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.

“Marie” (An Independent Rock Music Video)

Originally posted 2007-11-21 02:14:26. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Jim Fusco:

Here’s my second entry for “Original Wednesday” here on the Laptop Sessions. By the way, did you notice we now have Give it a look!

“Marie” has always been one of my favorite Chris Moore songs.

Every time we play this in concert (which has been MANY times), I always look forward to it. Of course, this version is without the dueling harmonica and guitar solos, but I think the song stands up on its own (the mantra of the Laptop Sessions).

Chris always thought of this song as an experiment for him because he had never really written a love song before quite like this. Truly, when he wrote it, he didn’t even have any real inspiration. But, Chris is a professional writer and this song shows that he didn’t need a real “Marie” to show he could feel this way.

In concert I’ve previously done a very slow version of this song. But for the Laptop Sessions version, I wanted to keep it true to the original- the one I heard in the background on Chris’ car CD player that really started it all. Once I heard this song, we started to think that a band might be possible. See for the rest of the story…

I hope you enjoy part 1 of my Original Wednesday installment.

Wilco Summer 2009 REVIEW – Wappingers Falls, NY: Saturday, 7/18/2009

Originally posted 2009-07-19 02:14:31. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

For the Set List, CLICK HERE!

By Chris Moore:

As you walk in the gates at a Wilco concert this summer, your ticket is scanned and you are handed a free tour program.

That’s right; I said “FREE.”

And this is no cheap artifact thrown together for the sake of it.  This is a 34 page program, printed and bound as professionally as any other band’s tour program for which you would probably spend in the ballpark (pun intended) of $15 to $20.  Inside, you’ll find exclusive band photographs, the “Wilco Top 5-a-go-go” (a set of “Top 5” lists from the band members), interviews with Jeff Tweedy and Derek Welch (who designed the Wilco toys and the Nudie suits you see in the artwork for the new album), reproduced handwritten lyrics for “Country Disappeared,” a brief word from Glenn Kotche about a custom aspect of his drumset, a scorecard listing all the Wilco songs across the x-axis and all the locations for the summer tour down the y-axis, cartoons, and more…

I think you get the idea.

Although I didn’t know it when I entered the gates Saturday at Dutchess Stadium in Wappingers Falls for my first Wilco concert, this is precisely the type of show the band was about to put on: one jam-packed with more effort, creative energy, and ability to impress than I ever thought possible.

Over two and a half hours — and that’s AFTER Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band left the stage — Wilco played a full set with two encores that added up to 29 songs.  The band entered by simply strolling through a gate on the first base line, walking across the outfield, and running up the steps to launch immediately into a rocking version of “Wilco (the song),” the opening track from their new album.

Throughout the night, Jeff Tweedy and the boys of Wilco played predominantly from their most recent four albums (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, A Ghost is Born, Sky Blue Sky, and Wilco (the album) – six songs a piece, except for Sky Blue Sky‘s five), but they also played three songs from their third album Summerteeth and dusted off one each from their 1995 debut album A.M. (CLICK HERE to read a review of A.M.), its 1996 followup Being There, and the first Mermaid Avenue.

The first 22 songs — the main set — came at a rapid pace, as the band members somehow maintained the same soaring level of enthusiasm for recreating some of their best songs, as well as some deeper album cuts, onstage with either note-for-note perfection compared to the studio versions (“I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” “Shot in the Arm,” & “Walken”) or by introducing interesting new rythyms, riffs, and other interesting aspects to their interpretations (“War on War,” “Too Far Apart,” & the by-now-classic concert version of “I’m the Man Who Loves You”).

Throughout the night, Tweedy interacted with the crowd in his characteristic way, the night’s main topics being the mosquitoes that were swarming the stage — “Does anyone have any DEET?” he asked — and the glow sticks that were being tossed around amongst the audience members at the foot of the stage — he mimed a set of “try to hit me, I dare you!” arm motions during one song, causing a volley of glow sticks to shower the stage, showing off the audience’s profoundly poor coordination.

“You guys have really bad aim,” Tweedy laughed at the end of the song.  That prompted a few more glow sticks to be launched in his direction, but he managed to duck each of them.

The first encore only included two songs, but it stretched on for more than twenty minutes.  The first song, “Poor Places,” was a heartfelt rendition of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot‘s penultimate track.  It was followed by a scorching, more than full-length version of A Ghost is Born‘s “Spiders (Kidsmoke).”  The latter is one of the songs that showed off the considerable talent and electric stylings of the three guitarists — Tweedy, the incredible Nels Cline (who truly brought a distinctive guitar style to the band when he joined in early 2004), and Pat Sansone (who was really unleashed in the second encore when he engaged in a volley of solos that passed between him and Cline as though they were firing automatic weapons).

The encore ended with Tweedy calling for the audience to clap to the beat, raising their arms above their heads.  As the instrumentation dropped away, he issued a challenge; apparently, the Brooklyn, New York crowd at Keyspan Park couldn’t keep up the beat after the band stopped playing.  Instead, they sped up rapidly.

For a brief moment after they stopped playing, I thought this crowd would fare better… but it was not to be so.  The members of Wilco motioned for the crowd to slow down and Tweedy started laughing as they went back to their instruments for the final riff of “Spiders.”

“You guys were good,” he politely exaggerated after the song ended.

