Green Day - 21st Century Breakdown (Cover Artwork)

Green Day

21st Century Breakdown (2009)


As a long-time Green Day fan, the release of their eighth studio album, 21st Century Breakdown marks the first time I've been able to admit something that many others and even the band themselves have surely come to grips with: 21st Century Breakdown is not a punk record. Following the mammoth American Idiot, the boys could have done (and considering Foxboro Hot Tubs and their "Simpsons" theme rendition amongst others, did) anything. Thankfully, it's not the self-aggrandizing U2 direction I feared they may have gone in, but It isn't the return to Insomniac-era I've been hoping for either. 21st Century Breakdown isn't a sharp turn in either direction, but rather a logical continuation of Idiot's aspirations. This is easily Green Day's most ambitious record to date in both sound and scope.

Flashes of Green Day of yore are evident in songs like "¡Viva La Gloria!" and my personal favorite "Murder City." Songs like "Peacemaker" and "¡Viva La Gloria!", while not uncharted territory ("Misery," from the band's 2000 album Warning comes to mind in the case of the latter) are some of the band's better genre experiments. Though apparently not a full "rock opera" as its predecessor was, the album is divided into three acts, and features two lead characters, Christian and Gloria (no relation to Idiot's Whatsername and St. Jimmy). The only taste of segmented songs á la "Jesus of Suburbia" is "American Eulogy," the peanut butter-'n-jellying of three songs: First, a clever addendum to album opener "Song of the Century," followed by "Mass Hysteria," then the punky, Mike Dirnt-led "Modern World." Along with "American Eulogy," the album is closed out with "See the Light," which musically starts the same as the album's title track, giving the album a bookended feel.

One major criticism with American Idiot was the band's, let's-just-say "liberal use of influence," with many people citing everyone from Bryan Adams for Dillinger Four as the inspiration to particular songs or moments on the album. 21st Century Breakdown seems to continue this trend with varying results. Slower numbers, "Last Night on Earth" and "Restless Heart Syndrome" both have a heavy Beatles influence. "Horseshoes and Hand Grenades" clearly recalls the Hives, and inevitable single "21 Guns," while catchy and anthemic as most anything on the album, sounds so much like Mott the Hoople's "All the Young Dudes" it makes me want to sit and watch "Juno" every time I hear it.

Butch Vig's production is evident from the get-go -- the guitar crunch is HUGE, as if coming from walls of amps stacked 50 feet high. Snare drum snaps sound crisp and auxiliary piano and string arrangements sound lush and present. It's arguably the most produced and polished Green Day record yet, but may also be the best sounding. In fact, the only area where the production hampers the proceedings is the vocals. One moment Billie Joe sounds as good as he ever has (vocal-only opener "Song of the Century") and the next extraneous vocal effects make him sound tinny, as if recorded from a badly tuned AM radio that someone is sitting on. It's not quite as annoying as the Auto-Tune that has plagued radio, but it certainly seems unnecessary.

So, Green Day have made a through and through mainstream rock record. More chances are taken and it's not without its faults, but at times it's some of the strongest material in their canon. With 21st Century Breakdown, Green Day are out to prove that stadium rock records can be made by punk rock bands, and if that's not a lofty ambition, I don't know what is.