Monday, April 1, 2013

Green Day - ¡Tré!

Green Day - ¡Tré!
Reprise Records, 2012

Those who read my delayed review of Green Day’s ¡Dos! back in early December will likely recall that, for all of my disenchantment with ¡Uno!, the first piece of the band’s ill-advised triple-album, my distaste for the trilogy grew tenfold with its follow-up. ¡Dos! was an unmitigated disaster, a musical recycling pile of pop cliché and cardboard garage band imitations that ranked instantly as the worst release in the band’s catalog. But, as I noted at the end of my review, ¡Dos! wasn’t a complete waste: its vicious awfulness at least had the positive impact of making ¡Uno! sound decent. And luckily, that same impact counts for double with ¡Tré!, the final piece of the trilogy and the only truly “good” album in the bunch.

In a lot of ways, the songs on ¡Tré! are precisely what I hoped to hear from the band as they blasted past their rock opera phase and back into the realm of the more “fun” or “spontaneous” music they were making around the turn of the century. Indeed, the best moments of this record are collisions of the band’s most well-executed musical ideas to date, from the classic-pop-with-epic-sweep opening of “Brutal Love” (which sounds like it could have been an American Idiot b-side) to the punked-up, multi-part, soon-to-be live show staple that is “Dirty Rotten Bastards.” Even the songs that fall a notch below the highlights, stuff like “Missing You” or “8th Street Serenade,” come across as exactly what Green Day were trying to accomplish with this trilogy, and exactly what they missed the mark on throughout the majority of the first two discs. These are songs with solid hooks, full-bodied performances, and altogether more life than the band showcased on ¡Uno! and ¡Dos!, even on their best tracks, and the result is a record with infinitely more replay value than we've heard from Green Day in quite some time.

In fact, the band sounds so much more engaged here that it’s almost difficult to believe these songs came from the same sessions that produced drivel like “Troublemaker,” “Kill the DJ,” or “Nightlife.” Frontman Billie Joe Armstrong sings like a new man on “Brutal Love,” hitting notes hard, fast, and with more soul and attitude than he’s manifested since Idiot. Another key cut, the irresistibly addictive “X-Kid,” takes less than four minutes to boil down the band’s last 15 years into a should-be radio single, a song that’s both retro and fresh, nostalgic and of-the-moment. “Hey, little kid, did you wake up late one day?/And you're not so young, but you're still dumb/And you're numb to your old glory, but now it's gone,” Billie Joe sings over a halting guitar scratch during the song’s opening moments, revisiting the bored and restless kids that populated Dookie and the politically disenfranchised rebels of American Idiot, and showing us where they ended up once they hit middle age. For a band seemingly embroiled in the second identity crisis of their (still relatively brief) career, the song is a moment of clarity, an acknowledgment that they don’t quite know where to go next. Ironically, but perhaps appropriately, that revelation comes during the best song they’ve written in years.

¡Tré! has no overarching theme or unity of sound, though it’s a bit funny to note that this album, which the band called a “mix” or “grab-bag” of styles going in, is the most cohesive installment in the trilogy. Where both ¡Uno! and ¡Dos! tried to veer close to a pair of genre styles (the former was supposed to be the “power pop” record, while the latter was all about “garage rock”), ¡Tré! masters both with more confidence and energy than the genre-specific records ever managed. See the album’s mid-section, which blazes through fast and loose pop numbers (“Little Boy Named Train,” “Amanda,” “Walk Away”) with effortless power-pop gravitas. That effective mid-section plays like a nostalgic time machine, its songs ringing with slick melodic sensibilities and crackling attitude that land somewhere between the band’s roots, early Weezer, and the pop-rock genius of Butch Walker’s Marvelous 3.

“Dirty Rotten Bastards” kicks things back to the 2000s, playing like a truncated version of “Jesus of Suburbia” or “Homecoming,” American Idiot’s shape-shifting centerpieces. “99 Revolutions,” on the other hand, is more indicative of the overall sound of the trilogy, an upbeat pop-rocker that sounds destined to be played over the opening or closing credits of teen comedies for the next decade. Meanwhile “The Forgotten” closes out the record with a sappy bit of piano-laced balladry, its Twilight soundtrack roots masking the fact that it’s a dead-ringer for some of 21st Century Breakdown's most dramatic moments. While the song doesn't have the climactic force of the band's best closers ("Whatsername" from Idiot, or "Macy's Day Parade" from Warning), it's a fitting conclusion for both the album and for the weird, disjointed trilogy that it's a part of.

Just like its predecessors, ¡Tré! is neither flawless nor game-changing. These songs very much thrive on their hooks, featuring mostly naval-gazing lyrical content that leaves no real impression on its own. Then again, Green Day has hardly ever been known as a force of great poetry, relying more on all the fun, energy, and attitude that they can generate with only three or four chords, and that surge of melodic sensibility is very alive and well here. ¡Tré! isn’t quite a great record: it’s not going to define a generation of scene kids like Dookie did, nor will it take over the radio waves and invade all public consciousness like American Idiot. (And don’t expect to see the album’s narrative, whatever the hell that is, played out in a Broadway musical). But the true strength of ¡Tré! is found in the way it redeems a trilogy that many had written off after its first two installments, and for me at least, that's enough to serve as a reminder that Green Day can still make music worth caring about.

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