Sunday, November 18, 2012

album review: 'dos!' by green day

You know, sometimes it really sucks to know a lot of music.

I understand that's probably one of the whitest, most hipster-esque things I could possibly say here, a statement that practically epitomizes 'first-world problems'. I mean, look at how that statement looks: 'Aww, look at Silens, he's bitching because he just knows about too much music because he has the free time and energy to listen to album after album. Yeah, I know I had a tiny violin stashed somewhere...'

I get how it looks - but I also can't deny that there is some rationale behind my feeling here. It's the feeling you get when you have submerged yourself in an interest so completely that nothing - nothing - surprises you anymore. It's the movie critic who can call every plot twist in the conventional family movie he's obliged to see, the TV critic who knows every beat of the filler episode, the video game critic playing a rehash or a remake without the slightest vestige of innovation. It's a really depressing feeling, because  the surprise has leaked from the experience. That thrill of discovering something new, that heady rush of excitement... it just fades away when you realize everything is going to be rote and by the numbers. 

It gets even worse when you know that you can squint slightly and directly trace the lineage of the art you're looking at to its ancestor, that you know exactly what they're building off of or ripping off. It's why so many professional critics get so damn excited when they see original IPs with interesting, fresh ideas, even if those IPs might not objectively be all that well-executed. They can overlook the slipshod nature or the shoestring budget or the clumsy story or the lousy production - it's something new!

Green Day isn't something new. And when I picked up their newest album Dos! in their trilogy of albums they are releasing in the last months of 2012, I had the sinking feeling that I could predict pretty much exactly what was coming. Considering that the first of the trilogy, Uno!, had basically been a recycling of their previous, better material - and not a good recycling, at that - I had low expectations going into this. Particularly when I heard that the album was basing itself on garage rock, and it's not easy to make material from that genre sound unique or interesting, or at least not completely done to death (punk/garage rock fans, settle the fuck down, I'll come back to this). And considering Green Day's penchant for recycling, I didn't have anything close to high hopes.

But then that irritatingly optimistic voice, the one that justifies my liking for S Club 7 and Aqua and Toby Keith and the Backstreet Boys and Panic! At The Disco, popped up and said, 'Silens, you loved 21st Century Breakdown even despite the fact the majority of the tracks were direct riffs from The Who and The Beatles and The Ramones! You defended that album because Green Day was at least attempting to build off of the material of the past in new ways with new themes and styles. And sure, while the thematic elements on 21st Century Breakdown didn't entirely work - at all - the album was still solid enough to appreciate the disparate elements as much as the whole!'

And that was true, I mused, as I started listening to Dos!. Indeed, you could never accuse Green Day of too much original thought. They aren't like Muse, who throw every good and terrible idea they've ever had onto their albums to see what sticks (basically my opinion of The 2nd Law in a nutshell, by the way). No, Green Day has always built their genre-exploratory material off of the punk and protopunk and arena rock of the past, which is at least a solid foundation. But what has always distinguished them from being deliberate ripoffs is that they actually do take a different reinterpretation of the basic structures from whence they build. Sometimes it works, sometimes it really doesn't.

And here...

I honestly thought Uno! was as bad as it could get for Green Day. I was wrong.

Now, granted, I did the worst possible thing before listening to Dos! - I started listening through No Thanks! The '70s Punk Revolution, which is a 4-disc box set detailing the rise and fall of punk in the late '70s and early 80s. And while there are some missing words in the story - there's no Crass, no Misfits, no Lou Reed, and due some petulance on the part of John Lydon, no Sex Pistols - it's still an astonishingly great compilation of protopunk, punk, and postpunk music that I highly recommend for anybody looking to get into the genre. But this immediately became a problem when I started listening to Dos! - and began picking up direct musical lifts. Now as I said above, Green Day has always built on the music of past, but there's a difference between building upon and outright copying. The absolutely most egregious and offensive example is on 'Stray Heart', a song I'd probably consider one of the best on the album because it's got a really kick-ass beat.

Well, of course it does - Iggy Pop used it for 'Lust For Life', a punk classic! Billie Joe, did you honestly think we wouldn't notice you appropriating one of the most energetic and potent backbeats of all time, particularly considering Jet already stole it once before with 'Are You Gonna Be My Girl' (yeah, for those of you not particularly well informed, that's one of the reasons why music snobs fucking hate Jet)! And since Green Day wasn't content with stealing from Iggy Pop and The Stooges once, he goes again and lifts major rifts from '1969' for 'Makeout Party', which is in competition for one of the worst fucking songs on the album because of its mindboggling immaturity (I'll come back to this). And you know, I could almost understand appropriating the beat if Iggy Pop was some long forgotten artist that is barely remembered... except he's going to be featuring on Ke$ha's new album Warrior which is coming out in the next two weeks (along with Wayne Coyne and Ben Folds, which are more reasons I am seriously psyched for Warrior).

Musically, I don't know what I can really say about Dos! - sure, there are some great riffs, but most of them were cherry-picked wholesale from other, better songs by other, often better artists, and those that weren't tend to be bland at best and intolerable at worst. As I've said before, Green Day's at its best when writing energetic major chord fast-riffing punk, or at least trying insane new ideas. But somewhere in the course of recording this album, some twat in the studio taught them a minor chord and a diminished chord and fucking hell, they took those to heart. So where my usual niggling issue with Green Day albums in the past was that major chord riffs tend to run together, now we have the same blending, but completely lacking in musical flow, the tone becoming twisted and ugly. The best song on the album is 'Baby Eyes', and it's mostly because it's got a light, fresh tone, and while I won't deny it's kind of cheesy, it's at least engaging and a breath of fresh air. 

