Old Punks Learn New Tricks

green_day_21st_century_breakdowGreen Day: 21st Century Breakdown (Reprise)

There is much to praise about Green Day's eighth studio album and first with producer Butch Vig (who helmed, most notably, Nirvana's Nevermind). The album expands upon the pop-punk, rock-opera formula established with 2004's American Idiot. However, where American Idiot was conceptually a gospel of generalizations aimed at "President Gasman" and the American public, 21st Century Breakdown's commentary is particular and pointed, and deals primarily with the role of the individual in a disconnected, technologically globalized modern era.

This specific micro-focus results in the most personal and thought-provoking Green Day release to date. 21st Century Breakdown is divided into three acts ("Heroes and Cons," "Charlatans and Saints," and "Horseshoes and Handgrenades") and follows the relationship between protagonists Christian and Gloria in modern Detroit. "I look at Christian and Gloria," says Billie Joe Armstrong, "and it's me. Gloria is one side: this person trying to hold on to this sense of belief, still trying to do good. Whereas Christian is deep into his own demons and victimizing himself over that." Without interviews and forums to explicate this concept, however, it is impossible to discern the distinct movements and narrative complexities of the album as a whole. The record is like looking through a stack of photographs; whatever narrative may emerge from the disparate, puzzle-piece songs is subjective and completely at the mercy of the listener.

Conceptual ambiguity is the main flaw of 21st Century Breakdown, though perhaps such haziness is the underlying theme of the record (buzz words and aesthetically pleasing phrases sometimes obscure whatever Armstrong is trying to say). American Idiot was released at the height of political abuse and public apathy, and most finger-pointing on that album is aimed at the actions and inactions of America and the Bush administration. Five years later, in a seemingly polar political and socio-economical climate, Billie Joe is unable to find such an explicit figurehead for his semantic-punk onslaught. In the first single from 21st Century Breakdown ("Know Your Enemy," a catchy mirror-image of all Green Day lead-off singles), Armstrong repeatedly asks, "Do you know your enemy?" before expounding near the end of the song that "silence is the enemy."

Whereas American Idiot was a call to action, 21st Century Breakdown is a call to discussion. It shows ambition and great restraint that Billie Joe does not use the word "anarchy" a single time in "Know Your Enemy" (though it would have fit perfectly into the rhyme scheme of the song). Armstrong is a punk at heart, but his ideology has adapted and evolved to thrive in the modern world; his new punk-archaetype strives to fix the American system from the inside out.

With 21st Century Breakdown, Green Day defines the present by reconciling the three-chord pop-punk of the past with the ambitious and experimental song-structures of the future. Most ballads on the album are better than "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," especially stand-out "Last Night on Earth," where Armstrong channels Wings-era Paul McCartney. "Viva La Gloria (Little Girl)" begins with Billie Joe apparently accompanied only by harpsichord, before launching into more traditional instrumentation that would not be out of place on American Idiot or 2000's underrated Warning. On second single "21 Guns" (from the new Transformers soundtrack), Armstrong sings notable portions of the song in falsetto; this is the first time in the entire Green Day catalog that Armstrong does so (he does this twice on 21st Century Breakdown). Second Act highlight "Last of the American Girls" finds the band experimenting with counter-melodies and Beach Boys harmonies.

With so many highlights, it is easy to forgive and forget the few missteps. Lyrically, the album holds the most pointed social commentary of Billie Joe's twenty-two year career. Musically, the structures and arrangements of the songs are diverse without feeling disconnected. Conceptually, the album succeeds more in theory than in practice, though it expands in most every way on its predecessor's concept. 21st Century Breakdown is relevant, thought-provoking, and, at its heart, is a very fun, listenable record from the most mainstream punks in the world. - Adam Kritzer

Green Day - 21st Century Breakdown (Deluxe Version) adam-kritzer

Mr. Kritzer travels the globe -- or at least NYC -- looking for revelatory moments of musical bliss.

Green Day marketed to Teenage girls - now

When Green Day turned a little Emo I was very disappointed and somewhat very offended when they kept on making Depression/mental health references in interviews. I was even more disappointed when I bought the new album. It is riddled with Emo/Depression/self-harm references and there is no "storyline" regarding these so-called characters. All the teenage girls are in love with Billie Joe and it is so annoying. They also beleive that Good Riddance is called Time of Your Life and that the frontman isn't on drugs!!! The album subject is the same subject as most of their albums - about his wife of who we all have to play homage too or else. If you dislike Green Day you get cyberbullied by kids young enough to be your offspring lecturing you on how to be a "True Fan". I hate their obvious Rebranding and their new album is truly boring and awful to listen too. I pine for the old Green Day of who did not seem to target teenage girls and where liked by guys too. Most older fans are not anymore. The songs on the album look like Billie was hastingly trying to target the Emo-teen and written very quickly with no after-thought of the quality of songs. I hate that he seems to think that everyone is stupid to think that these characters are just characters rather based on real people. I don't know about everyone else but i am sick of hearing about Billie Joes' awful marriage and kids in the medium of song - they should either rebrand again and go back to their roots or Billie should hung up his guitar and his Weed and leave the industry. They don't seem happy to be targeting teenagers anyway and they seem really media trained and quite fake and phoney or something I cannot place my finger on it. I am not a fan anymore because Billie seems so arrgoant and rude to fans actually and I am sick of the sight of his equally arrogant and blatantly fame-hungry wife.


