Green Day: 21st Century Breakdown

June 28, 2009 by  
Filed under Music

15 years ago, I reluctantly plucked the new Green Day album off the shelves at Venture (poor man’s Target), which was “Dookie”. I hated this band. I was a teenager who was just discovering his musical roots, and had just fallen in love with bands like R.E.M. and They Might Be Giants, and resented this so-called “punk” band after really liking the Sex Pistols, Fugazi, Minor Threat, bands that had a little more meaning. Green Day, to me, was a sell out from the get-go. And the guy sang like he was Irish or something, and was from California.

But I couldn’t get “Longview” out of my friggin’ head. I couldn’t deny the fact that they were extremely infectious. So, naturally, I broke down and bought “Dookie” thinking I’d only like “Longview”–and naturally, I listened to that song first, even though it was 4 tracks down, and played it on repeat about 10 times before I decided to listen to the rest of the album. It was the summer of 1994, and this album along with “Kerplunk” (which I bought weeks after “Dookie”), defined it. I fell in love with the band that I had hated throughout the spring. I read the lyrics. I understood Billy Joe Armstrong. I was with them completely. I became a Green Day fan that summer.

The next year, I was obsessed with “Insomniac”. I was wrestling with my own self indulgent afflictions of, er, self-loathing, and found this album a perfect distraction to my own weaknesses. My favorite songs included “Armitage Shanks”, “86”, and “Westbound Sign”. After that was “Nimrod”; a departure from their regular power punk pop riffs, this album was a little more “complete” and thematic, but just a hair shy of what you’d call a concept album. That year, in 1997, I saw them live for the first time in my life. I was with friends, but by myself around the mosh pit, just feeling their music. I really felt I knew this band, inside and out. After that, came “Warning”. I was one of the only fans I knew of that appreciated the album for what it was. And I knew that the days of “Dookie”, “1039 Slap Happy Hours” and “Kerplunk” were rapidly declining. But I was still with them.

Then came “American Idiot”–their first admitted “concept” album. I was not into it. I just couldn’t grasp it. Though it had some strong points here and there, I just couldn’t dive in and accept it. I didn’t know who this band was anymore. I felt a bit betrayed. But it was selfish of me to think that. Maybe I was just growing old. Maybe the band was growing old. Maybe the act was dull, thin, over.

And that brings us to “21st Century Breakdown”. Another concept album, but this one seems a bit more focused. In a way, if I’m in tuned to Billy Joe’s mind as much as I’d like to think I am, this is Green Day’s official swan song from the “Dookie” days. It’s as if the band is saying good-bye to those old carefree days when they were just writing goofy pop punk songs in Berkeley, California, and hoping for success.

This album is the autumn years of a band that’s gotten old, but wants to reflect on itself. Green Day takes themselves out of the equation of their own generation and plants them into the year 2009, putting them into the mind set of a teenager, maybe a 15 year old, and going through a narrative of angst, and in some way, redemption. But only in the most simple aspect. Green Day has never boasted a musical accumen that could justify something as powerful or as potent as perhaps a real concept album requires, but they try their best here. And in a way, they do succeed. This album has a lot of bright spots, and has a consistency that I was missing in “American Idiot”. Though you can only do so much with 3 chord progressions, Green Day stretches the rubber band as far out as possible, and doesn’t split it in half.

The lyrics tell a story of two kids, Christian and Gloria, who are caught up in the world of tomorrow. Or, today. They are, to me, ghosts of what Green Day was preaching 15 years ago. There’s distress. There’s chaos. There are predictions of being unsure in the future–something a punk band would never really do. Punk is present. Not future or past. There is no statement about what will happen. Punk is supposed to be the open wound that bleeds, not the scab that follows it. But Green Day attempts to embody this, and to a point they do succeed. It’s interesting to me, actually, to go through this album and think of yourself as a teenager if you aren’t. If you are, maybe you look at this and say, “Yeah, you have no idea what I’m going through.” Or maybe you don’t care. I know I wouldn’t if I were 15 again. But I’m not 15 again, and because taht can never happen, I can only look at this from the perspective of someone that is beyond this age and generation, and say that I appreciate on that level only.

I don’t know exactly what Green Day was ultimately trying to achieve with this album. I think what they were doing was creating a story and atmosphere of something they’ve grown out of but want to experience again, if for no other reason than to tap into what they were so much a part of in their respective generation. Or did they want to re-create “Dookie” with a reflective mindset? If the latter is true, it’s not necessary, and it takes away from what they are good at. There’s no need to re-write history, or…re-write the future? Green Day is what it is, and to try and bring themselves above that is stupid and too ironic for them to appreciate. But if I were to continue on that mindset, I’d say this album is a failure.