But the rest of this album is really a chore to listen to, and that's immediately a sign it's not getting a good review. And while Green Day sound more like quasi-legitimate punks than they have in over a decade, they sure as hell aren't very good at it. Part of the problem is Billie Joe Armstrong's voice - namely, he can't scream, and whenever he tries, it sounds like he has a mouthful of spit and is gargling on it. Trust me when I say it's very distracting.

Now I will be briefly fair here and say Green Day does experiment with some different sounds, particularly in terms of vocoders and guitar distortion, which I found broke up the monotony somewhat. However, as a part of that, they included a song called 'Nightlife', featuring a female guest rapper. It doesn't help matters that Lady Cobra (from Mystic Knights of the Cobra, which sounds like a sweet exploitation movie title and an utterly fucking stupid band name) really doesn't have anything going for her. Her rapping is borderline-embarrassing, and Billie Joe sounds stoned off his ass as he slurs the lyrics. And considering the last song of the album was a tribute to Amy Winehouse (RIP) (a bizarre one that really doesn't work despite the reasonably solid instrumentation), I have to wonder if he was trying to mimic her style here or something, because it sounds like something she'd record - if she decided to take up bad postpunk instead of jazz.

And as for the lyrics... you know, I said in my review of Uno! that I suspected Billie Joe Armstrong had something of a Peter Pan complex, in that he's terrified of actually growing up and realizing he's forty. There's plenty of evidence for this, particularly considering the generally teenage lyricism and juvenile themes.

Well, it became abundantly clear that my hypothesis was much closer to the truth on Dos!, to a rather unsettling degree. The band has claimed this album is their tribute to 'garage rock', the sludgy, sloppy, badly-made teenage garbage from which Green Day sprung. And while there are a few songs that try to imitate that style (and they sound awful, by the way), the majority of the 'garage rock' influence comes in the lyrics - you know, the absolute worst fucking place for it.

Because - and I need to make this very clear before I continue, because there will be people who will get pissed off about this - while garage rock might offer some interesting sounds musically, lyrics in this genre tend to be universally crap. Overwrought, overblown teenage angsty amateur bullshit, often delivered in the shrill screaming tones of 'artists' who think their material is far 'deeper' than it really is. I'd even argue that garage rock doesn't even tend to offer much when it comes to the instrumentation either, particularly because most of the musicians aren't good enough with their actual instrument to produce anything but incoherent sludge. Just because Kurt Cobain had the actual brilliance and fortuitous timing to break as hair metal was dying is not an excuse to abuse distortion and shun musical excellence!

But coming back to Green Day, it really becomes obvious midway through the album that it makes complete sense Billie Joe chose to go back to pay homage to garage rock - because his mental age is about thirteen. That's the only way I can explain or justify the clumsy, adolescent lyrics that would embarrass the likes of Simple Plan. Green Day has never been eloquent, but when you have Billie Joe crooning about playing Twister and Spin The Bottle, completely without irony, it is baffling how you can interpret this as anything else as the flailing of a prepubescent manchild fighting against the fact he's forty.  And this isn't helped by songs like 'Ashley', which is a catty, high school-esque attack on some popular girl who abandoned him and then he gets off on schaudenfreude when her life goes downhill - when she gets addicted to crystal meth. I mean, whoa.

Now I know what some of you are saying to perhaps justify Billie Joe's pathetic behaviour, that perhaps it was a result of his drug addiction that he's regressing back to a state of mind that allows him to escape his pain and all sorts of bunk. In fact, I read a Huffington Post review of the album that was pretty much all of that. And you could say that similar characteristics popped up on other albums, like Eminem's underrated (yes, underrated, I'll explain) Relapse.

But here's the point with that - Relapse, for all of its flaws, dissected and vividly explored the concept of addiction and Eminem's psychosis in a way that was both horrifying and incredibly revealing. And while it's revealing here on Dos!, it's not horrifying, or even particularly interesting or compelling. The adolescent regression isn't new or explored in an interesting way, and unlike Uno!, I think even most teenagers would be laughing at him at this point. Either that or bored out of their minds.

And that's where the final crux of the problem with Dos! is - namely that if Billie Joe is choosing to present himself from a teenage perspective, it's the sort of creepy teenager that nobody wants to associate with, even the other outcasts. The kind of guy who has angst, but nothing interesting to say about it, and who bores anyone who would listen talking about himself and only himself. The kind of ass who clumsily hits on girls with cliched garbage pick-up lines and who makes the girls uncomfortable when after they reject him, he just won't fucking leave. I'd say that there's depression in play here, but The Cure was a band that touched on depression and melancholy far better than this, and gave it texture and made it engaging. 

No, Dos! is just a boring slog, a half-hearted lazy effort that actively tries to push you out of the experience. How else can you explain songs like 'Lazy Bones', where Billie Joe's petulance and apathy extends not just to himself, but to everyone else, who he actively insults because he's got nothing else to do? Somehow - and I don't know how - Bille Joe transformed into Ethan Hawke's character from Reality Bites, minus the actual intelligence, but just as contemptible.

Well, guess what - it's not 1994 anymore, Reality Bites is a shitty fucking movie, and it has become clear that you just have nothing to say that you haven't said a dozen times before or stolen from better artists. As I've said before, I used to defend Green Day, actually claim they're producing something of value and building off of the legends of the past. But if you're going to build is this...

No, fuck it, I'm done. Green Day, grow up and get out of the fucking garage and back on the boulevard of broken dreams. At least you had something interesting to say there. Wake me up when you stop sucking.


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  2. This album is pretty horrible, I agree. However, I wouldn't go as far as to tag it under "absolute shit".