This piece was published in January 2013 in The QH (the student newspaper at The University of Westminster.)
Back to Punk?
Green Day return with a back to basics follow up to 2009’s ‘21st Century Breakdown’
Green Day – Uno! (Reprise/Warner)
So then, here’s the first in arguably Green Day’s most ambitious project to date; a three album trilogy, with Dos! And Tre! (bet you wouldn’t have guessed the names of those, eh?) coming out later in November and December respectively. Ditching the rock-opera-pseudo-political rantings of previous offerings American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown, does Uno! mark a raucous return to the three-chords-no-nonsense of the band’s earlier catalogue?
Many critics have indeed compared it to the snotty majesty of 1994’s classic ‘Dookie’. I can see where these comparisons lie, however Uno! is a far more polished affair. With the exception of closing track ‘Oh Love’, every other song thunders along at a frenetic pace akin to giving Usain Bolt a case of Red Bull and sending a pack of ravenous greyhounds after him.
Opener ‘Nuclear Family’ is a raucous statement of intent, the sound of a band refreshed, revitalised and ready to conquer afresh. Thundering along on a relentless power chord motif, with bassist Mike Dirnt and drummer Tre Cool doing exactly what they do best; providing a rock solid rhythm section which underpins the aforementioned guitar parts and Billie Joe Armstrong’s vocals perfectly. In other words, classic Green Day. Welcome back guys, it’s been a while.
‘Nuclear Family’ sets the tone perfectly for the rest of the album. The band’s sense of humour seems to have returned this time around too. ‘Stay The Night’ begins with a melancholic guitar, tricking you in to thinking you’ve got a mid tempo number heading your way. Muted power chords aplenty are the order of the day here, alongside lyrics that yearn for closure “I’ve gotta know if you’re the one that got away, even though it was never meant to be”.
‘Carpe Diem’ is next. Sure to be an anthem when the band hit these shores next year, thanks to the sing along, straight to the point chorus “carpe diem, a battle cry, are we all too young to die?”, a sentiment continued in the punchy call to arms ‘Let Yourself Go’. Here we get a fleeting glimpse into Billie Joe Armstrong’s mindset when he mumurs through gritted teeth “everyone is f**king with my head now”. Given the band’s relentless schedule of touring, recording, touring, recording that has barely seen and let up since the release of 2004’s seminal ‘American Idiot’, not to mention the band’s involvement in the musical of the same name, AND the release of side project Foxboro Hot Tubs debut ‘Stop Drop and Roll!!!’ as well as its accompanying tour, you can’t blame the guy for feeling a little overwhelmed.
Then we come to the downright bizarre ‘Kill The DJ’, in which Green Day morph into a sort of Franz Ferdinand clone, albeit with bigger testicles. Shuffling along on a beat that wouldn’t seem out of place on the dance floors of most indie clubs, it’s a real grower of a track, initially sounding completely at odds with the rest of the album but burrowing its way further and further inside your brain with each subsequent listen.
‘Fell For You’ is your standard power pop oh-look-I’m-a-teen-and-I-like-a-girl affair, with Green Day returning to their pubescent lyrical past; “I woke up in a pool of sweat, at first I thought that I’d pissed the bed” before shifting onto fairly standard themes of insecurity; “you’re a mess and I’m a work of art”. Whilst you can’t doubt the sincerity in Billie Joe’s voice, the latter does sound a little contrived coming from a forty something married man.
Beginning with a thudding kick drum, ‘Loss Of Control’ is a breakneck expletive laden tirade against anybody who has ever stood in Billie Joe’s way; the sheer frustration in his voice is palpable when he spits the lines “I’m taking down all my enemies ‘cos they’re all so f****** useless, a bunch of s*** talking drama queens…”.
Once the chaos has ceased we come to the infectious ‘Troublemaker’. There’s nothing to dislike about this one. The instruments interlock perfectly with Billie Joe’s vocals, and you can almost hear the Idol-esque sneer on his face when he sings “Hey! I like your BMW”. It’s one of those songs that gives you something new to get lodged in your brain with each listen. It’s fantastic.
‘Angel Blue’ rockets along at a pace that would make the energizer bunny feel exhausted, echoing earlier themes of insecurity; “you’re a princess, I’m a f****** clown”. You have to wonder here if Billie Joe has had to regress to his younger lovelorn self to write the lyrics for this one, as he sings in the verse “won’t you be my bloody valentine?” and the chorus of “you’re just a f****** kid and no one ever gives you a break”, which seems to sit somewhat at odds with the verses. Still, this isn’t to the song’s detriment.
Next is the most forgettable cut on the album, the dull ‘Sweet 16’. I suppose it’s fair to expect a little filler, given that the guys wrote and recorded three albums at once. Then comes the evocative ‘Rusty James’, probably the best example on the album of Green Day’s pop sensibilities. I defy you not to be singing the chorus to this for at least a week. Superb.
Finally is the first single, ‘Oh Love’. Like ‘Kill The DJ’, this is a grower, albeit for very different reasons. This is a bona-fide, lighters aloft, sing along with every bit of heft your lungs can muster anthem. Beginning with a singular, repeated guitar chord pattern and the heartfelt plea “please don’t pass me by”, the song builds to a chorus and eventual conclusion of such blockbuster proportions James Cameron could have directed it. Live, this is going to be something truly special.
So, Uno! then. It’s a superb record, and the guys have created something that I believe will appeal to not only existing Green Day fans, but music lovers in general. If you’ve never heard a Green Day album, this is a perfect starting point.