Music Review: Green Day’s “21st Century Breakdown”

Originally posted 2009-06-15 23:43:29. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

For the acoustic cover music video of “Peacemaker,” CLICK HERE!

RATING:  4 / 5 stars

By Chris Moore:

Try as I might, I just couldn’t get into American Idiot. (I know, I know… send your complaints care of Chris at the Laptop Sessions.)  What possessed me to buy 21st Century Breakdown?  I’m not entirely sure.

But, I’m glad I did.

Green Day has followed up their 2004 rock epic/concept album American Idiot with an even more ambitious concept album, aiming this time at the realities and challenges presented to the next generation at the turn of the century.  If I read the lyrics of the title track properly (“We are, we are the class of ’13), Billie Joe Armstrong refers to the first decade of the 20th century as an incubation period and 2013 as a graduation year of sorts.  Interestingly this is the year that we will inaugurate our next president.  Considering the subject matter of their previous album, Armstrong seems to be holding 2013 up as a test of what we as a nation and a society have learned over the past couple decades.

Will we — as “graduates” — demonstrate tangible, calculable progress, or will we recede back into the mentalities and mistakes of our forefathers?

As Armstrong sings, “I was made of poison and blood; condemnation is what I understood.”  And, of course, he doesn’t forget the government on this most recent release, noting that “Homeland Security could kill us all.”  Indeed, he traces the “class of ’13” back to — and suggests that we have been raised by — “the bastards of 1969.”

In this sense, 21st Century Breakdown is connected at its heart to the era and perhaps the first year that Americans lost an innocence and faith in their government that at least appeared to exist previously.  Consider the difference between the lighter, folk-inspired protest music of the civil rights movement and the heavier protest material of the late sixties and early seventies.  Indeed, 1969 began in January with the inauguration of Richard Nixon, the 37th President of the United States who was most infamous for the Watergate scandal.  In March, Assistant Attorney General Richard Kleindienst spoke out against what he called “ideological criminals,” referring perhaps to the the alternative opinions being expressed by college students among others.  In May, Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas resigned following a financial controversy.  In the final months of the year, mass protests were staged against the war, including what came to be known as “Vietnam Moratorium Day” and a march on Washington, DC.

Throughout 21st Century Breakdown, there are repeated references to an entire generation of people whose confusion and “anguish” has been spawned from having inherited this legacy.  Certainly, there is a positive underlying message somewhere on this album, a suggestion that 2013 could indeed be a graduation year of sorts and a chance to move on to a new and different generational mindset than the one that has preoccupied us particularly over the past eight years.

Of course, we must remember that 1969 also saw Neil Armstrong’s moon walk and the Woodstock music festival.  Although the album is angsty and even angry throughout — and ends with tracks like “21 Guns” and “American Eulogy” — Armstrong and company depart with a message of hope in the final track, “See the Light” — he sings, “I want to see the light… I want to learn what’s worth the fight.”  To be certain, there is a positive energy and hesitant hopefulness that simply did not come through on American Idiot.

Under normal circumstances, it is probably not advisable to apply all that much scrutiny to Armstrong’s lyrics.  “It’s punk,” I have been told.  And that is true.  Indeed, this is perhaps why I have had a mental block of sorts that has prevented me from getting into, appreciating, and enjoying their previous work.  But anyone, myself included, who has so much as thumbed through the lyric booklet for American Idiot knows the effort and forethought that went into that album.

On 21st Century Breakdown, it all seems to come together.

As with Bruce Springsteen’s Working On A Dream (released earlier this year — CLICK HERE for a full review), this is an album written and recorded by a group that has worked hard over a lengthy career and is now able to put together the pieces — in Green Day’s case, there is straightforward, all-out punk rock but there are also more subtle acoustic guitar and piano-driven tracks.  There is screaming and there is crooning.  There are power chords pounded out on electric guitar, but there are also carefully constructed (if fairly simple) harmonies.

For my money, this is Green Day’s most ambitious — and perhaps most fully realized — album yet.

Breakdown opens with “Song of the Century,” emerging from the hiss of radio static as a simple, a cappella introduction to the concept of this album.

