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: :-)