Debates about authenticity usually are a dead end, but the argument about whether Green Day “is still punk” is especially pointless. The Ramones, progenitors of the pop-punk genre that Billie Joe Armstrong and company have ridden to multi-platinum success, wanted to be as big as the Beatles. In a just world, they would have been. In any event, that never hurt their musical output.
Despite the increased prevalence of acoustic-guitar balladry in recent years; the hubris of releasing three albums in four months, one with each band member’s face on the cover, an idea nicked from Van Halen I, II and III (with a nod to those KISS solo albums); the conversion of the searing and much-needed 2004 anti-W screed American Idiot into a Broadway musical; the disappointment of its concept-album follow-up 21st Century Breakdown in 2009, and Armstrong’s recent meltdown at a big corporate radio festival and subsequent trip to rehab, there was reason for hope on Green Day’s ninth studio album—if only it delivered the musical goods.
Unfortunately, ¡Uno! finds the boys from Berkeley sorely missing the B.S. detector that generally has served them well during their 12-year journey from basement parties and VFW halls to arenas. Packing as much melody and energy as possible into as tight a package as possible long has been their strength. But on the first installment of the 40 or so songs the trio recently recorded with long-time producer Rob Cavallo, the band no longer seems able to distinguish its gems from the fossilized nuggets of dinosaur dookie.
Green Day still can sound like Green Day at times, as on the opening blast of “Nuclear Family,” the Ramones-like “Let Yourself Go” or the gleefully melodic “Angel Blue.” But “Kill the DJ” is a miserable failure that panders to the dance world even as it tries to mock it. With the tiniest tweaks, one can imagine “Sweet 16” or “Stay the Night” as Justin Bieber factory-pop songs. The first single “Oh Love” falls flat under the weight of trying to craft a sing-along arena anthem. And while Armstrong’s stated intention to return to stand-alone songs after two weighty concept albums is admirable, certainly he could have said more lyrically than the string of cuss words he attempts to pass off as cultural criticism or the hoary advice to “Carpe Diem,” which no doubt came to him not from Horace or Byron, but via Dead Poets Society.
If ¡Dos! (due in November) and ¡Tré! (coming in January) follow the model of ¡Uno!, we’ll get another batch of slick, polished, radio-friendly rockers of which only a third are worth celebrating. Combining those good moments into one handy play list will give us a good not great Green Day disc—a more mature Nimrod, say, but nothing as vital as Dookie or American Idiot. And the temptation will loom large save ourselves the trouble, play those older discs again and write these
boys middle-aged men off to the sad ranks of bloated ’90s rockers who’ve long overstayed their welcome.
Green Day, ¡Uno! (Reprise)
Rating on the 4-star scale: 1.5 stars