Quick Review: Green Day, 21st Century Breakdown

It’s good, and I like it, and I think I’ll like it more the more I listen to it. It continues in the same vein of American Idiot, i.e., loosely linked concept album with lots of anthemic moments, so if you like the one you’ll like the other.

That said, I’ve seen reviews that say it tops American Idiot, and I don’t think that’s even close to being true. Even if 21CB has more of thematic through-line than AI (which it does) and the songwriting is close to par with that album (and it is), the fact is AI is substantially more significant, both for the band — it was the album where a fading set of yesterday’s heroes said “fuck it,” went for broke and watched it pay off big — and for its time, in which its snarly WTF? attitude perfectly encapsulated a generation’s growing disgust for Bush’s America. Lots of musicians were pissed off about Bush in 2004, to be sure. But Green Day was the one that hit the sentiment right out of the park and went multi-platinum with it as a consequence. Right place, right time, right band, right album. Nice when it happens. It doesn’t happen for everyone.

So as good as 21CB is, at the end of the day Green Day’s going to be remembered for two albums: Dookie, which is the album that got them their career, and American Idiot, which got them their career back, and will probably (for what it’s worth) get them into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame one day. As long as we’re clear on this, we’re all good.

43 Comments on “Quick Review: Green Day, 21st Century Breakdown”

  1. Umm, wow do you and I have different views on the arc of Green Day’s career. I, personally, am of the view that a tragic bus accident killing at least 2 of the members around Y2K is the only thing that could have saved the RnR Hall of Fame for them. Or, alternatively, Green Day: A Case History of How Self-Conscious Corporate Faux Punk Should Be Kept to One Album.

  2. I’m pretty excited about this album but am also rather realistic in that I don’t at all expect it to be as good as or top AI.

  3. Could never figure out how Green Day got popular again. (Even overlooking the fact that they somehow became popular in the first place.) I was dreading the day when, say, the Offspring stopped playing in sh*tty California bars or whatever it is they do now and thought “Hey, if Green Day can come back, maybe we can too!”

    (I suppose that may have happened and it just didn’t work, to which I can only offer thanks to Euterpe or whoever.)

  4. And then there’s my sons’ opinion, that says that American Idiot is total sellout, and they’ve betrayed the punk manifesto.

    To which I say, “It’s pro-duct. Deal with it.”

  5. @joelfinkle: You’re son will have to be forgiven for his youth. Anybody who thinks of a particular Green Day album as a sellout has paid no attention to the band, their sound or their business. How old is the scamp? :-)

    The only album where they tried to be something they weren’t was Insomniac, and that was only because the fans said they had sold out on Dookie by not being punk enough – as if they were ever “spit-on-me” punk. If making your music LESS commercial is selling out, then I’m confused on what the term means.

    I remember asking my dad (just turned 60) what he thought of Pink Floyd ages back: “Well, I liked them before they went mainstream.” COOLEST. DAD. EVER. :-)

  6. People, people. Let’s get one thing perfectly clear: Green Day have more of a claim to being ‘real punk’ than the Clash ever did. None of them went to an expensive private school courtesy of wealthy parents, and as far as I know they never recorded any embarrassing your-dad-at-karaoke reggae-lite fusion. OK? OK.

  7. Who cares what genre they’re classified as? Personally, I like most of Green Day’s music, and I’m looking forward to this album.

    And yes, they will probably end up in the RnR HOF someday, simply because Dookie was a monumental album that defined my generation as much as Nirvana’s Nevermind did 5 years before. (Though I’m a little young for the whole Nirvana thing.) RnR HOF gauges the influence of the music, not just popularity.

  8. Regarding the aside regarding being admitted to the RnR Hall of Fame “(for what it’s worth),” the answer is: nothing, unless you’re talking about “worth” in a financial sense. I mean, Bob Seger is one of its members. Yeesh. Columbus’s Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments got it right:

    Bombs away on the Rock ‘n Roll hall of fame
    Even if I get inducted I’d probably feel the same
    I don’t want to see Eric Clapton’s stuffed baby
    I don’t want to see the shotgun of Kurt Cobain

    I have no idea what the RnR Hall of Fame gauges, except for popularity. (Cf. QueenTess @9.) And it doesn’t take anything other than SoundScan to gauge that.

  9. @Anon 10

    “One of the Foundation’s many functions is to recognize the contributions of those who have had a significant impact on the evolution, development and perpetuation of rock and roll by inducting them into the Hall of Fame.”


    How they gauge this, of course, I have no idea. I’ve been living in Cleveland for about 8 years now, so I’ve been to the RnR HOF more times than I can count – I don’t have much use for the HOF itself, though it’s a pretty building. I’m just not into music enough for looking at the stuff of musicians to matter to me. When I go, I go to listen to the music they have available. (And they throw a kick-ass holiday bash, though I’m not sure if that’s due to the HOF staff or my employer’s party planning.)

