Green Day have stated loudly and proudly that their brand-new ¡Uno! ¡Dos! ¡Tré! trilogy is a departure from the two albums that preceded it (2004's masterful long-player American Idiot and its slightly less successful, sorta-sequel, 21st Century Breakdown), declaring their latest work to be "the end of that era."
And while there's certainly nothing wrong with a band reinventing themselves — in many ways, it's been the key to Green Day's 25-year career — or, after conquering the world twice over, deciding they just want to focus on playing hard and fast and free of constraint, after listening to ¡Uno! (currently streaming on their Facebook page, and set for release on Tuesday), I can't help but wonder one thing: If "that" era is over, well, then what are we to make of this new one?
Well, for starters, it's clear that this time out, Billie Joe and Co. were hell-bent on leaving the politics at the door ("we're a band, first and foremost" was Armstrong's reasoning). And while I can't fault them for that, I will say that portions of ¡Uno! reflect something of a lack of focus on weighty things. There was a time when Armstrong raged openly and viciously against suburban malaise — most of GD's early catalog — the suffocating nature of the status quo, and George W. Bush, both during his eight-year run and, smartly, after. Now without his polemics, the fiery frontman seems content to focus on the holy trinity of girls, booze and sex.
Then again, I suppose there's nothing wrong with wanting to have a little fun, and there's plenty of fun to be had on their latest album. The surging "Let Yourself Go" and the Clash-y strut of "Kill the DJ" are placed back-to-back, to maximum impact, as are another pair of party-starters, "Troublemaker" and "Angel Blue." Armstrong has described it as Green Day's attempt at making "a power-pop record," and there's certainly evidence to back up that claim. From the plentiful nods to the Knack and Cheap Trick, to the callbacks to the three-chord blasts of their Dookie era, Green Day sound like they're having a blast and prove to be able mimics, even when they're aping their former selves.
And yet, despite that, ¡Uno! feels looser and fresher than any album in their catalog, which sort of shows that, in their latest incarnation, Green Day may actually be a better band. Sure, some of the songs — "Stay The Night," "Carpe Diem," "Sweet 16" — come across as not quite fully realized, but the way they are played is telling: For the first time in a while, Armstrong, Dirnt and Cool sound like they're having an absolute blast. Freed of the burden of self-imposed constraints, they tear through the album in 41 minutes ... and while your life may not be changed at the end of it, you no doubt enjoyed every second.
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