The last of three albums, the release of Tre was pushed forward by several weeks as “compensation” for the cancelled shows owing to lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong’s admittance to rehab. This makes it the third full-length album released by the band since 21st September of this year. It was posed as both the most “experimental” of the three, as well as being the “cleaning up the mess” after the party album, after it’s more raucous predecessors . Therefore, it would not be unfair of the more cynical people to expect Tre to be a compilation of the odds and sods that didn’t fit on (or were deemed not good enough for), the previous albums.
Having listened to it all the way through, can it be said to be an experimental album? Yes and no. Green Day don’t really “do” experimental in any meaningful sense of the word. There certainly aren’t any avant-garde indulgences on here. There is no Revolution 9 equivalent to take unsuspecting listeners by surprise. Nor are there any major deviations from their signature structure of two guitars, bass, drums and vocals. I would even dare to go so far as to suggest that this is actually a less experimental record than Nimrod, released way back in 1997.
Yes, there are moments where they deviate from the Green Day formula, but nothing particularly bold. It could even be argued that it is Dos, with its programmed drums and guest rap vocals on Nightlife, that is actually the most experimental album. If you were hoping Tre would be the band’s answer to OK Computer (which no-one was) then you (ie no-one) will be sorely disappointed.
In fact, given this claim, what is most interesting about the album is how familiar it all sounds. As with the previous records, there are flashes of their back catalogue, even the very recent releases. Missing You has hints of Blue Angel (Uno) and sounds like something that could easily have appeared on Nimrod. Amanda has hints of Rotting (b-side), as well as a (very) slight return to Basket Case. There are a number of other tracks (8th Avenue Serenade, Sex and Violence, Little Boy Named Train) which could be easily swapped with tracks from the two previous records with no discernible loss of quality or “feel”. In that regard it is similar to the overly-ambitious double album by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Stadium Arcadium, in which listening on random has the same impact as listening in the actual running order.
Then there are the influences of the other bands. With its simple picking style, Brutal Love brings forth images of (an admittedly less subtle version of) R.E.M.s Everybody Hurts, whilst in the guitar work, 8th Avenue Serenade channels The Strokes. The stripped-down Drama Queen clearly owes a debt to Oasis, even down to the basic rhymes used throughout. Whilst Noel claimed Boulevard of Broken Dreams ripped off Wonderwall, he would have a much better claim that this rips off fan favourite Half The World Away. X-Kid bears strong resemblances to Another Girl, Another Planet, whilst Amanda channels the early recordings of The Beatles, if with heavier guitars.
This album, like Dos (and its spiritual, but clearly superior partner, Stop Drop and Roll!!! By Green Day side-project Foxboro Hot Tubs), owes a lot to the music of the 60s and they are not ashamed to flaunt it.
Yet for all the similarities, there are clear deviations from the standard model that has served them well (to varying degrees) for their entire career. Brutal Love with its horns and smooth harmonies (which contrast with the harsh lyrics) is clearly new territory for the band, even if it does “Green Day” the ballad half-way through which brings memories of their disappointing cover of the John Lennon classic Working Class Hero. Though this is much better suited so such a transition. Drama Queen sounds like it should be on an Oasis record, and a good one at that. It’s a great song. Billie Joe once said the band were “Americans trying to sound like Brits trying to sound American” and one X-Kid they try something similar. They sound like Green Day trying to sound like inferior pop punk bands they influenced, trying to sound like Green Day. The only difference, this is actually good.
By far the most ambitious track on the record is Dirty Rotten Bastards. Over the course of six and a half minutes, it spirals through a number of tempos and sounds. Whilst it the changes are not as stark as on the two nine-minute tracks that bookend American Idiot, it does share one common feature, which is that it doesn’t sit together particularly well. The changes feel clunky, as if they are bits of unfinished songs stuck together. Like Paranoid Android, but with less success. Even so, it is one of the best tracks on the album and allows bassist Mike Dirnt to do his best impression of Rancid legend Matt Freeman, with a running bass solo, of which we don’t see nearly enough of. In many ways this song could be regarded as a pop punk anthem.
The forgotten then closes the record in a faux-low key affair, with Billie Joe sing over piano chords before the inevitable introduction of the full band, with swelling strings.
Lyrically, it is pretty much business as usual. Love, rebellion and social decline are all maintained as touchstones, whilst they continue to stunt their emotional growth (which began after the commercial failure of the criminally-underrated 2000 album, Warning) by pandering to the youth. The constant repetition of the refrain sex, drugs and violence/English, math and science, in Sex and Violence is just cringe-worthy having been sung and written by a man in his 40s. It’s hard to take a grown man seriously when he rants about being “not Justin Bieber” when he’s got that in his back pocket.
In what is probably the trilogy’s only overtly political song, 99 Revolutions clearly references the banking crisis (and subsequent bailout) and comes out in support of the Occupy movement, about which he said, when asked by Rolling Stone, “I feel like a 99, but technically I’m a 1.” Sure, it’s not particularly insightful but then the politics of Green Day have never been about subtly or specifics.
This is a record with some variation in styles and influences, but the fact that the term “experimental” was used at all to describe this record just goes to highlight how limited the Green Day sound actually is. Not that that’s a bad thing, of course. They do what they do very well, though I do long for the hints of emotional maturity and growth that are clearly identifiable in their careers up to the launch of American Idiot (even the two new tracks on the greatest hits compilation International Superhits suggested and interesting blend of maturity and political rebellion).
The album is nice enough to end the experiment and fits in suitably with the post-party come-down analogy. It leaves us with a sufficient number of creative flourishes to make the whole endeavour worthwhile, though whether it was necessary to do this over three albums is questionable. I think mixed in somewhere in these three good albums is one great album and even as I type these words the are plenty of Green Day fans looking for it.
I hope they find it.