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Music Review: Green Day – 21st Century Breakdown

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With their eighth studio album, Green Day finds themselves in a post-American Idiot world and sifting through the consequences of nearly a decade of manipulation, lies, selfishness, and bullshit of the highest order.

The band is older, wiser, and more motivated than ever with 21st Century Breakdown, a seething, brilliant concept album divided into three parts.

Produced by Garbage member Butch Vig, 21st Century Breakdown runs through the narrative of Christian and Gloria, a young couple working through the shattered promises of this century. They live in a world that has let them down and the conventions they have come to rely upon have left them philosophically and spiritually lifeless.

Billie Joe Armstrong’s writing is even more spirited here, as their Johnny-come-lately approach to the Bush Administration left American Idiot a potent record that felt inadequately late to the party. This time, however, the trio starts the jamboree early and never lets up.

Perhaps the notion of big time rockers having something to say about the world, be it the environment or the government, is a little worn out and perhaps their words feel a little vacant at times. But every so often a band or singer steps through the affectation, rips away the film, and tells the truth. Springsteen did it with The Rising and now it’s safe to say that Green Day has done it with 21st Century Breakdown.

Where perhaps a failing of American Idiot was that the songs got a little too immense for the band, here Green Day has chopped things down and kept it lean. The compositions flow effortlessly, ranging from the power punk the band’s become famous for to deliberately sensitive ballads complete with Armstrong nailing a surplus of untamed notes.

Clocking in at a smidgen under 70 minutes, 21st Century Breakdown rolls through 18 tracks of candor, authority, and larger-than-life storytelling. The tempo shifts, key changes, strings, and thunderous guitar keeps things popping, with Tre Cool hammering his snare vehemently and Mike Dirnt’s bass rocking the lower registry expertly.

The first segment of the record, “Act I: Heroes and Cons,” begins after a pithy foreword and sets up our protagonists.

The title track opens with anthemic piano and a wide arrangement that sounds a little like U2’s biggest arena moments coupled with the epic song-craft of Queen or Bowie. Before things get too cozy, a beautiful skim of overloaded guitar sweeps into the cut and we’re off. The note shifts, the harmonies, and Billie Joe’s capacity to lead the living hell of a great rock tune all steps to the front.

The album’s first single, “Know Your Enemy,” highlights the first act with its commanding call to arms against indifference. And the character of Christian comes to light as a self-destructive hellion on “Christian’s Inferno,” a snarling and jeering barn-burner.

“Act II: Charlatans and Saints” ramps up and adds more depth to the 21st Century Breakdown yarn.

We’re introduced to the character of Gloria in further detail on “Last of the American Girls,” a definite classic with mischievous spring in its step. “East Jesus Nowhere” captures one of the record’s themes and eviscerates the church with hard-hitting accuracy. “Peacemaker” borrows a glossy Latin course and punches it up with “hey, hey” backing vocals.

The album’s closing part, “Act III: Horseshoes and Handgrenades,” builds on the building anger and continues the method of restoration with the “I’m not fucking around” garage scrap vibe of “Horseshoes and Handgrenades.”

“21 Guns” is the album’s anti-war hymn, reaching heroic heights with a sleek sort of sappiness that fits flawlessly. The range and sentiment may dishearten those looking for a little more Dookie from their Green Day, but I’ve never heard Billie Joe sound so good and so earnest as he pulls his frail voice upwards to knock out some stunning high notes.

We could bullshit all day long about whether or not Green Day is a punk band, a pop act, or a pop punk group. At this point and time, however, with the clever souls of these three men churning out some truly vibrant, electrifying, brave, touching, heroic music, it really doesn’t fucking matter what Green Day is anymore. Billie Joe, Tre, and Mike are through with that. With 21st Century Breakdown, it’s all about who (and when) they are.

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About Jordan Richardson

  • Jordan Richardson

    I really felt that that album was the first real album to “question politicians” after the 9/11 attacks

    Nope. American Idiot didn’t come out until 2004 and there had already been quite a few similar records by then – not to mention countless individual songs that voiced political views.

    It could be argued on some levels that Springsteen’s The Rising questioned politicians, as Springsteen always has. Same goes for Michael Franti’s Everyone Deserves Music, especially with “Bomb the World” factoring prominently.

    And obviously a considerable collection of punk and folk acts were cranking out anti-Bush stuff almost immediately after 9/11. The Rock Against Bush stuff, featuring music from everyone from Sum 41 to Ministry, carried on the tradition in two volumes of music.

    Then there’s the rap community, with everyone from Public Enemy to Immortal Technique taking it to the politicians as per usual.

    So I do consider Green Day to sort of be a little late to the party, even though their record was one of the key albums to toss the stuff into the mainstream musically. It’s just too bad that most of their punk brethren was already doing it.

    I agree with the rest of your comment though, Kay. I’m not a fan of those who stake claims in particular artists and resist any and all changes those artists choose to make in their careers. Music, like all art, must evolve in order to stay fresh and compelling. If I want to listen to Dookie over and over again, I’ll listen to Dookie. I don’t need every other Green Day release to sound like it.

  • Kay

    Evan, what’s the first rule of Internet Trolls?

    Anyway, great review, however with the American Idiot thing, I really felt that that album was the first real album to “question politicians” after the 9/11 attacks, where most bands seemed to be very quiet and held back, through fear of not receiving radio airplay.
    Other than that, there’s nothing I can say against this particular album. The retards who say “this isn’t Green Day” can rot in hell because music, like art, poetry, and language, is constantly changing, and if you beat up the same album with different lyrics over and over again you’re going to go down the path of “sellout” really quickly.