But it isn’t. It does have enough hooks, it does have enough power, to keep you interest. There are lot of songs here. There are 3 acts, which you can take as theatrical but I just see as a facade. They don’t really need to have the static-induced song intros or the beckoning of times past. In a way it’s just filler, but I understand where they were going with it. And because I understand that, and because I believe that it’s the former rather than the latter of what I think they were going for, this is a solid effort.

Sure, Green Day will no longer be a part of a generation of slackers and punks because they’re in their late 30’s and have kids of their own, and have become their own victims–but they can still teach. In fact, that’s pretty much all they can do at this point. And although I’m 15 years removed from the summer of 1994, and I’m a grown up too–I can reflect as well.

In that sense, I’m still with this band.

My rating: :-)

Ben Folds – Way to Normal

November 30, 2008 by  
Filed under Music

Ben Folds was a nerdy teenager’s best friend and when you’re going through that awkward phase, songs like “Underground” and “The Battle of Who Could Care Less” helped get through those years with at least a little bit of joy. His band, Ben Folds Five, was a fun group who not only put out some solid albums in the late 90’s, but also put on some of the most fun concerts I’ve ever been to.

They broke up as a band but Ben Folds came out strong in his first solo debut, 2001’s “Rockin’ the Suburbs” (“Fear of Pop” I’m not counting!). He proved he really didn’t need Darren or Robert even though they were great complimentary players. He hit a snag with “Songs for Silverman”, however, a somewhat serious and messy record that really never hit a stride the way that “Rockin the Suburbs” did. And while I don’t think he’s ever matched the emotionally charged “The Luckiest”, he didn’t come close to anything half as meaningful as that song on the entire album.

He seems to have returned to form with his newest album that has a lot more fun, “Way to Normal”, and it’s a welcomed one. Some of this album is full of giddy playfulness, and I honestly think that’s when Folds is at his best. He is a goofball. He proves that with songs like “Effington” and “Dr. Yang”, and there aren’t really many songs I didn’t care for (“Bitch Went Nuts” may have been a little over the top). Another highlight that really is the most somber on the record, “Kylie from Connecticut” also shows he can still show that sensitive side and not overdo it like he did on “Songs for Silverman”. So overall, he has captured some of his former glory, and I hope he can still build on that for years to come.

This is an album you can listen to twice in a row and not feel like it’s gotten repetitive. That’s a pretty good achievement, and this album proves Folds has plenty left to say about life and love, and he still has a sense of humor about it.

My rating: :-)

Shiny Toy Guns – Season of Poison

November 30, 2008 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Music

I was first introduced to this band through FIFA 07’s soundtrack, featuring their single “You Are The One”. I was a pretty big fan of the song, so I checked them out on iTunes and wound up getting their aptly titled debut “We Are Pilots” as a Christmas gift back in 2006.

I was impressed with the fact that this band didn’t sound like a lot of other “indie” or even pop-techno-dance-thrash music (not that there’s a whole lot of it out there). They had a very distinct pop sound that thrived on melodies accompanied by pulse pounding machine drum tracks. It was very reminiscent of the old 80’s new wave pop bands, and I’m fairly positive that the frontman, Chad Petree, and his keyboardist and co-vocalist Jeremy Dawson, grew up listening to that style of music. The influence is extremely present. Tracks like “Rainy Monday”, “We Are Pilots”, and “Don’t Cry Out” were stand outs on a very solid album, and of course, I was extremely excited to see how they followed that up.

I was bothered by the fact that they had let go of their original female vocalist, Carah Faye Charnow, and replaced with Sisely Treasure. Not that I had anything against Treasure, I just thought Carah fit the bill perfectly with the band.

Unfortunately, Treasure’s attempt at edgy screaming on some of the more thrash-techno tracks (“Ghost Town”, “Ricochet!”), fails miserably and really takes away from an otherwise beautifully produced and executed album. Strong points include “Money For That”, “I Owe You a Love Song”, “Blown Away”, and “It Became a Lie On You”. When Treasure sings, it’s a wonderful thing. But she cannot pull off Courtney Love style wailing. It just doesn’t work. She comes off as a white suburban girl who wants you to believe she didn’t just spend all day at Hot Topic because it’s a place for posers, and thinks that Pink is hardcore.

Overall, the album is good. It’s not great, but I think it’s unfair to say it’s a sophomore jinx. They do build on some of the positive things on “We Are Pilots”, and come out with some really nice, pretty melodies that are extremely catchy and will be stuck in your head for days. I’ve listened to the record about 4 times, and I will admit even the horrifying “Ricochet!” (for some reason they chose that for their first single–good luck with record sales) has grown on me.

