- 21 Sep 12
Punk superstars kick off three album binge in familiar style
For a concept album – the first in a trilogy of concept albums, to be precise – Green Day’s Uno is stunningly conventional. It is chipper and catchy, splashed in sonic day-glo. The band’s trademarks – the super-buffed Ameri-punk riffs, Bille Joe Armstrong’s vaguely anglophile snarl – aren’t just in the foreground, they’re jumping up and down in front of you, waving their arms and letting off firecrackers.
What Uno very clearly isn’t, however, is deep and ruminative, which was the pitch on the Bay Area trio’s previous two records, American Idiot (takeaway sentiment: George Bush is an asshole) and 21st Century Breakdown (a cyberpunk LP about frustrated love and, prophetically, youth unemployment ).
Here, there is no overarching theme, no big message – though Billie Joe does make his dislike of the burgeoning EDM dance scene obvious at one juncture (“Kill the fucking DJ,” he snarls on… er, ‘Kill The DJ’, a track with about much subtext as a drunk arguing with a bouncer).
So why three albums in the space of a few months, if not to make some grand point? The way the band tell it, the reason is quite prosaic. Holed up in their studio last year, they couldn’t stop writing songs. “When we got to about the upper 20s of new tracks, we started trying to figure out what to do. We liked everything we’d done, and we knew we had more. We thought, ‘Do we do a double album?’, but that seemed outdated. Do we do a triple? It didn’t really work for The Clash,” Armstrong said last month.
Fair enough. In the end, they settled on something even more dramatic. There would be a trilogy of LP, Uno, Dos, Tre, their release dates staggered. “We were just playing from the hip, there was this real devil-may-care feeling, and that produced this irreverent swagger you hear on certain songs,” Billy went on.
Such talk ought to set alarms clanging. Quality control is a sticky subject for many artists. At a certain level of fame and popularity, many lose the ability to distinguish between material deserving of a public airing and stuff that might have been left on the cutting room floor. This, lest we forget, was what sank Prince as a creative force; nowadays there are times when he sounds like just a dealer in interesting karaoke.
He is hardly alone – the stereotype of the egotistical rocker who’s convinced every half-assed song is a genius opus is long established. With parts two and three yet to come, it is too early to tell whether Green Day fit that cliche. So far, the evidence is positive, however. On Uno there is nothing to suggest the band has lost the ability to edit itself. Songs are bouncy and euphoric, a zinging guitar line inevitably building up to a chorus custom-crafted for polite moshing to.
Over-familiarity may be a stumbling point. Green Day are many things – but they are not fearless pushers of musical envelopes. What garnered American Idiot, in particular, such praise was its political stridency: while the rest of the American rock establishment was keeping schtum, how incredible that, of all people, Green Day would be the ones to present a cogent critique of US foreign policy, allied to a devastating take down of the Obnoxious Yank Abroad.
All their axes ground, they have less to say on Uno and thus, must fall back on their chops as writers. Perhaps that’s the problem. In the decade and a half since break-out Dookie, Green Day have proved very good at serving up different variations of the same frothy, three-minute punk work-out. Here, they are doing what they do best. Nothing less, but certainly nothing more.