  10. Dookie is an awesome album. So was Kerplunk! American Idiot was really good, and honestly, I don’t care if it is their “sell-out” album. It was good, and that’s all I care about. I’ll have to give this one a go.

    It’s like with Tegan and Sarah, some could say they sold out with The Con, but to me, it’s their best work. Whatever.

  11. Hey, punk rock kids: Your favorite band “sold out” the minute they a.) played a show that wasn’t free, b.) sold a single bit of merchandise, or c.) recorded an album for anyone to listen to other then themselves.

    Everything else is a matter of degree. Follow the logic that allows you deride Green Day for Dookie and it leads you to anyone who ever accepted money to make music.

    In other words, lighten up and go find something more important to obsess about.

  12. See, I’ve never gotten the “not real punk” attitude about Green Day. Firstly, surely jumping on the anti-authority bandwagon is at least in the ballpark of what punk is about?

    Secondly, isn’t punk about the emotional response you get from authority, rather than the music itself? Real punk is rebellion against refinement, sophistication and education. The mohawk and the tatty clothes serve to say both that you don’t care about looking ‘presentable’ and to disturb and confront the people who do.

    So basically punk is very much like gangsta rap – more concerned with the posturing and the justification of a lifestyle than quality. Punk explicitly rejects quality, while quality in gangsta is missing the point (the point being “look at me”).

    And thirdly, most of the early punk icons are in ads selling butter or something these days so I’m pretty sure punk hasn’t got a huge amount of legitimacy as a movement any more. So Green Day can be punk if they want.

    This has been a large comment intellectually justifying my emotional enjoyment of American Idiot. Thank you for reading.

  13. Years ago, maybe 10, I saw a real honest to god sell out. The Sex Pistols did their Filthy Lucre Tour. It was all about the money baby. Totally awesome show though. It was the Pistols after all. Well, minus one.

  14. Just as a follow-up: I could care less whether or not Green Day is/was ever “authentic”. Their sound grew stale after the 2nd album and has been thus ever since. American Idiot broke little new ground except being preachy. Which is fine. Although I think it funny that they basically made the Toby Keith album for the Left, with the title track being as self-righteously annoying as the Angry ‘Murican song.

    Soo, Flame war in 3..2..1…

  15. You know, predicting a flame war because of something you said is a little like saying “Hey, everyone! Punch me! Punch me! Aw, come on! Punch me!”

    Anyway: You don’t like Green Day. That’s fine.

  16. So for all the boomers out there: AI is to 21CB as DSotM is to Animals?

  17. It’s a little odd to me that people expect an artist to remain in this creative stasis field that reproduces only what they like. Green Day has changed over something like fifteen years? Who can honestly say they’re the same person they were fifteen years ago? People seem to always assume that money changes an artist, and they’re not wrong but I think they’re forgetting that there are a lot of other factors that change them, too. Money is an easy scapegoat, but it’s a lot more realistic to think that, hey, these guys are living lives and probably aren’t the same people they were when they released that album I like.

    Of course, I could be wrong, and Green Day are soulless corporate meat puppets. I don’t know, I’ve never met them personally.

  18. In order to sell-out one must first have some sort of indie credibility, right? That is the commodity for sale, by my understanding. Liz Phair, for instance. She’s a sell-out, by any understanding of the term. Green Day, on the other hand, were snapped up off the streets of Berkley (!!) before they ever had a chance to even think of being anything other than mainstream. Bitching about Green Day selling out is a lot like complaining that you caught a fish and it’s wet.

  19. Re: The concept of selling out: It’s really the musicians’ call as to whether or not they’ve “sold out” by playing one type of music or another. If Green Day actually enjoy making concept albums and blending pop with their punk (or punk with their pop), then they’re not selling out. At least not artistically. Yes, they’re still getting paid mad money for their commercialized pseudo-punk, but maybe that’s the type of stuff they’d be playing anyway.

    Perhaps it would be more accurate to say they betrayed their original fan base, but would you really like them any better if they just dropped another Dookie every two or three years?

  20. The whole sell-out discussion, for any band, is amusing.

    First, the vast majority of bands/singers like music from every genre/style. They like MUSIC and all good music, usually. This makes the implication that a band/singer sold out, because they let a genre/style influence them you don’t like a foolish idea. I would think selling out in this sense would be not including any changes they wanted to make, which is the exact opposite of what everyone defines as a sell out.

    Secondly, the real reason most people yell, “SELL OUT!”, is because they no longer feel the band is all for them anymore. Unfortunately, it never was in the first place.