I like green day but was bothered by the falsetto in 21 Guns. It is auto tuned to the max and in my opinion would have sounded better as like a quiet belt. I've heard him do it live and it's much better than the falsetto. Just my opinion though.


Aged poorly? Marketed to teenagers? What is with these comments?

I'll admit, I'm 21 and somewhat young as a Green Day fan. I was only 6 when Dookie hit the airwaves, but I've listened to everything they've ever done, just about...and I love all of it. (Save for the Sweet Children EP, anyway.)

But you can see the progression. I think they've aged very well. They started off singing about girls and drugs. Then they sang about being parents. Then they started going into more of a social commentary. They started off trying to fit into a stereotype, whereas now they're willing to take influences from a wide range of music. While you never would have heard harmonica, mandolin, farfisa, trumpets, saxophone, or any of that stuff on 1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours, they're still essentially Green Day. They're willing to expand on their original sound without straying too far. I can hear a little bit of every past album in 21st Century Breakdown. They're still very much the same Green Day they were 20 years ago...just grown up. They're not going to keep releasing the same album over and over. That would be stupid. They remain themselves, but with enough updates to their style to keep the listeners interested. I know I'll be just as much of a Green Day fan in 20 years as I am now.

Also, with 21st Century Breakdown...this is the first time my dad (who is in his late 50s) has ever been interested in their music. He's certainly not a teenager. This album speaks more to him than any of their others ever have.

As for a comment on the actual review, the only thing I disagree about is the conceptual ambiguity being a flaw. I think that's the point. It's supposed to be left subjective, for the listener to interpret what it means. It lays down a floorplan, but leaves it up to you to really find what it means to you.

In Defense

First off, thanks for responding. We are on the right path to creating cultural dialogue. Let us continue (and tell your friends to join the conversation).

Green Day has been around since 1987; they released "Dookie" fifteen years ago. As young punks, they were apathetic (the single "Longview" was about sitting around jerking off, the band is named after slang for spending the day stoned).

To say they have aged poorly seems unfair. Though they do very much represent a 'scene' (studded belts and black eyeliner), they are the archetype of the scene. They brought punk to the mainstream in the early 90s, when popular taste was digging flannel and grunge. The worst way they could've aged would've been not to age at all, to keep releasing "Dookie" over and over.

I think it speaks volumes about Billie Joe as a songwriter that he hardly deviates from three-chord progressions and yet he is not strictly derivative of his earlier work. Sure, there are overlaps (especially in the singles department), but which super-popular artists change their style with each subsequent release?

A friend of mine compared the new Green Day to The Beatles' "White Album". At first, I was shocked; this seemed like blasphemy. Upon more listens, however, I began to see what he meant. There are so many movements and ideas in each suite-style song (reminiscent of The Who). Some of them don't work, and some tracks are filler, but mostly "21st Century Breakdown" is ambitious and different then all previous Green Day releases.

As for the thought that fans of "Dookie" don't listen to Green Day anymore, and that the band still appeals to teenagers that shop for eyeliner at Hot Topic, I think that it is hard to think of many bands with the sort of longevity that Green Day has experienced. "21st Century Breakdown" is the group's most well thought-out release; it is a rock opera for god's sake! Though "American Idiot" was also a rock-opera, you, DJ T-Y-D, hit the nail right on the head in describing that record as "sanctimonious yet vapid". I think that Green Day might agree that any sort of ideology on such a massive scale is propagandic.

Check out the album. It is a Green Day album, and it sounds like Green Day. You can't expect every record to be a reinvention. The progression of bands is to grow and fine-tune their style, and "21st Century Breakdown" does so. The more you listen to the album, the more it opens up and makes sense and expands. I feel like the ideal record should reward both the casual and the obsessive listener. The new Green Day record straddles that line.

And it's more fun and less accusatory than "American Idiot".

I look forward to hearing responses,

Green Day cont.

I must admit, while I like "Dookie", I dislike Green Day in general and haven't bothered to listen to the album. I cringe every time I see a slide show which inevitably will be set to "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)", as every slide show has been since I was in 6th grade. "Minority" was a stupid song. "American Idiot" is sanctimonious yet vapid

Green Day - Know your Enemy

As as big Green Day fan from the start am a little disappointed in the lazy music of Know your Enemy. No changes, same riff all the way through, would have thought that perhaps they would have put a little more energy and maybe some complexity into the music...here's hoping it is not all lazy music writing...will let you know after i finish listening to the rest.

Green Day

You went easy on them, my friend.
I saw a commercial promo for this last night and my roommate and I were discussing the other day how poorly Green Day has aged, versus, let's say, Sonic Youth. From what I saw, it seemed Billie Joe Armstrong was jumping around, sounding like, and dressing like the whole litany of mediocre 'pop punk' bands that have been marketed to teenagers for the past 5-to-10 years.

How many people who were crazy about 1994's "Dookie" still listen to Green Day? Millions of people born in the 70's to mid-80's were introduced to punk music by Green Day's mainstream success, I would venture to guess that most of their tastes have matured over time but Green Day remains marketed towards teenagers.

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