The title track follows immediately with several stabs at the piano before a heavy drum beat picks up and kicks in.  This song lays out the premise of the album to come, referencing the aforementioned “class of ’13” and the “bastards of 1969.”  This is a song presented in movements, reminiscent of a more mainstream take on the progressive format embraced by Weezer’s “I Am the Greatest Man (That Ever Lived)” from last year’s Red Album.  The closing line — “Scream, America, scream.  Believe what you see from heroes and cons” — is not only a call to the people of this society, but also evokes Brian Wilson with the reference to “heroes and cons” (think: “Heroes and Villains”, the multi-movement second track of Brian Wilson’s legendary SMiLE).

Next comes “Know Your Enemy,” a punk tour-de-force.  As many have noted, its roots are planted firmly in the Clash.  Boneheaded? Yup.  Bound to get stuck in your head? Yup.

Part one continues in a roller coaster ride: starting deceptively slow with “Viva La Gloria!” and “Before the Labotomy” (which introduce the recurring characters of young Gloria and Christian) and throttling back with “Christian’s Inferno” before coming to a melancholy conclusion with “Last Night On Earth.”

Part two, titled “Charlatans and Saints,” delivers more of the same.  The standout tracks are the electric rocker “East Jesus Nowhere” — a scathing commentary — and the acoustic rocker “Peacemaker” — another scathing, sarcastic commentary on its oxymoronic title.

This section ends with “Restless Heart Syndrome,” a song boasting perhaps the worst lyrical pun of the year, but a strong track nonetheless.

The third, final, and perhaps strongest section is “Horseshoes and Handgrenades,” the title track employing these handheld items — one thrown by the well to do and the relaxed, the other thrown by soldiers engaged in mortal combat — as part of a rhetorical device.  As Armstrong sings, ” ‘Almost’ only counts in horseshoes and handgrenades.”  A unique way to put it, but I suppose that’s true…

The final four tracks are at the thematic heart of the album: “The Static Age” rails against the confusion of the modern age, “21 Guns” asks the important and sadly relevant question “Do you know what’s worth fighting for?”, “American Eulogy” begins with a reprise/continuation of “Song of the Century” and unrolls a two-part attack (“Mass Hysteria” / “Modern Age”), and “See the Light” eases the album into its final phase, reinforcing the desire to “know what’s worth the fight” and, of course, to “see the light.”

**                                                   **                                                   **

Two years after the American Idiot tour ended, it was reported that Armstrong had finished writing 45 new songs.  Oddly enough, though, this album was released after the longest gap between releases in the band’s history.

Or, perhaps not so odd.  The album is proof positive that Green Day took their time not only with the writing, but also the recording and sequencing of the tracks for 21st Century Breakdown.

The result?

An entertaining but thoughtful album that is more than worth your time.

“Pulling Teeth” (Green Day Cover)

Originally posted 2009-05-21 16:27:23. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Jeff:

Welcome to the most unusual Thumpin’ Thursday ever!  Unusual because for the first time in what seems like a long time, i’m doing my post while the sun is still out.

I’ll skip a few lines so you can grasp the significance of this occasion.

That’s right – tonight is the prom i’ve been helping plan for quite some time.  I have to leave in about an hour to be the first person to show up and pay the people.  But it’s going to be a lot of fun, and I can only hope that everyone from our school attends, has fun, eats a lot of good food, and has a memorable evening.

Now, with that said, onto TODAY‘s session (had to do that – it’s monumental to even me).

Today I had a few songs in mind, and had a song ready to go when I got home, but on my short drive today’s song came on my IPod, and I said “Got to remember to look at the name”.  It was this song (oh don’t get me wrong – I knew the band immediately).  I pulled into my garage just as the song came to an end, looked at it, and said this would make a great session choice.

And not just because the song is just over 2 minutes long.

Okay, maybe that contributed a bit, but the other song would’ve only lasted another minute.

The song is “Pulling Teeth” by Green Day from their album “Dookie”.  I think this album is one of the standout albums of the alternative era.  Even if some of the songs were on the simple side, it is a defining album.  This song is different than most of the songs, in that the beat is consistent and not really ultra fast or pressing.  I also find it funny that the lyrics are about a guy being on the receiving end of domestic abuse.

I wanted to say to all of my fans – everything is WONDERFUL.

