Monday, 24 December 2012

Green Day - ¡Uno! ¡Dos! and ¡Tré! (Album Reviews 2012)

I have been a Green Day fan since I discovered Dookie in 1994 and the songs Welcome To Paradise and Basket Case. Since then, before the band discovered the concept of prog-punk, only Nimrod is consistently impressive. From here, something strange happened. Green Day made the album Cigarettes and Valentines which was never released. It was supposed to be the antidote to the disappointing Warning but never saw the light of day - someone stole the master album from the studio. So they decided to start again, with new ideas and a new philosophy. The band describe this as a 'blessing in disguise'. No official versions of the album exist and it is now lost to the mists of time. So began the new era of Green Day - the album they went on to make, American Idiot, remains the most ambitious and musically accomplished collection of songs the band has made; a furious mix of fast energy and honest reflection. After the tour of American Idiot, Green Day repeated this process to make 21st Century Breakdown.

¡Uno! ¡Dos! and ¡Tré! are three separate albums, a trilogy of new songs to celebrate how Green Day got to where they are. The making of these albums turned the band paradoxically from a trio to a foursome as long-time touring guitarist Jason White joined the band. The debate about the nature of these albums rumbles on but they work as a trilogy in spite of some dodgy lyrical moments and ¡Dos! running about twenty minutes too long. ¡Uno! is a spirited start to the 'project' and ¡Tré! is the best of the three in terms of individual songs, and a great album to add to the Green Day catalogue - a solid mix of formulae, ideas and musical consistency. But the trilogy is bloated, self-indulgent and narrow.  Thirty-seven songs should be about twenty-five with some 'mashed' together; as the chaos and ambition of American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown has not been translated here. Many of the songs are around three to four minutes (arguably the perfect length for powerful punchy pop) and get straight to the point lyrically.

The highlights of ¡Uno! include the wonderful and ironically offensive single Kill The DJ, the fast pop-punk of Angel Blue and Rusty James - a great chorus framed by a tuneful no-nonsense delivery. Nuclear Family is a great introduction (complete with countdown ending) and another tuneful chorus is at the heart of Stay The Night. The change of pace comes with the retrospective love song Sweet 16 and the cool guitar stomp of Carpe Diem. Closer Oh Love is good but not as great as it could be; "I'm wearing my heart on a noose" is an interesting line among the stomp. But songs like Troublemaker (American Idiot's younger brother), the empty Loss of Control and the air-headed chorus and expletives of Let Yourself Go are a step backwards. But, in terms of energy and commitment, you can't fault Armstrong, Dirnt, Cool and White.

¡Dos! suffers from no consistency - leading to mixed results. See You Tonight is a great start; a fragment of Simon & Garfunkel while Lazy Bones is more of what we expect from Green Day but in between, F*** Time is a poor idea, badly executed and Stop When The Red Lights Flash is dull and lacking ideas. Stray Heart is a cracking pop song and an instant highlight. This is one of the best songs from all three albums but Ashley and Baby Eyes are annoyingly one-dimensional and Lady Cobra doesn't work at all - a shame as this is supposed to be a tribute to the album's 'guest' vocalist. This is the part of ¡Dos! that fails to engage and drags the whole album down badly. Nightlife attempts to do something different (with the aforementioned Lady Cobra) but ends up like the uneasy mix of Eels jamming with Madonna. There are a few saving graces here. Wild One is well-paced and tongue-in-cheek with "She gave up on Jesus for livin' on Venus...I'm drinking the Coolade, I've jumped on the grenade, knowing my mind's gonna blow..." a good line. And Makeout Party is messy 50s rock 'n' roll. ¡Dos! goes for the big finish. Wow! That's Loud would be good with some original melody and Amy (for the late Amy Winehouse) is hard to criticise for its open-hearted approach - vocally this is Armstrong's finest hour. 

¡Tré! has some of the best songs of the trilogy, starting with the mid-tempo cheesy ballad Brutal Love. This is Green Day striving for something different and mixing styles into their punk-pop formula. X-Kid is a great rework of Father & Son and Missing You is proper emo love-song. The guitar work on 8th Serenade is superb and the song breaks the verse-verse-chrous mould. Another song that tries to steer away from the back-to-basics Green Day template is A Little Boy Named Train - continuing the inventive, yet familiar guitars and drums, but weaving in Armstrong's nursery-rhyme prose. It's not all good news as ¡Tré! has a few faltering moments. Drama Queen is ultimately dull and lyrically uneasy and Sex, Drugs & Violence is empty-headed and obvious. Amanda suffers the same fate and Dirty Rotten Bastards is an inane mash-up - the only song to do this with varying results. The Forgotten is a solid, composed five minutes to end the album and the trilogy.

Ultimately Green Day are on top form. The creative process is alive and kicking but it feels like quantity over quality. The guitars shine with crisp punchy precision and as a quartet, the band now have depth and presence. In this digital age, it doesn't really matter if bands throw all of their ideas at fans (aside from cost of buying individual albums - if that's what some people still do) but when you can choose, this trilogy can be distilled into a single decent double-album. With ¡Uno! ¡Dos! and ¡Tré! out of the way, maybe the band can filter their creative urges into a single, solid, consistent follow-up.
-- CS

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