Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Green Day - ¡Dos!

Green Day - ¡Dos!
Reprise Records, 2012
Two and a half stars

Eight years ago this fall, Green Day were on top of the world. The trio were in the midst of a terrific year: they had just dropped what was pretty much the ultimate comeback album and were riding the success of it with their biggest, most culturally ubiquitous set of singles to date; they were shoe-ins for a truckload of Grammy nominations—Album of the Year among them—and, even though they had to watch their hated President Bush win a second term in the White House, his victory was set against a nation of angry young people who despised him, a chorus of voices who were screaming Green Day’s songs right back at them in loud and rambunctious protest. The album that did it, American Idiot, was a zeitgeist-friendly throwback to classic rock grandeur, a tremendous set of songs that, though they lacked any semblance of eloquent political rhetoric, offered a pitch-perfect snapshot of what it meant to live and love in 2004’s fucked up modern America. Idiot single-handedly re-popularized the rock opera for the post-millennial generation, eventually paving the way for a popular Broadway musical and establishing Green Day’s relevance for another decade. But while much was made of the album’s high concept, no one put it better than Quentin Tarantino, who, while introducing the band at the Grammy’s that year, flippantly called American Idiot “a concept album with a very novel concept: all the songs are good.”

Fast forward to now, and my how the mighty have fallen. Look at Green Day today and we no longer see a larger-than-life rock band trying to tap into the all-American everyman struggle. No, now we see a trio of elder punks shattered by addiction, a band whose frontman is mired in unspecified substance abuse rehabilitation, and a musical collective who, we can now be sure, is going through their second mid-life crisis in as many decades. That’s not to say that the ambition has been entirely lost in the shuffle, though: any band who decides to release three albums in a year, let alone in a single quarter, is clearly still striving for something big. Hell, the double album is enough of a test as it is; few bands ever attempt the triple, and from the looks of it, two albums into Green Day’s self-dubbed “trilogy,” there’s a very, very good reason that they don’t.

The most frustrating thing about Green Day’s two 2012 records so far, especially the second (fittingly titled ¡Dos!), is not that they lack uniform greatness. Few listeners expected Dookie or American Idiot quality masterworks here, and almost everyone went into these albums expecting to contend with at least a few traces of filler material. No, the most frustrating thing about this series is that, thus far, the albums have failed to meet even the most modest of expectations. Indeed, these albums don’t just have traces of filler: they could easily be argued as containing entirely filler in comparison to Green Day’s best albums. Sure, we get a few catchy tracks here and there—“Stray Heart” is as unabashedly infectious as anything the band has written since Warning, and “Lazy Bones” is a solid slice of simplistic pop—this is Green Day after all. But surprisingly more often, the hooks simply fall flat. See duds like “Ashley” and “Lady Cobra,” derivative clusters of lyrical clichés with musical templates as nondescript as their titles. On Dookie, Green Day made an album of shimmering hooks that has endured for nearly 20 years: these songs don’t endure for six seconds.

¡Dos!’s most impressive accomplishment, sadly, is that is somehow manages to contain a song worse than ¡Uno!’s low point (take your pick between “Kill the DJ” and “Troublemaker” for that title). “Nightlife” is the worst song the band has ever put on a record, a bizarre hybrid between autotune-drenched R&B and Ke$ha’s trashy brand of “rap”-pop. Blame Lady Cobra (apparently a real person and not just the title of ¡Dos!’s previous track) who moans her way through horrific couplets like “This town is filled with snakes, mistakes and whiskey shakes/It's too late I already cut the brakes” without a touch of irony. The song feels more like parody than genuine album contribution, but then again, most of ¡Dos! (supposedly the “garage rock” album in this trilogy) comes across as a mocking imitation of its influences rather than a seamless channeling of them.

The bad lyrics don’t end with “Nightlife” either. One particularly funny user misheard a key line in the pedestrian “Wild One” as “She gave up on Jesus for living on penis” (it’s actually Venus, but the shift hardly makes for a better line). “Fuck Time,” which gives the album’s its proper opening after the lo-fi intro of “See You Tonight” (think 21st Century Breakdown’s “Song of the Century”) actually relies on “Oh baby, baby, it's fuck time/You know I really wanna make you mine” as its hook. And while ¡Dos! reaches some level of redemption as it nears the finish line (“Wow! That’s Loud” has an infectiously loose feel to it, emphasized by its rousing guitar solo, while the Winehouse tribute “Amy” lifts the chorus melody from “Shoplifter” for a nice balladic conclusion), even those moments are little more than lukewarm.

Looking back now at the day the band announced ¡Uno!, ¡Dos!, and ¡Tré!, it’s fairly clear that this trilogy was an ill-advised decision. With that said, the last of the three drops next week (you can stream it here), and it’s far and away the most solid (more on that later). As for ¡Dos!, not much more can be said. Green Day has never seemed so bored or uninspired, never sounded like they were so thoroughly out of ideas, and the fact that they cannot salvage these songs by playing them live has threatened to derail the entire project. (Nothing against Billie Joe for entering rehab: I fully support his decision.) Aside from a few solid, unspectacular pop-rock songs though, ¡Dos! Has only one thing to offer: it makes ¡Uno! sound a hell of a lot better.

P.S. Bono called: wants to know where ¡Catorce! is.


  1. I didn't like Uno much, liked Dos a lot better, but haven't listened to it much, but I surprisingly enjoyed Tre a lot, what do you think of it?

    1. Yeah, I like Tre a lot. I'm actually working on a review, so that should be up on AP before too long.

  2. As Ryan Key once said, these guys have created a masterpiece (Dookie and American Idiot) twice in their career, which is extremely rare. American Idiot is still one of my favorite albums. Unfortunately, it seems like it went all downhill from there. 21st Century Breakdown was kind of a shot-for-shot remake of Idiot. Tre is the only one of the trilogy worth buying, in my opinion.