    The sell out discussion is boring and completely irrelevant to any band. Their music is either good or it’s not. Personally, I like both the Dookie and the American Idiot Green Day.

    Would Scalzi be considered a sell out if Zoe’s Tale suddenly sold like J.K. Rowling’s works? The amount of money or popularity derived from an artistic work has nothing to do with selling out.

  21. What Chad @ #25 said.
    The argument about sell-outs reminds me of something Henry Rollins said (and I have likely screwed up the exact wording, but the gist is the same): You’re only a sell-out when you make something you DON’T like for the money.

    It’s such a dumb-ass argument. As if anyone–especially someone who hopes to live off of their art, like any musician, writer, painter, etc.–is going to turn their noses up at money and instead insist upon staying in that crappy apartment and eating Ramen until the end of time. People who say they only “write for themselves” (or play music, or paint, etc.) are, IMHO, full of it. They’re either lying to sound blase and cool, which perpetuates the ridiculous idea that someone can be a sell-out, or they aren’t serious about being an artist. One half of the equation is the audience, after all.

  22. Kevin S. @ #22 and Chad@ #25: Exactly.

    I’m not much of a fan of Green Day, particularly. I thought Dookie was massively overplayed, though I respected it. I agreed with the general opinion (that I heard, anyhow) that American Idiot was, essentially, Green Day growing up and putting out a more thoughtful album.

    The definition of ‘punk’, for me, is ‘raw, visceral guitar rock produced by fringe bands in the late 70s/early 80s’. Green Day could never be punk by that definition, just by virtue of their timing release. Moreover, even Dookie was too well-produced to classify. Compare ‘Holiday in Cambodia’, ‘Institutionalized’ to anything on Dookie, for example. Are The Clash ‘punk’? I think they are, but by the general defintion, I suppose it depends what year you ask.

    The ‘rail against authority’ stuff was hardly new to punk, much as many punk enthusiasts want to claim it was. Being ANGRY, sometimes scarily so, was new, not the act of bucking authority, which has gone hand in hand with several forms of music, including Jazz and Big Band. Punk’s driving ethos was anger at the system and a rejection of it, often with the implication that it needed to be torn down.

  23. “would you really like them any better if they just dropped another Dookie every two or three years?” Actually, I would be very worried about their digestive processes!

    Anyhow, for those interested the new Green Day album is streaming at rhapsody.com.

  24. Here’s the Henry Rollins quote:
    I’m sure you have had the experience of watching television and snapping to attention when you hear a familiar song by one of your favorite small of fame bands as the backdrop for an automobile commercial. Perhaps you have thought to yourself, “That is so fucking weak, what a bunch of sellouts. I hate their guts!” I get letters from people expressing their outrage that they heard the music of The Stooges, The Ramones, The Buzzcocks, or The Fall in an ad and I understand their anger and sense of loss as they figure yet another one of their well-kept secrets has just become part of the corporate structure and the band is nothing more than the lap dogs of the man, the very man they were supposed to be sticking it to in every waking moment. These bands are not being co-opted or selling out at all. Selling out is when you make the record you are told to make instead of the one you want to make. I wonder if it ever occurred to these people that the reason the music of these interesting and alternative bands is being recruited is because their fans are now the ones calling the shots. In other words, we have arrived! Of course the ad is trying to sell you something and by using a band you like, attempting to gain your confidence by exploiting the band’s integrity for a commercial end. So what? You’re not a fuckin’ moron are ya? You see through that, don’t ya? What would you rather hear, Iggy and The Teddybears doing “I’m A Punk Rocker” in a car ad or enduring some generic background music? I thought so. Do you have any idea what some of these bands went through to make that music? The fact that there might be some money for them all these years later is great. You think that paycheck is in any way a slight to their integrity? Are you fucking kidding me? Pay them. Pay them double. Pay them now. It’s about fuckin’ time.

  25. WizarDru: Thanks for the quote. I heard him say it; I didn’t read it (so I didn’t bother to go dig it up).

  26. I used to enjoy Green Day, and even now, I admit they sound incredibly good. However, my personal politics get in the way of enjoying them– I’ve been working for years now on becoming more libertarian and less conservative. Sometimes I succeed. Ironically, some of the tunes I enjoy regard similar criticism of a war of years past. Hopefully, with the perspective of time, I’ll be able to set aside my personal feelings and subjectively enjoy the music while objectively pondering the reasons behind the criticisms within the lyrics. Seriously, there’s a good thing there’s such a wide array of viewpoints and interests in music fans, which is what helps further the diversity of viewpoints available as well as preserving those viewpoints for later reconsideration.
    Maybe I’ll learn something down the road, too, that I can’t see now.

