Following the release of the second album to send them into superstardom (American Idiot), and the successful follow-up (21st Century Breakdown), Green Day were once again riding high. “So,” some might ask, “what does a band do with a second stint at the top after recording two well-received and commercially successful concept albums?” Well, the answer, if you’re Green Day, is to release a trilogy of albums over the course of a few months and base the titles on a pun on the name of your drummer. So let’s take a look at the band’s first offering, Uno.
With the end of the Bush-II era and the subsequent re-election of Barack Obama, the group have consciously stepped away from the more political themes that ran through the last two albums. Instead, they have decided to have a bit more fun and it shows. Billed by the band as “the album to play as you’re getting ready to go to the party.” (with Dos being “a party from hell” and Tre being “a bit of a hangover”), Uno rocks with a fun energy that has been absent since the more exuberant parts of Nimrod, way back in 1997.
Stylistically, this is a great departure from the previous two albums. Although they are polished to within an inch of their life, the songs do not feel like they have been “constructed” in the studio. Rather, they feel more organic, the results of four guys sat in a room playing music (Green Day plus long-time touring guitarist Jason White). Gone are the layers and layers of guitar parts as well as the quasi-conceptual storylines. Instead, they just focus on great songs and don’t go for anything too complicated.
But this isn’t a step backwards. They have not regressed, rather they have embraced the sounds of the past, mixed them with their newer sounds to create something that can appeal to fans of both eras (ie pre and post-American Idiot fans).
Let Yourself Go resurrects the Insomniac-era Green Day with pounding drums, over-distorted driving guitars and contemptuous lyrics, yet the chorus is bolstered by American Idiot-era layered backing vocals. Rusty James, which takes a look back into the past and at the disintegration of old friendships is awfully reminiscent of I Was There from their 1991 debut album, 1,039 Smoothed Out Slappy Hours. Whilst Carpe Diem borrows from the Warning-era B-side, Suffocate.
Aside from their own back catalogue, they also echo other bands. Album closer, Oh Love, owes a distinct debt to both The Who and Queen, whilst The Clash can be heard on several songs, most notably Carpe Diem and Fell For You, both of which remind the listener of their famous cover of I Fought The Law.
Despite the change of structure, there are a great deal of lyrical similarities to the concept albums and I wouldn’t be surprised to find some of the lyrics were rejects from those sessions. Not that there is anything wrong with them, but they reference a lot of the same topics. There are still references to religious iconography, broken families, bomb metaphors, mass-media fuelled apathy, and broken childhoods. And that’s just on the opening track!
There is a mixture between songs about being young and doing young things and getting older and wistful for the past. But despite the quality of the lyrics, the former sound a bit disingenuous coming from a 40 year old father of two, whilst the latter rarely meet the standard of maturity and the emotional honesty that was set on 2000s Warning, or even on the more poignant moments of 1997s Nimrod.
Most of the tracks are easily identifiable as Green Day songs. There aren’t too many departures from the standard style of music, though Kill The DJ is new territory for the band, with them adopting a more angular, disco sound.
In short, Green Day are back, doing what they do best. This is a great collection of songs and has something for all fans. Sure, it might not have the ambition of American Idiot or 21st Century Breakdown, or the youth-fuelled contempt of the earlier work, but it captures the energy of a reinvigorated band trying to keep things interesting. It is far less serious than anything they’ve done (as Green Day) for a long, long time and it is filled with great tracks.
Will they be able to keep up this level of quality over three albums? Only time will tell, but if anyone can pull it off, these guys can.