When they left the stage for the second time, I thought for certain that the show had ended.  After all, they had played 24 songs and it had been two hours since they took the stage at 8:30pm.

And yet they still returned for more!

The second encore kicked off with an upbeat rendition of “The Late Greats” that had the entire crowd moving — from foot-tapping to full-out dancing — and smiling.  Next came the first single off the new album, “You Never Know,” complete with note-for-note perfect George Harrison-esque slide guitar by Cline.

“You have time for a couple more?” Tweedy asked, to which he received the deafening screams of the crowd.

When they kick-started “Heavy Metal Drummer,” you would have thought this was Lynyrd Skynyrd about to play “Freebird” for the response that issued forth from the audience.  They played a great version, but nothing could have prepared me for their interpretation of “Hoodoo Voodoo.”  With lyrics that Woody Guthrie wrote for his children but was never able to record, this track appeared as one of the Tweedy leads on Mermaid Avenue. I’ve always liked this song, but I’ve never loved it the way I did for those five minutes they played it, complete with a new driving guitar riff, pitch-perfect vocals by Tweedy as though we were in the studio with him back in 1998, and outstanding guitar work by Cline and Sansone.

Even though Tweedy had only asked the crowd if they had time for “a couple more,” Wilco launched into one final song.  By this time, the concert had to end at some point.  “I’m A Wheel” was just as good a song to close with as any that remained unplayed from their catalog.

As the song ended, Tweedy said a brief farewell, and Wilco turned on the crowd and exited from whence they had come.

Walking to my car, I realized that this is a fifteen year old band that is somehow in their prime now.  I’m so accustomed to seeing bands that have been playing for decades, that I forget sometimes that it is a different experience to attend the concert of a band that still has something to prove to history — namely that they deserve a place in the memories of rock music fans for all time.  I entered Dutchess stadium a big fan of the band, but tonight, Wilco had me convinced that they deserve that aforementioned place.

All in all, this was by far the best $42 I have ever spent.  If you have the opportunity, get out there and see this band at the peak of their game (ballpark pun, this time, NOT intended…).

Music Review: The Beatles’ “Let It Be” (2009 Stereo Remaster)

Originally posted 2009-10-26 20:10:01. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

It is truly a testament to the outstanding talent and staying power of the Beatles that Let It Be, their final and perhaps least ambitious — by their own designs, at least — release, is composed of such an impressive assortment of tracks.

For this reason alone, the 2009 remastered version of this classic 1970 album is worth your time and money.

Held up against the previously released audio on the CDs that have been standard issue for over two decades now, this remaster is crisper and cleaner in all the right places.  To be fair, this is probably one of the less drastic remasters, as Let It Be was originally issued in actual stereo.  Still, the seasoned Beatles fan will immediately take note of the subtle improvements, such as the even warmer ambiance of the background vocals in “I Me Mine” and the clearer separation between piano notes and vocals in both “Let It Be” and “The Long and Winding Road.”

It is a joyful experience to hear the individual vocals and instrumentation as clearly as possible.  After all, when the bulk of these tracks were laid down in January 1969 — almost one and a half years before the release of the album — the keyword had been simplicity.  Following the tumultuous White Album sessions, they had decided to adopt a more “live in the studio” feel for their next album.  Paul in particular felt that they had lost the cohesion that could only come from playing live.  Considering the backbreaking schedule of live shows in their early years and the relative happiness of their early period, it is difficult to disagree.

The Beatles' "Let It Be" (1970)

The Beatles’ “Let It Be” (1970)

For this reason, as well as the fact that Let It Be was mixed, remixed, re-arranged, and shuffled around by so many people outside the Fab Four before its initial release in 1970, I think Let It Be…Naked should be and is the first and best way to experience this album.  Purists, traditionalists, and historians may disagree, but any detractors to this theory must first explain why the Beatles’ initial intentions for the concept of this album should be all but ignored in favor of the “actual” release.  Why tracks like “Maggie Mae” and “Dig It” could ever belong on the same vinyl — or silver, for that matter — disc as gems like “Two of Us,” “Across the Universe,” and “Let It Be” is beyond this writer.

Before I trample upon too much musical holy ground, I should reinforce that the 2009 remaster provides a great experience.  Some argued that the tracks should have been stripped down and entirely remixed.  While I wouldn’t have been against that idea if it had been engineered by the right team, there doesn’t seem to be the need for anything quite so drastic here.

Perhaps the focus should instead fall on the pressures within and around this record.  Within, it is interesting to consider how complicated and tense the Beatles’ interpersonal relationships had become, and yet to listen in wonder at the beautiful music they made despite it all.  Outside of the recording process, there was a great deal of expectation when the album was released, especially considering that it wasn’t available for sale until after the Beatles had announced that they were breaking up.  That put a lot of weight on this very final addition to what is arguably the greatest rock ‘n roll catalog of all time.  Even Rolling Stone fluctuated wildly, dismissing the album at its release but soon after adding it as #86 on their list of the best rock albums of all time.

Regardless of your perspective on this album, Let It Be is a strong addition to anyone’s music collection, if only for the outstanding songs it contains — and not only the singles, but many of the deep tracks, as well.

I’ll probably still click one more space lower on my iPod for Let It Be… Naked, but I have enjoyed hearing the original in remastered audio.  And make sure you watch all of our great Beatles cover songs videos here on the music video blog!