  • Evan

    Jackie youre an idiot and an internet troll

  • Jacky

    ok you people are idiots

  • Evan

    for example American Idiot is Southern Man the Boulavard of Broken Dreams is Heart of Gold Wake Me When September Ends is Old Man Time of Your Life is the Needle and the Damage Done Dookie is Alabama and Viva La Gloria is Ohio

  • Evan

    to me Green Day are Neil Young wannabes

  • Kevin

    For those who didn’t notice, Green Day was on the brink of collapse in 2004. Their 2000 album “Warning” barely went gold. They were upstaged by Blink-182 for entire summer tour (despite co-headlining, Green Day was made to perform first every night). They put out a greatest hits album. In 2002 they recorded 20 tracks for a new album that Billy Joe Armstrong himself called “garbage.” The those tracks were (suspiciously) stolen from the studio and the band started over.

    It was at this desperate point that Green Day turned to the one sure-fire way to sell albums: get political. So, with a left-leaning media ready to back up anything anti-Bush, they put out American Idiot – a musically tight album of innovative guitar riffs and infectious melodies, mistakenly put to use conveying a half-hearted, popularity-seeking whine at the president.

    Well, I hate to tell you, this album is American Idiot with all the whine and half the guitar. The melodies are familiar, the vocals are anemic. They opt for slow and thoughtful when hard, fast and chord-driven is what they’re good at.

    The band that gave us Dookie, Insomniac and Nimrod is dead, and this cardboard cutout at the end of the music isle at your local Target is all that’s left.

  • Pedro

    Ok last comment. The album is awesome.

  • Pedro

    Maybe I’m asking too much from Green Day? maybe I just wanna go back to when records wheren’t so over produced… sounded more real. Anyway there are awesome guitar parts in the records, references to dookie, I just found one, in the song 21 century breakdown theres a part that sounds like the transition from “chump” to “longview”

  • Pedro

    Who is the author of the original review? is copied and pasted everywhere. Be original, come on. Now, talking about the album, I’m listening to it and it has some great tracks…I like Horseshoes and handgrenades, reminds me of classic greenday. “Know your enemy” bores me, its monotone. Most of the last tracks are cool, some are way too alike with Warning’s songs, for example, “the static age” is pretty much “church on sunday”. Anyway, there are great songs on it.

  • moronchicken

    Green Day has never put out a “bad” record. Armstrong always writes solid songs, melodic in nature. However, I sense less “hooks” in the melodies than with the Idiot record, not to say there are not some excellent ones here as well. Also, speaking of arrangements, “The Static Age”(One of the better songs on the record), resembles “Church on Sunday” WAAAAYYYYY to much. I am non one to judge the composition of Armstrong, as is anyone, he is a superb songwriter, but at FIRST listen, it feels like they are getting away from their bread and butter….VERY simplified catchy punk rock, they do it like NO ONE else. Guess I need to listen a few more times.

  • Natalie

    Great review.

    Exactly what I’ve been saying…
    The new album rocks, holmes.

  • jaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

    they were better in the old days when didnt give a shit about thing (before american idiot)

  • A fantastic record but a mixed bag.

    For an alternate perspective visit here.

  • Frodax

    I love this album! In this album they’ve started to use piano very much, and they have a little bit more ballad songs! This album is the best!

  • Jordan Richardson

    ou dont review the album…you just tell about the songs…what a idiot…

    you dont read the review…you just blabber on and on…what a American Idiot…

  • Mehoe

    I have not completely decided what I think about this album. I will echo the sentiment that the story line from song to song is nearly impossible to follow, and a failure in respect to the album.

    The songs independently have a lot of potential. This album finds an interesting balance between American Idiot and Warning. This is by no means a bad thing. Warning had Green Day experimenting quite a bit. Peacemaker and Viva La Gloria both look back to Misery, and give it the energy of American Idiot. With this album, they seem quite a bit more confident on how to use the different arrangements to make a cohesive, flowing album like American Idiot. They apparently were paying attention in music appreciation 101 as they revisit musical ideas a number of times, the most obvious being the same arrangement being used in the title track and See the Light.

  • preben

    ohhhh…and yes I think its a great piece of music….will be on my stereo for some time.

  • preben

    you dont review the album…you just tell about the songs…what a idiot…

  • It’ll be interesting to see how this turns out. I thought American Idiot was a great album, and I’m afraid this is going to end up being more of the same. And … “rock opera.” Ugh.
    Anyway, here are tour dates, a video and a link to

  • From all of the reviews I’ve been reading I think I might like this album, but I hope it doesn’t get too self indulgent. Old timers FTW!

  • Sam

    I loved American Idiot, and unlike that album, this one gets worse the more you listen to it… mix American Idiot with Warning and make it way too long and you have this album.

  • jess

    If they do turn this into a musical (Which they said they were hoping to do) this will be great music to occumpany a Great story. however the cd on its own falls flat. a couple decent songs mixed in but nothing compared to American Idiot or early Green Day. Overall Kinda disapointed

  • Steve

    WOW! Been a Green Day fan since Kerplunk! and this is their best album yet. Crank it up and enjoy the ride.

  • Salvador

    As lame as warning…repetitive and boring songs. American Idiot is much better 🙁

  • Green Day – nice band whith a cool music !!! Thanks for the post