But i’m really excited to get this evening over.  This has dominated my job for the past month especially, and tomorrow morning I will be especially happy.  This will make doing graduation a cakewalk.

Until then, enjoy today’s session, and i’ll be back next week for another one!

Editor’s Note: Unfortunately, Jeff’s acoustic cover song music videos are no longer on YouTube, but we decided to keep his cover song blog posts up.  We figured these music blog entries would be good for posterity’s sake and because Jeff always gave such insightful posts each Session.  We hope to see Jeff’s impressive catalog of acoustic rock songs here on the Laptop Sessions cover songs and origianal music blog again in the future.  But, for now, please make sure to check-out hundreds of other acoustic cover songs from all of your favorite bands here on the Laptop Sessions music blog!

“Peacemaker” by Green Day – Chords, Tabs, & How to Play

Originally posted 2009-05-18 21:11:49. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

For the cover song music video, click HERE!

“Peacemaker”
Green Day

Bm
Well, I’ve got a fever,
A non-believer.
I’m in a state of grace,
For I am the caesar.
Bm                           F#
I’m gonna seize the day.
Well, call of the banshee…  Hey, hey.
(Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey)
As God as my witness,
F#                                Bm
The infidels are gonna pay.

Well, call the assassin
The orgasm,
A spasm of love and hate
For what will divide us?
The righteous and the meek…
Well, call of the wild… Hey, hey.
(Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey)
Death to the girl
At the end of the serenade.

F#
Vendetta, sweet vendetta,
F#     Bm
This beretta of the night,
Bm  Em                  Bm
This fire and the desire.
F#                                               Bm
Shots ringing out on a holy parasite.

I’m a killjoy from Detroit
I drink from a well of rage.
I feed off the weakness
With all my love.
Call up the captain… Hey, hey.
(Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey)
Death to the lover that you were
Dreaming of.

This is a standoff,
A molotov cocktail is on the house.
You thought I was a write off;
You better think again.
Call the peacemaker… Hey, hey.
(Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey)
I’m gonna send you back to the place
Where it all began.

Vendetta, sweet vendetta,
This beretta of the night,
This fire and the desire.
Shots ringing out on a holy parasite.

Instrumental:  Bm – F# – Bm – F#  Bm   Em   Bm   F#   Bm

Well, now the caretaker’s
The undertaker.
Now, I’m gonna go out
And get the peacemaker.
This is the neo
St. Valentine’s Massacre.
Well, call up the Gaza… Hey, hey.
(Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey)

Death to the ones
At the end of the serenade. (x4)

** These chords and lyrics are interpretations and transcriptions, respectively, and are the sole property of the copyright holder(s). They are posted on this website free of charge for no profit for the purpose of study and commentary, as allowed for under the “fair use” provision of U.S. copyright law, and should only be used for such personal and/or academic work. **

The Top Five Rock Artists of the Decade (2000s): NUMBER FIVE is Green Day

Originally posted 2010-02-03 19:12:29. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

This is the first in a five part series dedicated to the top five rock artists of the decade, 2000-2009.  The criteria used to determine this list were: (1) Quality of Music, (2) Quantity of Released Material, (3) Diversity of Media, and (4) Roles of Artists/Band Members.  Look for new posts coming soon!

By Chris Moore:

The fifth entry on this list, Green Day is a strong candidate for top band of the decade, if only for their impressive return to the forefront of popular punk/rock music over the past ten years.  Even in their heyday, Green Day did not acheive the recognition that they have in the past six years. 

Who could have predicted that a trio of ostensible knuckleheads like Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt, and Tre Cool would be headlining the concept album revival in the mid-2000’s, complete with a rock opera/musical adaptation set to the tunes of American Idiot?

[Is that the sound of crickets?]

PAST SUCCESS

Without argument, Green Day was one of the most successful bands of the nineties rock revival, carving out their reputation by way of the punk rock genre.  It was a bit of an exaggeration to have titled their best-of disc International Superhits!, but their music did appear on many different charts in many different nations over their first decade as a band. 

And, for better or for worse, if you turned on a radio in the nineties and listened long enough, you couldn’t avoid hearing songs like “When I Come Around” or especially “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life).”  The latter was the song that ER character Jeanie Boulet chose to sing at the funeral of a friend. 