Critically, I will admit some of the lyrical abilities are lacking in this writing duo, and it shows in the very lame “Turned to Real Life” (if there is a remake of “Mannequin”, this will be the theme song no doubt) and “When Did This Storm Begin”. But I think it’s the music that is more meant to be enjoyed rather than the lyrical content. After all, I wasn’t exactly moved by most of the songs on “We Are Pilots”. But I must point out that it is a flaw in the record.

I like this band a lot and I see a lot of promise. I hope they can build on the positives, and either ditch the shrill Babes in Toyland-esque female stuff, or ditch Sisely Treasure and find a chick who can genuinely make you quiver when she screeches about another “fucking bottle of pills”.

My rating: :-)

Beck – Modern Guilt

September 30, 2008 by  
Filed under Music

“Modern Guilt” may be the most inviting Beck album he’s produced, snappier than “Guero”, and dare I say, wispy, clocking in with only 10 tracks and a run time of just under 34 minutes. Though the most ardent Beck fans may pine for the days of “Odelay” or “Sea Change” (his best album, in my opinion), this is definitely accessible and an easy, breezy listen. A few songs stand out, like “Replica”, and “Gamma Ray”, but most blend into a very groovy, sensational half hour of musical bliss.

There are some things missing, however. Nothing on it was as kick ass as “Hell Yes” from “Guero”; and, its fast pace makes it a little too short to really appreciate. Also, if you’re going to include Danger Mouse, make his presence known. I wouldn’t have been aware of it at all had I not read that he was involved on the back of the CD. I was expecting “Modern Guilt” to have one or two clunky 9 minute songs with such a short track listing; but looks like he went with a Weezer approach. I wish Weezer would do that sometime…

All in all, a short review for a short album and a nice effort. Beck’s still got it.

My rating: :-)

Weezer – The Red Album

July 29, 2008 by  
Filed under Music

WARNING: This is a long review. It’s a comprehensive look at Weezer culminating in a review for the Red album. Bear with it, I beg of you!

On a cool October night in 1994, I walked down the streets of my suburban domicile in Illinois, to the only “record” store that was close enough to walk to. I didn’t have driving privileges  yet, and I didn’t feel like bringing my parents into my urge to buy an album from a new band that called themselves Weezer. Their newest hit, “Buddy Holly”, was the reason I bought their debut album, and not “Undone – The Sweater Song” which I thought was a bit too much like a They Might Be Giants throwaway. The store I walked into was aptly named “Venture”, and it was basically your average Target or K-Mart style store. That’s why I put “record” in quotations. It had a music section that included only the most popular bands and singles CDs you could find. I don’t think they even carried The Dead Milkmen or even Sonic Youth. But I think they did carry the “Kids” soundtrack.

I found the CD immediately, with its magnetic deep blue cover, slapping on the band members as if they were clipped from a magazine and pasted individually onto it. I took it home, humming the tune of “Buddy Holly”, and once I got home, I put it on and was immediately in love with it. From the first few acoustic strummy seconds of the infectious “My Name is Jonas”, I was hooked until the final dangling and moody seconds of “Only in Dreams”. This was my new favorite band instantly.

Once it was announced for a new album in 1996, I was the first at the shelves of an actual record store, the day it came out. “Pinkerton”, though, was a different experience. It was definitely a moodier album, sounding more angry and confused than happy and sarcastic, such as the Blue album debut was. It took some time to get into it, but once I did, I loved it just as much and thought this could be one of the most important bands in my life. The lyrics to songs like “Why Bother?” and “Across the Sea” captured my teenage isolation and self-pity (this was before i knew it synonymously  packaged into the phenomenon that was “emo”) and it became more of a personal album, rather than the poppier Blue album, which you could put on at any time and rock out.

During the years after that, Weezer had a falling out, and I was left confused and dejected. My favorite band, who was on such a roll, had disappeared. I was left with two masterpieces, but no real discography except a slew of B-sides that were harder to find than Carmen Sandiego.

Obviously, we know the story from there. They regrouped after Rivers snapped out of it, and released the Green album in 2001. I was somewhat relieved to see the spunky neon green color, looking more like the return to the infectious pop rather than the gloomy emo stuff. I also liked that they went back to the simple routes as far as artwork, and that they were keeping with the “10 Song Limit”. That was where the good times ended. The album felt so rushed and short, it was over just as I was getting into it! The songs themselves fell flat, with few exceptions. It just felt like half an album, and this was after a 5 year wait. I was disappointed that such a dud came after such a hiatus.

“Maladroit” gave better vibes, starting off strong, then fading a bit, only to return to rocking in the end. But again, it still felt like Rivers was holding something back. I couldn’t put my finger on what was missing exactly. Maybe it was the innocence of that first album, and maybe that was gone. Maybe too, I was getting older.

“Make Believe” didn’t really change my thoughts, in fact I was baffled by the sunny-disposition-or-sarcastic-pop-slut-anthem “Beverly Hills”, and disgusted with the cliched simplicity of “My Best Friend” and “Hold Me”, though there were some real bright spots on that album (“Freak Me Out”, “This is Such a Pity”, and “Pardon Me”).

