Mid-Life Crisis: Green Day’s ¡Uno!
Green Day has always been somewhat of a controversial band, praised and mocked in equal measure. In the 25-odd years over which it has labored, it has established a distinct flavor and tone that in the past decade has undergone a stark transformation: the sarcastically mundane anarchy of Dookie and Nimrod replaced with a more politically conscious rhetoric, as exemplified by the likes of American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown. The Green Day on which today’s generation has been raised with is one with a purpose and a vision, a band determined to convince people that the term “rock opera” doesn’t have to mean a blind kid playing pinball. In recent years, whether or not you want to allow Billie Joe Armstrong to call himself a punk rocker, Green Day has dedicated itself to trying to convince you that angry music is more than just angry music. Guy-liner can change the world.
¡Uno!, Green Day’s most recent album, released this past Tuesday, is a retcon of sorts for the group and a revitalization of the spirit which defined them in the mid to late ’90s. For lack of a better analogy, ¡Uno! is Green Day’s New 52. Unfortunately, the reaction that the album provokes can be at best described as “eh,” and at worst…well, I’ll get to that.
¡Uno! is coming out at somewhat of an awkward time for the band. Just four days before the album’s release, the band’s set at the iHeartRadio Festival was supposedly cut short, resulting in an expletive-filled outburst by our dear Billie Joe, which featured some good old-school guitar smashing by the vocalist. Bassist Mike Dirnt joined in with some hesitant but supportive destruction.
This is the sort of rage that permeates ¡Uno!: this willingness to stand up to the smaller “injustices”—to fight against the day to day inconveniences of the world as if each were the devil himself. It’s an attitude that enlivened albums like Dookie, that made them powerful and relatable. We don’t all live our lives in constant awareness of the oppression of the American government. Some of us might want to wake midway through September. But we all know what it’s like to be shortchanged, stabbed in the back in ways that really don’t change our lives but still, as my fifteen year old self would say, fucking blows, man.
And it’s a deep-seated understanding of this kind of rage, and the knowledge of how well Green Day has made use of such sentiments in the past, that makes the actual meat of ¡Uno! such a disappointment. Conceptually, the album gestures toward something that should feel fundamental but in practice only reminds us that, no matter how elemental these feelings are, there’s a reason why we’d rather listen to someone else express them while dancing along in the overly-postered rooms of our youth than actually do so ourselves. These aren’t really feelings of which we can ever be proud. These are feelings that are tied to a certain stage of our lives and that, while existing in some capacity as we grow, don’t really age well.
Technically, ¡Uno! doesn’t make that many mistakes. The opener and closer—“Nuclear Family” and “Oh Love,” respectively—are fun and catchy, certainly harmless. Musically, the record’s only sin is that it’s boring. The whole affair seems very episodic and choppy, and any momentum is undermined by shallow and humorless lyrics. Gone is the fun beneath the vitriol. Accordingly, these supposedly invigorating teen anthems seem insincere and condescending. Rather than wanting to rage alongside the musicians, or even dance at all, I sort of just bobbed my head and awkwardly shifted my weight.
Now, one could write off all these criticisms by simply saying that Green Day writes for a certain age group of which I am no longer a member, and I guess that’s fair. However, in my mind, bands have an obligation to themselves and to the growth of their music. The best groups evolve. When Green Day became political, that was a change. That was a step in a new direction. And whether you found those albums moving or not, it was hard not to nod with some sort of respect at the decision to go somewhere new, to let the music grow with the musician.
In this way, the iHeartRadio debacle was absolutely indicative of the album it preceded: a mess of embarrassingly misplaced fervor, a temper tantrum rather than a last stand. By my third listen to ¡Uno!, the record had made me think of Green Day not as a band and not as punks or teens. I couldn’t help but see them as dads at a club for a twilight hurrah. They’re way too old for this shit.