When one of the most popular dramas of the decade chooses your song at the peak of their own popularity, that’s saying something…

WARNING AND A LOW POINT

Which brings us to THIS decade.  I would be hard-pressed to find another group from the nineties in their genre that have had such staying power as Green Day.  Bad Religion?  Not so much.  Chumbawamba?  A one hit wonder.  The Offspring and Rancid?  Well, they’re still around, but they certainly haven’t acheived the mainstream success that Green Day has. 

That is, if you discount Warning, their first studio album of the decade.

Any way you look at it, Warning is a low point in their career, failing to ascend the charts, make sales, and receive positive reviews in the characteristic manner that their previous albums had.  Two years after Warning, things weren’t looking any better with them supposedly “co-headlining” a concert tour with Blink 182, but actually opening each night. 

This all amounted to a great deal of evidence that Green Day had peaked and this was their descent into obscurity.

A SETBACK BECOMES A COMEBACK

As they returned to the studio to work on their next album, Cigarettes & Valentines, things weren’t looking any brighter.  Near the end of their sessions (according to Armstrong), the master tapes were stolen.  There weren’t even rough mixes remaining.

So, what does this band decide to do in a moment of crisis?

Start from scratch.

That’s right: Green Day decided to start from scratch.  Although a song or two from the aforementioned doomed album would make its way into live sets, the band started over, taking this as an opportunity to approach their new album from a different angle.  So, they broke out their guitars and began writing, working together in new and better ways than they had before. 

The result?  Only their most critically acclaimed, highest-selling album to date, American Idiot.

AMERICAN IDIOT & 21ST CENTURY BREAKDOWN: A CONCEPT ALBUM REVIVAL

Green Day’s mentality following the loss of their master tapes brings to mind Conan O’Brien’s final lines from his closing statement last month on The Tonight Show: “Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.”

You think?

I’ll just come out and say it: I’ve never been a big fan of American Idiot.  I think I’ve missed something in the translation of the lyrics, and I’ve been told that the at-times-boneheaded lyrics that I am turned off by are, in fact, purposefully constructed in order to make a statement about the average American.  Perhaps.  What makes me believe this is true, and what makes me nod my head in American Idiot‘s direction even if it won’t appear on my iPod any time soon, is that the album is so carefully constructed.  One flip through the CD booklet will reveal an overarching concept, artwork, and other notes that were cleverly compiled and arranged to create a whole that is stronger than the parts.  I won’t go comparing it to the first seven records of the Moody Blues — the industry standard for excellent concept albums — but I will say I have great respect for the band’s intentions.

Their follow-up album?  21st Century Breakdown is an even more expansive concept album that tackles the question: What will we do when our national slogan can no longer be “Change We Can Believe In,” and must instead be (hopefully) “Change That Has Already Taken Place and A Society That We Are Happy With”?  This is an interesting question indeed, particularly for those of my generation who defined their coming of age by being in opposition to all that George W. Bush’s presidency represented.  As we “graduate” into a different, potentially better society in 2012, what will we do to avoid the pitfalls of the previous presidency and its perspectives? 

A mere year into Barack Obama’s term in office, we have already begun tackling the question: How long is too long to wait for that change we believed in?  Some are patient, some are less so, but 21st Century Breakdown makes an interesting statement on these essential questions, particularly on an emotional/intuitive level.

SIDE PROJECTS AND ADAPTATIONS

Amidst all this standard studio album work, Green Day has also been able to thrive in a number of different ventures outside of traditional band output.  They have released a Billboard Top Ten live album, a platinum-status greatest hits compilation, a B-sides/rarities collection that broke the Billboard Top Thirty, and worked their way into the retro market by preparing a Green Day vinyl box set.

Outside of the band, Armstrong, Dirnt, and Cool have formed such side projects as The Network and the Foxboro Hot Tubs, both successful to different degrees and certainly indicative of a band hungry to record, produce, and play new music in a prolific manner. 

Then there is the rock opera/musical based on the story told through American Idiot, certainly a unique addition to any band’s list of tributes.

And so, at decade’s end, Green Day has reasserted themselves in what can only be described as an impressive manner.  It took me until 21st Century Breakdown to really appreciate their work, and I can only hope that the coming decade will be every bit as successful in terms of not only popularity but also quality!