So where was this band going? It just seemed like Rivers was slipping further and further away from what Weezer was all about, which was about fun music and down-and-out, geeky lyrics.

Then came the video for “Pork and Beans”. Easily the best video they’ve put out since “Buddy Holly”, the song that made me fall in love with them in the first place. Again, a bright, infectious pop song that had a “catchy chorus and beat so you can sing along”. I was stoked about the upcoming album, especially since Rivers said it was going to be a bit more “experimental”. Maybe he was broadening himself?

So now comes the review for “The Red Album” finally. I know, I know. I’m sorry, I had to take you down the path to get to the well first. Now, I hope you drink the water.

The album, like “Maladroit”, begins promisingly. “Troublemaker” is that sort of simple catchy pop song that grabs you in a second, and though some of the choice of rhymes are off, and the words are sometimes really stupid, it’s a return to that old style Weezer, the kind we all wanted to keep hearing over and over again. The second song, “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived”, made me believe this album could be the greatest Weezer album of all time. Its range, its “Bohemian Rhapsody” feel to it, and hilarious lyrics, just blew me away and I was convinced this was at least one of Weezer’s best songs ever written. Then of course is “Pork and Beans”, clicking right along, followed by the strangely poetic and likable “Heart Songs” (though some might argue, cliched simplicity kind of like “My Best Friend” style). Right there, though, the album stops being fun and starts getting off track. “Everybody Get Dangerous”–I have no idea where this came from. Was this a leftover from “We Are All On Drugs”? I thought it’d be fun to go to the ironical way, but I couldn’t find it anywhere in the song, except maybe the line about riding in his parents’ Taurus. I just thought it could have really gone for it, and instead just seemed to half-ass it. The song is followed by “Dreamin'” which gets you back in the groove a bit, but it is only stifled by the song that follows it, and that’s where the record comes to a screeching halt.

When did Weezer hire Daniel Powter to write a song for them? This is Brian Bell? The mysterious one, as I had known him, he was always the quiet guitarist, had a cool look to him. He should have kept it that way. If this is the kind of style he does, I don’t want anything to do with it. “Thought I Knew” sounds like something you’d find on Radio Disney. It’s something the Jonas Brothers would do. Not bleeding Weezer! I couldn’t believe this atrocity.

After that is “Cold Dark World” which I can’t really say much about because I’m still feeling the after effects of “Thought I Knew”. Seriously! WTF? TFW! I had to stop the record for a few minutes. I listened to “Cold Dark World” again. Not bad. It was all right. At least it’s Rivers singing again. That’s a good sign.

And then…what the…what’s this–“Automatic”. What is this, the Goo Goo Dolls? Who is this? Did someone switch bands while they were mixing The Red Album? Some sort of mismash happened at Interscope? WHAT HAPPENED TO WEEZER? Someone, tell me how this album went from “Pork and Beans” to this GARBAGE? How does this happen? This is the worst tangent in modern rock history! I’m all for being eclectic, one of my favorite bands is Ween for God’s sake–but this is some kind of sick joke on being eclectic. I wanted to throw the album out the window!

But, finally, the album settles in to a nicer, “Only in Dreams” sounding end-song, with “The Angel and the One”. Again, this song felt like an old friend coming in for a visit, after being tormented by hours and hours of being cooped up in a one bedroom apartment being forced to listen to Billboard’s Top 100 Radio Hell Songs. But by this time, it’s too late. You already gave me “Thought I Knew” (still recuperating from that song) and “Automatic”. Should have maybe started the album out with those duds, and followed it up with the good stuff, or just left them off completely. I don’t know.

The bonus songs are forgettable as well, except possibly “Miss Sweeney”. The others are drab, and–Jesus, who is this on “Pig”? God! I thought we were done with this. But no, then comes “King”, sung by James Blunt I think.

All in all, Weezer still seems to be searching for something. Something they have lost. It’s sad because this was the first band that I got into from the start. I followed them since album number one. And really, they haven’t been consistent enough to be considered one of the great bands of my generation. They’ve had some outstanding songs (a lot of which are B-sides, like “Suzanne” and “Mykal and Carlie”) and some outstanding videos, and 2 outstanding albums. But they have also had dud after dud and continue to be enigmatic in what they’re after. I guess I still have a sentimental devotion to them. Again, I got The Red Album the day it came out, and was giddy to listen to it.

But like so many things as you get older, it’s a disappointment. I wonder what we’ll see out of Weezer next. I should be able to say, it’s something I look forward to. But I just have this bad feeling it’s going to sound less like Weezer, and more like something that I don’t want anything to do with.

My rating: :???: