Green Day – ¡Uno!

Green Day

Here is your mission should you choose to accept it (provided you are 21 years of age and not on the clock): blast Green Day’s ¡Uno! with your preferred alcoholic beverage in hand as you read this review. Now, throw back a swig every time Billie Joe fires off a four-letter bomb over the course of ¡Uno! ’s 12 songs. (*Spoiler alert: Unless you’re dead-set on getting your stomach pumped in the coming hours, stick to nothing stronger than your favorite beer.)

If putting out that challenge right up front strikes you as this reviewer’s censorship equivalent of a parental advisory sticker, rest assured it is not. Green Day’s ¡Uno! is a loud, raucous rock and roll record with a blitzkrieg of cussing, but rarely is it profane. This is a fun record with a brash attitude made by grown men who have been veterans of the alternative and pop music scene for more than 20 years.

¡Uno! is a wealth of paradoxes if you analyze it deeply, but that’s not the intention here. It’s a bombastic pop statement chocked full of blazing three minute rock songs, old-school punk ethos and unassailable hooks. It also drops more F-bombs than you can count on a dozen hands, says nothing new, and is packed with spirited populist anthems with teenage outcasts at heart but written by 40-year-olds.  The interchangeable anthems have nothing particularly poetic or potent to say in the lyric department, but they’re brought to life with a barrage of adrenaline shots from raging guitars, a muscular rhythm section and perfectly adolescent pop harmonies barbed with punk wit. ¡Uno! hits you like a defibrillator when your youth is flatlining; it jolts you to back to energetic life with a dumbstruck smile across your face and a shaky head, but you’ll be hard-pressed to remember a damn detail worth knowing once the shock has left your body. This is not the criticism is may be mistaken for.

Even at their best, Green Day have always been a frenzied live band backed by the punk ethos of their heroes and a knack for massive radio-ready melodies. As highly as they hold The Clash in reverie, Green Day will never reach that caliber of necessity. In their decades of existence, nobody has ever claimed “Green Day is the (new) only band that matters.” That’s not only because they catapulted onto the mainstream radar singing boredom anthems about masturbation and naming their breakthrough album Dookie; even when they try to make grand political statements (American Idiot, 21st Century Breakdown), the anthems are most predisposed to target high school outcasts and aging slackers.

The truth is Green Day has never tried to be The Clash, the ¡Uno! ¡Dos! ¡Tres! trilogy has no intention of being Sandinista!, and Green Day have always been damn fine at sticking to their guns and doing what they do best: writing three-minute, radio-ready anthems with a subversive word or two thrown in to bring the punks and the Top 40 listeners together for a party where the two sides can coexist. What they do best is the exact reason they were considered sell-outs by the punk community before they even made a mark. Now that they’ve outlasted every one of their peers by a decade or more, their mission or talents should never be in question. Yes, Billie Joe, Mike and Tre have embraced change through the years and made bold strides to great commercial success (American Idiot has sold more than 14 million copies worldwide and spawned a hit Broadway musical adaptation). Now, ¡Uno! finds Green Day pursuing the exact formula that made them famous, and they do it more skillfully and urgently than ever before.

¡Uno! is not aging veterans chasing the Fountain of Youth, nor is it a shrewd group of rich musicians capitalizing on an established brand as a means to move units and gain more wealth. The album is as far the band can get from reinvention, but it’s not mere rehashing or playing Rock Band with their own catalog either. This is a trio of men doing the exact thing they’ve always loved more than anything else, and they do it with the passion and energy of boys half their age.

Green Day do nothing to reinvent the wheel here. As a matter of fact, more than half the songs seem to build from the exact rhythm and melody of The Clash’s iconic cover (of the Bobby Fuller Four’s cover) of Sonny Curtis’ “I Fought the Law.” There couldn’t be a more perfect song to explain Green Day’s intentions on Uno! (and, presumably, the ¡Uno! ¡Dos! ¡Tres!  trilogy as a whole) or a band’s ability to embrace the glories of generations past without appearing regressive or riskless. “I Fought the Law” could easily be considered one of the first punk songs ever written. The punk ethos of the lyrics is pure perfection, and it will never go out of style or lack relevance.

On the 12 songs of Uno!, Green Day embraces the iconic spirit of that cross-generational anthem, and they bring it to vivid life at the speed of sound while shouting snarling teenage sing- alongs:

“Always fuck, fucking with my head now / Always fuck, fucking with my head now,” “Are we too young to die?,” “Stay the night ‘cause we’re running out of time,” “Had a dream that I kissed your lips and it felt so true,” “You’re a stupid motherfucker / Save the shit for the pigs cause we’re all crazy / You’re all crazy now,” and “Someone kill the DJ / Shoot the fucking the DJ / Voices in my head are saying shoot that fucker down.”

If you rose to the formidable challenge at the open of this review, you’re glassy-eyed, plastered or blackout drunk (or you’re more of a champion drinker than this reviewer). What you will have noticed by this point in the album (and, if you’re a longtime fan of the band, on Green Day album), Green Day have a semi-miraculous knack for cussing up a storm without seeming profane. Their four-letter anthems are adolescent sing-alongs that hit you as infectiously muscular pop rather than off-putting profanity. A string of F-bombs in a chorus from Billie Joe is nearly the equivalent of a flawless do-do-do chorus (think Third Eye Blind’s “Semi –Charmed Life,” coincidentally a catchy pop song about meth addiction). If that’s not a testament to a band fully aware of its most impressive strengths, I don’t know what is.

¡Uno! is light years from the riskiest or most artistically minded album you’ll hear this year (or any other). Its 12 songs rollick straight-ahead with enough firepower to blast an exit wound through the speakers for the duration of the 41-minute running time. These songs make a delirious ruckus over the span of ¡Uno!, but stomping the pedal down for another two albums may see the formula overstaying its welcome. Then again, maybe it won’t. After all, Green Day know damn well what they do best, and they’ve been doing it for years with people naysaying the whole damn time. ¡Uno! may be imperfect in many ways, but it’s also nearly perfect in countless ways that matter. The truest strength of ¡Uno! is that it’s the exact album Green Day needed to make at this point in their career. Turn it on, drink up and enjoy!


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