Tuesday, December 11, 2012

album review: 'tre!' by green day

I almost didn’t even have the heart to start the album.

Those of you who have read my previous reviews (here and here) can understand why. Green Day’s phenomenally misguided attempt to construct an epic three album trilogy was disheartening to hear about and even worse to actually listen through, and after the general heap of mediocre shit that was Dos!, I honestly didn’t want to give Green Day a third chance at success here. And while I still can say I like Green Day’s older work, the more I listened to Uno! and Dos!, the more I felt the charm and shine rub off of those old albums I loved as I knew that Green Day wouldn’t produce anything close to being that good again.

But then I paused and reconsidered that opinion, because according to initial press junkets, Green Day’s Tre! was going to be an exploration of the arena rock styling they had adapted for American Idiot and with greater success in 21st Century Breakdown. Now, a lot of Green Day fans really dislike 21st Century Breakdown, and I understand why. It’s haphazard, it’s unfocused, it’s broadly political, and it doesn’t really have much of a definite target – in other words, it’s the only possible political album anyone could have expected from the perpetually adolescent Billie Joe Armstrong, but I digress.

Of course, the critics also disliked 21st Century Breakdown because it took a great deal of influence from The Beatles and The Who and The Ramones and other classic rock/punk rock acts, almost to the point where certain songs sound suspiciously like covers (‘Last Night On Earth’ being particularly egregious). But if I’m being honest, it’s never bothered me all that much because Green Day had enough signature style and flair to make the songs uniquely theirs while still paying homage to the greats.

So while I had absolutely no faith that Tre! would actually work, I did have the slightest hope that Green Day might be able to pull out of their downward spiral and produce something. I mean, you hope for the best, expect the worst, right? Maybe Green Day had remembered something they learned from 21st Century Breakdown, right?

Well, much to my frustration, Tre! is not an arena-rock album, or anything that comes close to the scope of 21st Century Breakdown. In fact – and this is a complaint I’ll make about all three albums in this trilogy – I’d argue that Tre! seems rather small, all things considered. The stakes are think, the scope is unclear, and there’s a complete lack of bombast that really neuters any attempted arena rock styling. And sure, there are points where the music attempts that dramatic swell, but without the lyrics or theme to back it up, it raises the question why Green Day even bothered.

But I am happy to say one thing – Tre! is not a bad album. Now, I feel the need to qualify the use of the word ‘bad’ here, because I’m speaking in general terms, not with respect to Green Day’s entire discography, because I can easily say that this trilogy of albums doesn’t even come close to genuinely solid if weaker (in my opinion) albums like Warning. But as someone who has reviewed a lot of bad music this year of all stripes, I can say that Tre! isn’t bad. It’s got some solid riffs, some decent songwriting, and a consistent tone. In fact, of the three albums in the trilogy they released, it’s definitely the most cohesive and sonically even, something that seems to be overlooked in the age of music shuffling, but something I do appreciate.

However, Tre! isn’t good either, and for once, it’s actually fairly simple to explain why, and one that might keep this review somewhat short – it’s boring. This is a complaint I’m always surprised I don’t make about Green Day more often, considering how often they reuse musical templates and themes, but in the past the band has always seemed to be able to rise above that. On Tre!, however, while I can’t find anything overtly awful about the album, I don’t really find anything all that good or interesting about it either – and compared to Green Day’s better albums, that’s a real problem. Hell, I’d even argue the previous two entries in this trilogy at least had interesting songs, for better (‘Kill The DJ’) or for worse (most of Dos!).  

But outside of ‘X-Kid’, a song I like but one that basically feels like a forgotten B-side from Kerplunk, the album is just kind of lightweight and bland, completely lacking in singles and genuine heart. And while Billie Joe Armstrong’s lyrics aren’t as painfully adolescent as they were on the previous two tracks, it actually becomes something of a problem when he takes it in the opposite direction, because it feels that when he tries to play the adult, he’s just boring. The album has nothing to say that’s relevant now – hell, ’99 Problems’ tries to talk about Occupy Wall Street, and just displays how completely irrelevant Green Day has become on political subjects.

In fact, let’s get into this a bit, namely that this trilogy of albums really feels lightweight and completely inessential. Everything Green Day has said in this trilogy, they have said before, and better, on previous albums. So, in retrospect, why exactly did Green Day think it was necessary to release three albums of recycled material that simply treads old ground (and not particularly well, at that)? Is it a fear that they’re no longer relevant, or that a whole generation of young listeners will grow up without the band? Or – and from a few lyrical hints scattered across the album, I think this might be close – do they feel, that as ‘elder statesmen of punk’ (relatively speaking, and sadly without a shred of irony), they have to keep releasing material to keep the genre alive in some form, even if the material’s not that good? It might explain Billie Joe’s continuous chances to seem relatable to the dumb teenage ‘punks’ of today, even as he completely embarrasses himself.

But here’s my argument – Green Day’s old music hasn’t gone anywhere. In the age of digital distribution, it has never been easier to get into older acts, particularly those that were less popular. And we’re not talking about underground punk acts like The Vibrators or Dead Boys or The Modern Lovers – we’re talking about Green Day, one of the most iconic bands of the 90s and one of the biggest acts of the 2000s. Are they like Ludacris, so concerned with their legacy that they have to flood the market with material to remind everyone they still exist like he did in 2010 and 2011? Even by the low standards I have for the generation coming after me, I don’t think people are going to forget Green Day exists.

And here’s the other point – if Green Day wanted to prove that they were both still active and still relevant, why on earth didn’t they opt for a tighter focus on their album? I could have easily slashed material from these albums and compressed them in a pretty tight and reasonable Green Day album. Sure, it’d be on their lower tier of material (because I really haven’t been impressed by anything they’ve put out in terms of singles), but the lower tier of Green Day is still pretty damn good. For that matter, if they were so concerned with relevance, why didn’t they opt for a sharper, more controversial edge that would have given them the political teeth and bite they’ve never really had? That way, they’d get more headlines for their content, not for the fact Billie Joe is in rehab.

I honestly can’t give you the answers here, but I can say this: if you’re looking to make a choice about whether to listen to Tre!, or indeed this entire trilogy, I’d recommend checking out a few songs on YouTube and then making a decision from there. Even this album, which I hold is the most consistent and generally the best of the lot, really isn’t anywhere near as good as their older work, and if you’re a fan, you’re just going to end up disappointed. If anything, Tre! feels like an entire album’s worth of filler songs – not bad enough to hate, but not good enough to care about or like.

And Green Day, if you happen to find this review and are concerned about punk dying out again, think of this: Ke$ha collaborated with Iggy Pop on her most recent album, and not only was it more punk than anything you guys did in your entire trilogy, it was also better than your entire trilogy. And hell, if it gets some airplay, punk in some twisted way might resurrect itself. This sort of shit comes in cycles, and frankly, I think it’s only a matter of time.


  1. Arrived from an AVClub comment. It pains me to agree with you on most points here, being a longtime fan since '94. And to think, I almost coughed up the $70 or whatever for the album bundle from their site. I'll just mix & match a best-of from this sad trilogy & be on my way.

    I'm also pissed that I bought tickets & they cancelled/rescheduling their tour. It's just sloppy how all of this has been handled.

    Nice post BTW.