So how does it sound? The short answer is huge...
In the Spring of 94 Green Day released their third album ‘Dookie, it was recorded in just three weeks and took the band from national club tours in their converted bookmobile to global superstardom. In the Autumn of 1995 the band released a darker and heavier follow up called ‘Insomniac’, it was well received but it never charted as highly, never sold as many copies and was never promoted long enough after the band stopped touring the record after less than six months due to exhaustion and friction towards management after they mishandled first single ‘J.A.R.’. If ‘Dookie’ was the sentence then ‘Insomniac’ was little more than the full stop.
Why is any of this important? Because ‘21st Century Breakdown’ is Green Day’s attempt to learn the lessons of that album and the band’s eighth album is everything its fourth album was not. Instead of rushing a record Green Day took time to make sure that everything about ‘21st Century Breakdown’ was done with deliberate remembrance of past mistakes; the writing and recording process was incredibly leisurely, the distribution of new material was meticulous and the scale of release was clearly ambitious as debut video ‘Know Your Enemy’ premiered globally and the album became the first of its kind when it was released on Friday May 15th.
So how does it sound? The short answer is huge. The record is set into three acts (Heroes and Cons, Charlatans and Saints, Horseshoes and Handgrenades) and each part explodes with a slice of theatric, stadium-sized punk rock before leading off into waters slightly unknown to some fans of the band. The spirits of Bowie, Beatles and The Boss are all evoked as the eighteen songs unfold and tell the tale of Christian and Gloria as they try to navigate the detritus of today in heavily veiled hopes of a brighter tomorrow. At times the album is a touch indulgent at it freewheels dramatically but every time the record begins to feel wilful it quickly returns to its strengths and senses with a powerful spike of pop infused punk rock. The tone is less acerbic than ‘American Idiot’ as a kinetic and nervous energy overrides the bombast and protest of its predecessor, and it achieves its scepticism and shrew judgement without preaching or proselytizing.
The first time Green Day had the world listening they released a thirty-three minute, fourteen song record that missed the mark and started the band on a downward spiral that took years to recover from. With the world listening once more Green Day have released a seventy-five minute, three part, two character, eighteen song taught concept album that is grandiose in both ideas and delivery of them. ‘21st Century Breakdown’ is not just the perfect follow up record, it is a shining example of how a band can stay on top and stay interesting at the same time.