Pop Life

Album of the Week: Green Day's 21st Century Breakdown

In all actuality, there are two Green Days: The three punk snots who recorded everything from 39/Smooth to 1997's Nimrod and two thinly veiled side projects, the electro The Network and the reverberating Foxboro Hot Tubs. This represents Billie Joe and the boys at their most adventurously unhinged, spewing forth stream-of-consciousness punk rock you really only get from the ages of 14 to 19.

The second is the band that had kids, got married, got divorced and somehow found time to turn on Fox News just in time to see this country implode into a shitstorm of dissent and despair. This is the band that embraced Queen, The Who and the Boss, beginning with 2000's startlingly frank Warning! and in the process transcended an entire punk universe.

The thing about Green Day's last album, 2004's American Idiot, was that for all its chic political bluster and Bush-tastic ranting, the band still didn't sound as confident in its new self-imposed rock operatic skin as they did singing about the pot in 1991. Sure, they believed all their polemic rhetoric, but at the album's heart it still sounded like Billie Jo & co. were holding something back. They believed in what they were doing, but were'nt too sure about how to go about it.

On the new, three-part 21st Century Breakdown, however, Green Day has put a death grip on the title of World's Biggest Rock Band, and recorded a sprawling modern American epic that could very well put the band in the same league with the U2s and Coldplays of the world. Anyone who disagrees hasn't been paying attention for the past decade, watching the band slowly come to grips with their gifts as songwriters and showmen.

Breakdown veers wildly through 18 tracks of John Lennon-inflected piano pop, like on "Last Night On Earth," to the Pete Townshend-approved title track showcasing the band's newfound affinity for the four-stage burner. Each song is built like a brick shithouse, with the band's signature wall of sound obscenely glazed over each.

In not so many words, Breakdown makes American Idiot sound like juvenile spit-balling. At many times during initial listening, we sat flabbergasted at the lofty leaps being made, and were stunned by each flawless landing. "Viva La Gloria!" takes a good minute to begin, but you can already see the stage show as Armstrong stabs wildly at his guitar and flames rise from the sides of the drum riser - it's stadium rock, screw arenas and outdoor pavilions. This stuff couldn't be contained even by Reliant Stadium.

"Restless Heart Syndrome" and "21 Guns" are heartbreaking tales about ruination and rebirth, which should have Paul David Hewson (Bono to you and me) chomping at the bit for coverage rights. Green Day got all three points and all net on this one.

Even if you disagree with the lyrical content, you can't deny Butch Vig's superhuman production or the hopeful lifeblood coursing throughout each track. So much sounds invested in Breakdown, in fact, that one almost fears an imminent flame-out, counteracting the faith engrained in such a remarkable achievement.

Green Day drops by Toyota Center August 8 with Franz Ferdinand. Check ticket availability at www.toyotacentertix.com.

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Craig Hlavaty
Contact: Craig Hlavaty