  27. I’m always amused by those who dislike “pop-punk”. Every goddamned punk band in the world does Stepping Stone, a song by Boyce and Hart. Pop and punk are both three chords and a six pack. They go together like Boone’s Farm and fingerbanging the prom queen.

  28. Glad to hear it, John! I liked Dookie when it came out (although I never listen to it now), and American Idiot is probably the best album I’ve heard in the last ten years. So I’m glad that this next one seems to be along the same vein, if not quite as good.

  29. Shane @17: Good to be reminded of that tour. Anyone for a Filthy Lucre t-shirt which is so green it screams at your eyeballs?

    Bozo the Clone @21: How about AI : 21CB  ::  Rumours : Mirage instead?

    joelfinkle @4: The way Green Day handle their success? That’s con-duct.

  30. I really, really like this album. It grabbed me as quickly as American Idiot but it really is a different beast.

    Sellout? Whatever, I like it when bands I like make enough money to keep making music I like. If that’s selling out, fine.

  31. I personally think that AI is one of the best albums of the decade, and that people have underrated the non-political aspects of it. I’ve always heard it as a life story, and the final song is very middle-aged (“I remember the face but I can’t recall the name/now I wonder how What’s-her-name has been” – come on, Boomers and aging X-ers, we’ve all been there!) It strikes me as much as highly personal as it does political, with Billie Joe’s tribute to his dead father, its references to losing youthful fire and sinking into acceptance, and missing what you’ve lost – maybe that’s just me. Perhaps maturing can be interpreted as “selling out” by some.

    I haven’t heard this new one yet, I have a long drive on Friday and will have the chance to listen a couple of times through.

  32. green day did not sell out. jees jus cuz they charge for concerts and merchandise doesnt mean their “selling out”. i would carge 2. how else are u supposed to make a living. why dnt u guys go get a life and stop dissin green day. id like 2 c u do wat they do.

  33. I like Green Day. I was brought onboard by American Idiot. I think “Jesus of Suburbia” is pretty great.

    However, the idea that American Idiot is a better album than either of the two Arctic Monkeys albums, or as musically impressive, is nonsense. Yes, American Idiot is significant because it voiced my anger and many others’ against the previous administration at a time when Democrats like Kerry were acting like weak-kneed cowards. But still, no Green Day album does anything, musically speaking, that the AM don’t do better.

    This whole “Greatest Band In The World” talk is totally biased by the fact that the former is American while the latter is British.

  34. Abe:

    “the idea that American Idiot is a better album than either of the two Arctic Monkeys albums, or as musically impressive, is nonsense.”

    Abe, this is what’s called a “strawman” argument, because you appear to be reacting to a statement here no one’s made, i.e., that AI is better than your Arctic Monkeys albums of choice. No one here’s even brought up the Arctic Monkeys, or the two albums you mention. Likewise, even if the Arctic Monkeys albums are the greatest things in the history of great things, it’s neither here nor there to the idea that AI (or any album) might also be pretty damn great.

    Nor for that matter does anyone seem to making the argument that Green Day is the Best Band in the World; moreover the argument that in the Best Band in the World sweepstakes there’s a pro-American bias seems a little silly when: Beatles, Stones, Led Zeppelin.

    If you’re going to join the conversation, join the actual conversation in process, please.

  35. I wasn’t responding to anyone specifically. (A bit of over the top shilling for a band I love. I apologize.) But I have been seeing this canard in reviews I’ve been reading. The biggest problem with labeling any band the best is that everyone has differing standards, except those who have no standards. (You terrible standard-less people!) It isn’t like the Beatles, where a band is so dominant commercially that the case makes itself. Should I judge 21st Century Breakdown a “Great Album?” I enjoy it–I just don’t feel like it breaks any barriers. I don’t feel like I’ve heard anything on it that I’ve never heard before.

    This is a problem for me.

    Lust Lust Lust by the Raveonettes sounds like nothing that I’ve heard before. Devotion Implosion by Gliss seamlessly melds punk and a shoegaze “wall of sound” in a very affecting way. Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I Am Not by the Arctic Monkeys also is unique in the quality of the songwriting. Bloc Party’s Intimacy does some very interesting things with synths. The new albums from Franz Ferdinand, the Fratellis, Handsome Furs, and the Kills are at least as catchy as 21st Century Breakdown.

    I don’t believe in the notion of selling out. Green Day’s music, as far as music that gets played on the radio goes, is pretty edgy. It’s just not edgy enough. It’s revolutionary. It’s just not revolutionary enough. It doesn’t push the limits of anything other than what radio stations might be willing to put on the radio.

    That’s why for me, they are stuck a Great but not Greatest. (I’m talking about bands right now, not all-time.) It’s a very crowded field.

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