” now appearing on all three albums) and musically (“99 Revolutions” and “Lazy Bones” from ¡Dos! have the same drum opening) . Experimentation, operatic vocals, almost pretentious music, all combined with raw chords, wild drumming (at some points) and a full emotional range. Admittedly, it can take a couple of listens to grow on you but it’s undeniable that, for at least some of the songs, ¡Tré! is worth hearing. On the trilogy as a whole, it may not be Green Day’s best work but it certainly tops most bands best efforts. Every album has a different feel, despite all 27 songs being written in the same time period. There’s experimentation in dance, disco, glam and soul amidst modern songs that somehow manage to hark back to nineties punk. All three albums have been a success. Now we’ll just have to wait to see what Green Day can offer next.            

1 comment:

  1. this is great im a huge greenday fan and love their music and my bedroom is filled with their posters and make you could maybe add to this blog a music video or something


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