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Green Day
21st Century Breakdown Stephen Burkett , May 15th, 2009 09:25

21st Century Breakdown isn't simply a bad album, even though it is about as bad as an album can conceivably be without actually being offensive — it's a shocking failure that underlines just how divorced from reality Green Day actually are. Preachy, arrogant yet thoroughly empty, it's the sound of Billie Joe Armstrong thinking he can still connect with — and speak for — an entire generation. In the Xanadu of the Warner enclosure, he probably thinks he can. And if this is what he, Tre Cool and Mike Dirnt spent five years on, one has to wonder what they did with the other four years, 11 months and 20-odd days.

It's even more of a shocker when placed next to American Idiot, a record that might've been derided for being Politix Lite packaged for the tween dollar but one that was a surprisingly brave reinvention. And even if you couldn't get on board with the broad-strokes 'commentaries', 'Holiday' was a bit of a tune, wasn't it? American Idiot's appeal lay in the shock of the form – the ludicrous rock opera from a band still known for dick jokes, like Blink-182 putting out a record of Gregorian chanting produced by Mike Patton, and can be considered a victory on practically every level. But now they believe their own hype (and Bille Joe in particular, it seems) and so, much like Mike Skinner in the wake of A Grand Don't Come For Free, have sought to reclaim their former glories. And we all remember how guttingly bad The Hardest Way To Make An Easy Living was, don't we?

So, an 18-song cycle about two characters, Christian and Gloria. Where American Idiot's lyrical crux was used as a sly way to introduce the idea of Green Day engaging with social issues, now the point is being rammed home with the subtlety of a charging buffalo. “I'm not fucking around!” yells Billie Joe on 'Horseshoes And Handgrenades' but by golly he is; the Disney-lite intro to the record that sounds like it's sung through a scratchy AM radio ('Song Of The Century'), the day-glo mawkishness of 'Before The Lobotomy' and 'Last Night On Earth' , the sub-Kiss (Ace Frehley would turn in his grave were he dead, as it is he's probably just spinning in his leather trousers) guitar histrionics on the title track… all marks of a band 'fucking around' because they think musical experimentation automatically translates into a worthwhile end-product.

But the trouble is that it sounds like a Broadway musical concerning the horrors of drug addiction and poverty – all Technicolor emotion and arms being flung wide. There's no doubting the scale of the band's ambition, but even the most vitriolic moments feel laminated and overly glossy. 'Christian's Inferno' is meant to be a fireball of rage but the plastic production neuters it straight out of the traps, and 'Murder City', ostensibly the rawest punk rock blast on the record, is rendered toothless and gummy by the guitars washing over it like a grey, overflowing basin. And while the sentiment of '21 Guns' may be laudable, when stapled to turgid pop-rock as maudlin as an Eastenders funeral but without the fun of someone being hit with a frying pan half-way through, you have to question the point.

Throw a rock at the tracklist and you'll hit an overcooked, lumpen exercise in self-indulgence. 'Restless Heart Syndrome' plods and stumbles like a lame donkey being ridden by James Morrison, and not even a just-distorted-enough squalling guitar solo can save it from being utterly dull. There is simply no reason for a song as horrendously cheesy as '¡Viva La Gloria!' to exist in this day and age – pianos and strings tumbling over one another in a bored bid to see who can alienate more people quicker before bastardising The Kinks' 'Gloria', while 'American Eulogy: Mass Hysteria/Modern World' reprises 'Song Of The Century' in a curiously self-fellating circle before farting itself into oblivion with unimaginative chord sequences and predictable, childlike melodies.

And so, depressingly, 21st Century Breakdown will sell a vast number of copies and Green Day will get even bigger. It could have been so much better, it could have been vital to more than just the same kids who shouted along to American Idiot at Milton Keynes; it could have been an astonishing musical statement that proclaimed loudly, 'We are still gloriously relevant'. Instead, it mumbles 'We are going to make lots of money' and shuffles off, tail between legs.

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