Green Day’s 21st Century Breakdown: We Preview The New Album

It sounds like the band are trying to match the big sound and success of American Idiot.

How does one follow up a multimillion-selling, world-uniting, career-rejuvenating, award-winning, status-sealing album? Well, if you’re [artist id="988"]Green Day[/artist], you do it with hooks, ambition and sheer bombast.

On Wednesday night, MTV News heard six tracks from 21st Century Breakdown, GD’s follow-up to 2005′s landmark [url id="http://www.mtv.com/bands/g/green_day/news_feature_111405/"]American Idiot,[/url] due out in May. And though the songs were rough mixes (frontman Billie Joe Armstrong and producer Butch Vig did said mixing, we were informed), the songs packed a wallop — both sonically and lyrically — which is proof that, rather than hide from the prospect of trying to match Idiot‘s success, Green Day intend to face it head on.

The title track — a snippet of which can currently be heard on the band’s official site — opens with keening acoustic strums and a bright organ line, recalling the first measures of the Who’s Armstrong’s voice is heard next, bleating “My generation is zero/ Never made it as a working class hero” (echoing their 2007 cover of John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero”), then the song takes off on a multi-sectional sprint, featuring big, clean guitar chords (played windmill-style, à la Pete Townshend, one imagines) one minute, cacophonous drum breakdowns the next — not to mention a “We Are the Champions”-style interlude. Armstrong yelps couplets like, “Video games of the towers’ fall/ Homeland Security can kill us all,” before the whole song comes crashing to a close with him singing, “Oh dream, America, dream … / Oh, scream, America, scream.” Needless to say, it’s a lot packed into just five minutes and change.

“Know Your Enemy” was the next song, a genuine fist-pumper that starts with pounding drums and builds on some muscle chords. “Violence is an energy/ Against the enemy,” Armstrong yells, as the track works its way through various airtight stops and starts.

“Before the Lobotomy” begins with some carefully picked acoustic guitar, as Armstrong ruminates on his past (“Dreaming, I was only dreaming/ Of another place and time where my family’s from”) and explores a newly discovered upper register. It’s all very pretty, but eventually falls away, only to come pounding back with huge drums and more of those windmill guitars, as Armstrong growls about “whiskey shots and cheap cigarettes.” It’s an earful, to be certain.

“March of the Dogs” kicks off with a swaggering guitar line, with Armstrong mentioning “sacrificial suicides.” It then showcases Mike Dirnt’s walking bassline, augmented with some handclaps. It builds to some interlocking guitars, then stop-starts as Armstrong whispers (Zack de la Rocha-style), “Don’t test me … second guess me … protest me.” Then the song sprints out the door with a guitar section reminiscent of Dick Dale’s “Misirlou.” All in less than four-and-a-half minutes.

“Restless Heart Syndrome” starts with piano, and Armstrong sings “I’ve got a really bad disease/ It’s got me begging on my hands and knees.” He keeps going — again reaching that upper register — as the song picks up a swing tempo, eventually interrupted by a buzz-saw guitar section and some lock-step bass and drums. “21 Guns” — which, if it’s not Breakdown‘s final song, really ought to be — is a cell-phones-in-the-air anthem, starting with more sharply strummed acoustic guitars. It builds on a piano line to the chorus, which has Armstrong bleating, “One, 21 guns, lay down your arms/ Give up the fight … / One, 21 guns/ Throw up your arms into the sky/ You and I,” as the rest of the band backs him with harmonized, “Aaaah-aaaahs.” The song ends with piano and ringing feedback.

Green Day cover a lot of ground, and they do it with a style and swagger that’s admirable, especially given all the expectations weighing on them this time around. Taking cues from classic rock, going for the massive once again, they’re not backing down from the fight. Apparently, Breakdown will feature 16 songs. It’s not known whether they all pack as much punch as the ones we heard last night, but we can’t wait to find out.