Thursday, September 27, 2012

album review: 'uno!' by green day

I was afraid of this happening.

I mean, when I heard that Green Day was planning on putting out a trilogy of albums - and planning on doing so all within about six months of each other, my immediate reaction was disbelief. They would have that much material that was ready for prime-time? They would be able to construct three whole albums based upon material recorded over about five months? They would have enough things to say to last three entire albums?

And then I realized, with a feeling of crushing dread filling up my stomach, that they wouldn't - they couldn't. As much as I like Green Day - and I do, let's make no mistake about that (favourite album is Kerplunk, followed by 21st Century Breakdown and Dookie) - I knew instinctively that unless they were trying to write to a specific concept, they weren't going to be able to keep everything good. They couldn't stretch it out that far. Even though they divided each of the trilogy into musical themes (the first being power pop/punk, the second being garage rock, the third being stadium rock), I knew that they couldn't have enough great, unique material to span three albums. 

And I'm disappointed to say that my original suspicions were correct. Even worse, I don't think I went far enough - as of right now, Uno! is Green Day's worst album. 

Yeah, worse than Warning. I went there.

Now let me make this clear, it's not a 'bad' album, per se. We're not dealing with anything on the scale of Chris Brown here. After all, this is Green Day, a band that I'll still defend even despite all of their problems. Even despite the juvenile tendencies, even despite the simplistic riffing, even despite the fact the band has repeatedly built far too much of their career based off of the successes of other artists, there's still a place for Green Day. They've always had a skill for putting together very catchy music built on the simplest of chords. The band has always had a lot of energy, and have always thrown themselves into their music with reckless abandon. And despite their juvenile and generally basic themes, there tends to be a wry honesty in their music that I appreciate. As much as there are problems with American Idiot, I can't argue with the fact that it captures the teenage zeitgeist of the early 2000s with impressive depth and sincerity. Even when the band writes songs about masturbation, there tends to be enough material to elevate the tune above, well, a song about masturbation. 

Now, some of you might be surprised that I think Warning is Green Day's worst album (second worst in my opinion is Insomniac, but that album is uneven where Warning is just tedious) but that I still love 'Misery' and 'Minority'. And it's true, I think those songs are fucking great. But the problem that I had with Warning is that by that point, most of Green Day's subject material felt a little played out. After multiple albums talking about the same sort of teenage wasteland that The Who hailed in 'Baba O'Riley', it was starting to get stale by the time Warning came along, particularly considering the band just didn't have much more to say on the subject. It didn't help matters that the slacker age of the 90s was petering out, but I still found Warning to be a little tired, particularly considering the instrumentation was less energetic than previous albums.

I think I have something of the same problem with Uno! - only here, it's a lot worse. Sure, there are a few stand-out tracks (namely 'Let Yourself Go', which redeems itself with one of Green Day's best guitar solos, 'Kill The DJ', which with its tight disco-esque flair, its  incredible catchiness, and its silly-as-all-fuck lyrics, is endearing in a way, and 'Rusty James', a song where Green Day takes direct aim at the modern music scene, with mixed results), but outside of that, the album is just bland. Sure, the instrumentation is generally tight, but there's nothing all that special about it, and for a band that's been around as fucking long as Green Day, I'm a little annoyed that they're still recycling the same chords for some tracks. 

Part of the problem is the subject matter. Now, I'll be the first to admit that Green Day has never had any degree of nuance when singing about politics - 21st Century Breakdown proved that - but they still brought agreeable themes to light and occasionally gave them some vestige of relatability and depth. Even still, I didn't have much of a problem with Green Day going back to well-visited topics about teenagers in the modern world - except when I realized that the band had completely run out of interesting things to say about said teenagers in the modern world. It's hard not to notice that Green Day is, once again, repeating itself - and sure, the basic formula still works for the most part, but I don't think there was anything wrong with hoping for a little something more out of an act that has repeatedly screamed for attention.

