“Do you have the time to listen to me whine?”. “Don’t wanna be an American Idiot”. You don’t have to be the world’s greatest poet – and Billie-Joe Armstrong certainly isn’t – to pen a line that changes rock history. With one, they became poster-boys for suburban ennui. With the other, they gave a subservient post 9/11 music scene a kick up its collective ass.
But Green Day are in their 40s now, and a liberal black man sits in the White House. So how does a band accustomed to gamechanging albums make another? With this, the third installment in a trilogy of releases, the answer is now complete – but the results are distinctly unsatisfactory. Whether it’s listener fatigue or simply a deceleration in inspiration, Tre! is more whimper than bang.
Listen to Brutal Love. Play it alongside The Wildhearts‘ Skychaser High. It’s all but identical. This is not a tiresome accusation; it’s entirely probable that Green Day have never heard the latter song – they’re both rocked-up doo-wop pastiches and little more. But the point is, the Geordie rockers tossed theirs out for a B-side, whereas Billie-Joe and co have taken a tune so identikit it could be a Casio autoplay setting, and opened their album with it.
Mercifully, the remainder of the album sounds like Green Day. But which one? Uno! went back to the old school, supposedly. Dos! popped into the garage to see what was on the shelf their. For Tre! they lay down on the couch and had a nap. These are the kind of tracks you skip to get the good stuff. Songs to take a piss to so you won’t miss Welcome To Paradise. Most of Warning.
The usual suspects are duly plagiarised, namely themselves (8th Avenue Serenade is a toned-down Letterbomb, A Little Boy Named Train is far too close to Carpe Diem, just two albums ago, for comfort) and The Who (Missing You’s “I even looked under the bed” is pure Townshend, and Walk Away is a weak take on the Baba O’Riley riff that a slightly desperate key change does nothing to rescue). There are no choruses that linger long after the album closes; even the superficially catchy 99 Revolutions sounds little more than the winning entry in a “write a song in the style of Green Day” competition.
It’s not a terrible album. Green Day are have too much talent and experience for that, and the performances and arrangements are predictably tight and punchy. Sex Drugs And Violence delights not just for its frisky tempo, but because Armstrong resists the temptation to rhyme its title with “silence”, choosing instead the far nerdier – and therefore sexier – “English, math, and science”. Dirty Rotten Bastards (another stab at The Who‘s A Quick One… template) keeps things interesting with a Levellers/Minority style opening, snotty punk at various tempos, and clever/dumb lyrics. What the fuck does O.K. stand for?
Perhaps the problem with Uno! Dos! Tre! is simply trying too hard. Green Day seem to have settled on a state of mind where every release must be a monument, an event full of symbol and significance. Thus you could barely move for interviews describing their intentions with this trilogy and the musical and lyrical themes for each part of it. Thus you have lines that tell you (“Fuck the world, this is my revolution”) rather than show you (“Don’t wanna be an American Idiot” again) how contrary they can be. Couldn’t they have just written 10 or 11 great songs for us to listen to?