Green Day's ¡Uno!: An Extended Look
by Justin Farrar | September 27, 2012
September has been a tumultuous month for Green Day. In the weeks leading up to the release of ¡Uno!, the first in a trilogy of albums the group will unleash this fall, frontman Billie Joe Armstrong was rushed to the hospital for reasons we hear were related to his throat. Apparently recovered, he then lost his mind during the band's September 21 performance at the iHeartRadio Music Festival in Las Vegas. Kick-starting his ire was a massive electronic sign at the back of the venue alerting the band that they had one minute left in their set. Like any self-respecting punk rocker, Billie Joe doesn't like to be told what to do. And so, he smashed his Les Paul Junior with a half-dozen whacks after unleashing an epic rant that for some reason included poor little Biebs!
"I'm not fcking Justin Bieber, you motherfckers," he scowled. "You've gotta be fcking joking. This is a fcking joke. I got one minute. One minute left. Oh, now I got nothing left."
The culmination of this saga-in-miniature arrived a few days later, on the Sunday before the new album's release, when a band representative announced that Armstrong had checked himself into rehab. During all this, bandmates Mike Dirnt and Tre Cool have been busy on the apology circuit: We're sorry we had to cancel some shows. We're sorry for Billie Joe's unbecoming behavior. We're sorry for yadda yadda yadda.
Personally, I don't think the band needs to apologize for a goddamn thing, especially Armstrong's awesome rant. They're punks, after all. But hey, we've built this ridiculously puritanical cyber-society where any public figure that doesn't behave like a well-disciplined automaton 24/7 is threatened with banishment from the corporate hive mind if he or she doesn't issue an apology video within 48 hours of whatever silly indiscretion that glorified tabloid HuffPo has pasted across its front page so the clicks and hits and ad revenue keep on coming ... am I right or what?
Anyway, it's impossible to listen to ¡Uno! without all this stuff swirling about the noggin. Featuring 12 slices of no-frills power pop (think Dookie meets, say, Teenage Fanclub), the record finds the trio ditching the musical maturity, political gravitas and arena-sized grandeur of their last two records, American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown. The only real macro-level statement song is the punk-disco number "Kill the DJ," a self-righteously rockist diss at big-city hipsters and their supposedly Babylon-stained love for drugs, decadence and dance music:
Walkin' after dark
In the New York City park
I'll pick up what's left in the club
My pocket full of pills
Sodom and Gomorrah
In the century of thrills
Outside that, however, the primary focus of Armstrong's extremely expletive-laced lyrics is punk's archetypal themes (restlessness, anxiety, insecurity, anger, indignation and, of course, boredom), all with an acutely personal bent. It's as if the record is the band's way of saying, Enough with being responsible rock stars: Let's hawk loogies and act up like the little pricks we used to be back in the Gilman days. Which isn't an uncommon sentiment among veteran rock stars hitting their dreaded forties.
The problem is that midlife-crisis rock almost always comes with more desperation than fun (that's why it's called a crisis). Right out the gate, with "Nuclear Family," Billie Joe delivers the score: "Like a nuclear bomb and it won't be long 'til I detonate." But the romance that typically accompanies such angst-ridden notions is neutralized by a pungent whiff of paranoia: "Can you hear the sound coming over the hill?/ Gotta move my feet, it's coming in for the kill." Not only that, but this odd couplet, too: "Drinking angel's piss, gonna crash and burn/ I just want some action so gimme my turn."
The paranoia gives way to masochism on "Stay the Night." The tune revolves around a familiar pop-tune scenario: a boy pleading with a girl to leave everything behind and join him in a brief explosion of love, lust and obsession (a fling, basically). But that pleading turns ugly in a hurry. "I've got an impulse so impulsive that it burns," Armstrong cries. "I wanna break your heart until it makes your stomach churn." These aren't the quaint, frustrated utterances of a lovesick teenage boy, but a man who feels bitter because all the fun and unpredictability and passion that used to come so easily in life is now totally and utterly spent. Similar themes pop up again and again, in the manically snotty "Loss of Control," in "Let Yourself Go," in "Troublemaker," in the odd battle march "Carpe Diem" (which contains, interestingly enough, yet another bomb/detonation metaphor) and most definitely in the closer "Oh Love" ("I'm wearing my heart on a noose").
The fact that ¡Uno! is, musically speaking, Green Day's most single-minded album since the Lookout!-released Kerplunk adds just another layer of dissonance to the proceedings. Armstrong unloading all his weird and unruly vibes doesn't really jibe with how each tune is a well-oiled conveyer belt of classic pop moves: hummable hooks, sweet choruses, punchy breaks. There also are touches of Social D-style twang and plenty of hot licks (like on the aforementioned "Let Yourself Go") that speak to the band's often-overlooked love of classic rock. It really is staggering to think just how much controversy and drama have already transpired, and the band still has two more volumes of this madness to go. Is their fan base up for what is surely going to be one turbulent nostalgia trip?