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Skipping to the conclusion before the qualifying: ‘21st Century Breakdown’ is an abject failure, a hollow-sounding shadow of the zeitgeist riding, multi-platinum ‘American Idiot’.
But, before we go any further, please do know that the following words – and, indeed, those you’ve already read – are based on one listen… At the record label headquarters of the band… To one of maybe three copies of this album currently in the country. Actually, there’s no way time’s gonna heal this abomination – try to polish it all you want, you’ll just be spreading the same shit around the page in a slightly different shape. Things do not begin well: we’ve a prologue (and, much later, a reprise of said piece in the album’s penultimate ‘American Eulogy’) which finds frontman Billie Joe Armstrong ditching the shout-along shtick of Green Day old for, y’know, proper emoting. That said, it’s precisely these kids who made ‘American Idiot’ the amazing success it was back in 2004.
Which they’ve been basking in ever since and, if the sound of ‘21st Century Breakdown’ is anything to go by, they’ve been rather reluctant to step back from, into the shade of a slate-cleansed starting-from-scratch policy, preferring instead to sing the same old songs to the same old(er) crowd. Regarding the song structures on show, as alluded to mere moments ago the most part of ‘21st Century Breakdown’ is made up of well-used and purely basic pop-punk arrangements, the kind Green Day had built their career on prior to ‘American Idiot’ and the sea change that followed in its wake; what it lacks, completely, is a single spark of compositional flair to complement the ambition expressed in its laid-out lyrical scheme. Green Day’s previous reputation for potty-mouth observations, be they puerile or potent of politicised vitriol, doesn’t really rear its head ‘til the final act, as ‘The Static Age’ ruins its singles chart potential with an unnecessary expletive; ‘Horseshoes And Handgrenades’ (the track itself) also throws a handful of “fuck”s into the mix which, given Armstrong’s age (37) and personal security and comfort in his career and quality of life (very secure and comfortable), just sounds embarrassing – he’s like your dad covering a Sex Pistols song down the local boozer’s karaoke night after too many bitter shandies.
And it’s that feeling that we’ve been here before, five years ago, that’s the biggest problem with ‘21st Century Breakdown’.
Audio and photos of Billie Joe performing an original song at the NYC premiere of 'Geezer'Apr. This is an album that will, given its makers’ status, sell by the million; but on a critical level it falls a long way short of matching the pre-listen hyperbole surrounding its conceptual depth and prolonged gestation.

It could well be that, maybe, ‘21st Century Breakdown’ is a record that’ll click when I least expect it; suddenly, everything here will be struck from the record and I’ll fall over myself to apologise to all involved for tearing this tiresome, preaching-to-the-choir piece of undercooked horseshit the new arsehole it so richly deserves.
He does this a couple of times across ‘21st Century Breakdown’ – at best it’s a rough impersonation of Elliott Smith, albeit stripped of the sincerity of the late songwriter; at worst, like a really bad singer singing really badly. For the first time since their 1994 breakthrough album ‘Dookie’, the Californian punks attracted a genuinely new audience, a crowd of fresh-faced recruits who were charmed by the band’s fuck-you-Bush political angle and easy-to-follow electioneering.
The difference is that here minutiae is explored, the grandest of issue shrunk into a sharp focus, via the following of two central characters, Gloria and Christian. Some songs clearly focus upon the trials and tribulations of our two lovers, with direct lyrical (and titular) references; other songs set their sights wider but, in the context of the whole record, serve to aid the narrative flow ‘til the climactic ‘See The Light’. Certain pieces begin in fashions that stir optimism for a left-of-centre stylistic shift – ‘Christian’s Inferno’ opens with a real sinister air, and ‘?Viva La Gloria? Dissecting its ills as you perceive them to be has brought you millions of dollars, ensuring that your loved ones need never engage with the problems facing the everyman. Soon enough the guitars kick in and everything shifts gears to the traditional minimal-chords chugga pop-punk dust cloud of blinding indifference – while there is a lyrical narrative that progresses across the course of this album, which I’ll come to shortly, musically the record begins as it means to go on: mediocre strum-along middle-road punk for baggy-shorted pimpled kids whose idea of a good time is bull’s-eyeing pixellated hostiles on violent video games.
The band’s high-profile campaigning for change in their homeland - well, the world - endeared them to adult audiences, too, many of whom had forgotten about the group after a series of so-so long-players that lacked any real spark of originality. Ultimately it’s your choice whether or not you invest your full attention in this story, and there’s no doubt that having a lyric sheet before you will assist this connection; without one, it becomes laborious to feign the slightest interest in the fortunes of our twin protagonists, as the rattle of raucous repetition sinks into the system with depressing bluntness.
Lead single ‘Know Your Enemy’ is an obvious introduction, as light as Weezer but packing a little of the bite that characterised Green Day’s previous long-player.

It’s just a dull follow-up to a genuinely vital album of its era, and it’s sad that Green Day’s mindset is still so firmly rooted in said time. Last time out, the public – who wade through the shit you can soar above every day – bought into your clarion calls for change; now, with optimism coursing through the veins of America, much of this album sounds like too little, too late.
But, fired by political unrest and a countrywide desire to witness a real revolution, ‘American Idiot’ surpassed all expectations, welcoming a new critical and commercial dawn for Green Day. It doesn’t hang together brilliantly, to say the least – where there could sit tidy segue moments, tracks end abruptly, seriously damaging the cohesiveness of what’s intended as a record that necessitates listening to from beginning to end.
Granted, this has taken its time to reach release, and during the record’s gestation much has changed, but as Armstrong hollers “I don’t wanna live in the modern world” over and over during ‘American Eulogy’, you can’t help but think: please, change the fucking record already. War is nearly over, one at least; peace and love and understanding is rampant like never before this side of the millennium, in spite of the continued hatred and misunderstanding that serves exclusively to sell tabloid trash.
Ambition is one thing, but the elementary requirement for accomplished execution clearly quite another.
And this you’d realise if you only pulled your head out of your backside for five minutes to smell the roses rather than filling your lungs with the same shit you’ve already had a substantial fill of.

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