Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Elite of Just Alright - 21st Century Breakdown

I might have mentioned this before, but I'm a Green Day fanboy. I'm not quite a fanatic, but I do own all of their albums and in high school I was that kid who filled up all of his notebooks with Green Day lyrics instead of actual notes. I had received International Superhits! as an unexpected gift one Christmas, and even though it gathered up their singles in one neat package, I still went out and bought copies of Dookie, Insomniac, nimrod., and Warning. It should go without saying that I also bought 1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours, Kerplunk and Shenanigans. And I sure as hell rushed straight to the store and got American Idiot the second I got out of school on the day it was released. I was even pumped to go out and buy Bullet in a Bible despite having already seen the concert footage on TV and being disappointed that the show was interrupted by the band's off-stage antics.

So naturally I was stoked upon hearing that the band was finally releasing a new album in 2009. I don't even know how many times I listened to the demo of the title track when it first leaked online, but I was just so excited to have new material by my favorite band that I could even look past the cringe-worthy John Lennon reference in the pre-chorus. I get that John Lennon has had a huge influence on almost every aspect on pop music today, but the band not only covered Working Class Hero, they also released their version as a single just two years before the release of 21st Century Breakdown. An allusion or something would've been fine, but I think borrowing the actual phrase "working class hero" was a little too much there.

Given how much I love Green Day, it kind of pains me to say that I don't feel as passionately about 21st Century Breakdown as I do the rest of their albums. I can forgive that it wasn't anything like older* Green Day because both nimrod. and Warning were excellent forays into new territory for them, but it just comes off as an overly ambitious rock opera with a muddy story and characters who never really get developed. I'm going to clarify right now that from here on, I'll be discussing this album in terms of it's concepts and themes. Overall the individual songs are really good and show off a whole array of sonic diversity, but as a whole package the album was just a letdown for me because it wasn't as nearly as cohesive as American Idiot was. Not to compare them as the same thing, but American Idiot was proof that the band was capable of making an excellent flowing narrative, while 21st Century Breakdown was just kind of a mess in terms of story telling, which is kind of important for a rock opera.

*let's face it, when people say "old Green Day" they really just mean "Dookie and its singles"

But what if 21st Century Breakdown isn't meant to be a rock opera, merely just a concept album instead? What if the characters, Gloria and Christian, aren't actual people like Jesus of Suburbia or Whatsername, but instead symbolic representations of the concepts that run throughout the songs? Well... it certainly makes for a better album, from a thematic standpoint. The narrative is still a little unclear, but thinking about the album as if the names are used in a metaphorical sense helps it move along. When I listen to it without thinking about Christian and Gloria as characters that go through one event from another, the songs transition a little better because I am no longer focused on trying to figure out the exact plot of each track- which was the cause for my disillusionment with the album in the first place. Once I look past the artwork (which clearly depicts two characters) and all the press releases calling it another "rock opera" I can enjoy it for what it really is: a concept album collecting songs that are about the general feelings of hope and despair (and hope again) about the future. 

The real problem with 21st Century Breakdown isn't that it's a bad album; it's that it was misrepresented as something that it wasn't before it was even released, affecting their listening experience with an pre-existing impression that it was going to essentially be a sequel to American Idiot. After I finally realized that was hardly the case, I found the album to be a lot more enjoyable. Minus that really forward John Lennon reference. 

(To be fair, I also really liked that they covered Another State of Mind and Like a Rolling Stone as bonus tracks and I listened to the album even more after finding out about them even though they definitely had no connection to any possible story that one might be able to salvage from the lyrics on 21st Century Breakdown). 

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