Now, I will give Billie Joe Armstrong some credit here - he gets the teenage mindset pretty well, even though he's past forty at this point (which is bizarre, I'll note, but given his most recent outbursts, I'm fairly certain Armstrong is still a bratty teenager at heart). And thus his lyrics have a certain degree of authenticity - they feel like they were written by a teenager, and thus I can see the target audience relating to that. Whether or not you'd expect more from Green Day, given they're all in the forties, is a different question, but I can still somewhat understand why they've kept things at that age level. After all, the wasteland of the punk scene for the past four decades contains plenty of evidence showing what happens to punks when they grow up. 

Here's the problem, though: the typical brand of 90s, cynical, 'whatever' slackers has grown up into the unemployed aimless neurotics of today, and even the bitter angry emo pissants who picked up on Green Day circa American Idiot have grown up too (losing the emo, but still for the most part remaining bitter). To some degree, I think Green Day realized this, and shifted their music to fit a different sort of audience in the teenage sphere.

The problem is that audience are the characters Michael Cera and Jonah Hill were playing in Superbad. 

You know, the spoiled, aimless, Xbox-Live trolling, oversexed teenage dweebs that have plenty of fantasies regarding sex but no experience and little chance of getting any. It's been a long-running joke that Green Day makes some of the least masculine punk rock to ever hit the airwaves, but on Uno!, it's not even a joke anymore. Songs like 'Oh, Love' are not just bland, but painfully sappy and weak. It doesn't help matters that the band has gleefully upped the scatological factor in songs like 'Fell For You', which really comes across like a bunch of teenage brats lying about all the sex they say they've had, when in reality they're not getting anything from anyone or anything. And while I guess some people who don't know any better might find that sort of music appealing, I sure as hell don't.

And while I will admit Billie Joe Armstrong nails the tone of this demographic in the lyrics, I've got to wonder why the flying fuck he chose that group, particularly considering there's no nuance in his tone. Comparing to better Green Day albums (which only paints Uno! in a worse light), the band managed to nail the drifting, morose cynicism of the 90s slacker, and similarly the angry, self-absorbed bitterness of the 2000s scene/emo teenager. But here, there's no depth or any detailed commentary on that generation, not a lot of real acknowledgement of what that demographic is facing. There are moments of sincerity and earnestness, but it lacks the pomp and potency to give that earnestness any sort of weight or meaning, which makes the songs come across as bland. There's no tonal nuance, there's barely any sarcasm, and it feels like we're supposed to take things straight - and if so, it all comes across as painfully weak and awkward, lacking any sort of charismatic presence that would make the songs worth a damn.

And if anything, I think this illustrates a problem with Green Day itself. As a band, it has often managed to stay relevant - in fact, I'd argue most of its messaging has built around the fact that it feels relevant to the listener. You know, the 'voice of a generation' conceit. But on Uno!, I can't help but feel they're starting to slip a bit here. As much as I don't have much respect for teenagers of today, I've got to believe that they deserve better than the tonally inconsistent weak ditties that Green Day's serving up for them. This raises an interesting set of questions: has Green Day accurately represented the youth of today in its music, and if so, will the teenagers of today accept that tonal choice for their generation as weak and helpless and generally inconsequential?

Or is this a fault of Green Day's, with Billie Joe Armstrong, now in his forties, losing track of the mindset of a younger generation despite his insistence to write songs about them, and if so, does this reveal something of a 'Peter Pan' complex in the songwriter? Does this imply that Armstrong is writing songs about the younger generation with all of that generation's immaturity because he knows the fleeting relevancy of punk rock, or because deep inside, he's still an immature pissant who has never really grown up despite the encroachments of middle age?

At this point, I'm not sure how I can answer these questions, and I think both Dos! and Tre! might go a long way to exploring that answer. What I am sure of is this: Uno! is easily Green Day's weakest and worst album thus far not because it's skin-crawlingly repulsive, but because it's painfully, inexcusably average. It's not special, it's sure as hell isn't interesting, and it's not a step in the right direction. Man, what a fucking disappointment.

And with that, I think I've got only one thing left to say: Billie Joe Armstrong, grow the fuck up.

1 comment:

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