Sound — 9
Five years after Green Da made its politically charged musical mark on society with American Idiot, the band once known as merely a pop-punk outfit has released an album that could possibly make an even bigger impression. Following more of a rock opera format (don't get too worried yet), 21st Century Breakdown shows a grander and more eclectic side of Green Day that does give the effect that you could be watching/listening to a stage show. The story revolves around a young couple in love (Christian and Gloria) who are coping with life in you guessed it the post-Bush world. As preachy as things could get during a reflection of America's less-than-ideal current situation, Green Day still is able to keep the overall feel of 21st Century Breakdown quite personal. That approach even means that you'll hear Billie Joe Armstrong croon a love song or two. 21st Century Breakdown is the first Green Day record produced by Garbage drummer Butch Vig (the man also behind such legendary works as Nevermind and Siamese Dream), and that fact alone has created a buzz. While it might not be masterful or musically groundbreaking as Nirvana or Smashing Pumpkins' past works, 21st Century Breakdown does show an incredible amount of depth for Green Day. The band immediately creates a mood of nostalgia with Song of the Century, which is essentially Armstrong's singing in an old-fashioned-melody-manner (enhanced by the scratchy LP-style effect added to the track). The picturesque, vintage vibe is quickly overhauled by Green Day 2009, perfectly represented in the title track 21st Century Breakdown. That particular song begins the trip through contemporary society's hell and is undoubtedly the most politically fueled track among the bunch. Musically it features a solid pop-rock vibe and Green Day's trademark harmonies, with a few moments delivering a somewhat militaristic approach to the drums. It's actually surprising that the band didn't save 21st Century Breakdown for the closing tune, as it's easily the grandest, epic track on the album. There is a good deal of Green Day's pop-punk style that pops up on the record (namely Christians Inferno, The Static Age, and Murder City,), but the band isn't afraid to slow things down several times throughout the course of the listening experience. Piano parts abound, with Viva La Gloria and Last Night On Earth among the most impressive and emotionally driven. While Viva La Gloria eventually morphs into a fairly straightforward rock number, Last Night On Earth is unabashedly a ballad through and through. At times you get an Elton John feel about it, and by the end you'll even hear a touch of The Beatles. The most refreshing moments come when Green Day strays from its usual pop punk formula. Peacemaker almost feels like it has a bit of a Spanish flair underneath all of the distortion, while Restless Heart Syndrome contains an amazing guitar solo in the vein of Radiohead or Muse. Horseshoes and Handgrenades may remind some of you of The Hives a little too much, but that track takes the energy level up tenfold. Of course, for all of the creativity you'll find on the album, it will likely be the most traditionally written tracks that garner the most attention and there are quite a few infectiously catchy tunes. Best bet? Know Your Enemy (and its sing-along chorus) should expect airplay galore in the coming months.
Lyrics — 9
Because Green Day opted to try for more of a rock opera approach to the record, there does seem to be more of a thoughtful approach to the entire process. Because much of the lyrical content is meant to be directly spoken between the two primary characters, it's an entirely different setup than, say, Dookie. While 21st Century Breakdown scrutinizes the state of today's society (I was made of poison and blood; Combination is what I understood; From Mexico to the Berlin Wall; Homeland security could kill us all; My generation is zero), you also have the most heartfelt love songs that Green Day has ever produced. Last Night On Earth works as an ideal theatrical love scene with such lyrics as, My beating heart belongs to you; I walked for miles till I found you; I'm here to honor you. The turn toward the serious may have old school Green Day fans left a little bit annoyed, but it's hard to deny that all of the themes do work together effectively.
Overall Impression — 9
Apparently Green Day was heavily influenced by Bruce Springsteen, The Clash, and Queen while making 21st Century Breakdown, and elements of each of those acts come through. There is a grandness that you might find in a Freddie Mercury track, the politically driven nature is a nod to The Clash, and the main characters' dialogue was certainly inspired by Born To Run. With 18 very unique, independent songs divided into three Acts, it's all a lot to take in and may not be for everyone out there. That being said, Green Day has reached beyond their usual arsenal of rock tunes on 21st Century Breakdown. The styles do jump quite sporadically, but you can rest assured that there are still several memorable rock songs that should keep Green Day a household name in rock.