Green Day's "21st Century Breakdown"
My review of Green Day's "21st Century Breakdown".
Say what you will about American Idiot’s plot, the tight narrative helped keep the album from turning into an unfocused mess. 21st Century Breakdown, on the other hand, is as musically consistent as ‘98’s Nimrod; not necessarily a bad thing, until you finally notice that, despite being marketed as another “rock opera”, remarkably little happens to its characters. Once the lack of a plot becomes apparent, the eclectic songs based solely around the ideals of two polar-opposite punks start sounding more and more like the angry rants of three thirty-something rockers who just might be losing their touch.
The guys opted out of having longtime collaborator Rob Cavallo produce, and brought in Butch Vig, the man behind Nevermind. The only evidence of his work with Nirvana is in the quiet-loud-quiet-loud structure of “Christian’s Inferno;” the rest of the album (even “Inferno” itself) is sonic black ice unlike anything Green Day’s ever put out. The slickness works well with the pop-punk/glam-rock numbers and “21 Guns” (Breakdown’s answer to “Wake Me Up When September Ends”), but it feels wasted on most of the album’s midsection.
Starting with “Christian’s Inferno,” ending with “Restless Heart Syndrome,” and excusing a few decent tracks in between, Breakdown becomes as overblown and boring as Olympic knitting. One of the two ballads included in the sequence, “Last Night on Earth”, is a piano-and-reverb love song that shows the sensitive side of disenchanted male lead Christian, while simultaneously cementing itself as the most undramatic work ever included in a rock opera. The other, the aforementioned “Syndrome,” is essentially a re-working of “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” only with two minutes-twenty of acoustic-and-string-backed crooning in the way before it becomes remotely interesting. “Last of the American Girls,” Breakdown’s version of “She’s a Rebel” (sensing a pattern yet?), may be the worst song Green Day’s ever recorded, largely due to the awful guitar tone used after each run of the chorus (and the flavorless melody, guitar work, and bass line).
But, they say that all that matters is that you start strong and finish strong. For what it’s worth, Breakdown does open and close with its strongest songs. The title track is as close as the album gets to unobtrusively merging Idiot’s rock-opera grandiosity and punk attitude with the shine that Vig brought to the table; “Know Your Enemy” and “Horseshoes and Hand Grenades” find the band toying with hair metal, and “Viva La Gloria!,” “The Static Age,” and “See the Light” prove that they can write pop-punk for the 21st century while being far ahead of their contemporaries. Unfortunately, a third of the album is surprisingly mediocre; despite all of its shiny production, Breakdown is a dull addition to a collection of brilliant gems.