During a time in which Green Day should be promoting their first album in three years, 2012’s !Uno!, frontman Billie Joe Armstrong has a very public breakdown (supposedly related to substance abuse issues?). Not that the stakes for the multiplatinum band are so lofty given their veteran status, but valuable promotional opportunities certainly are placed on the back burner, which could certainly implicate upcoming efforts of the trio-series (¡Dos! Is due in November while !Tres! Is due in January). The numbers are looking off from 2009’s 21st Century Breakdown, which bowed at no. 1 with 215,000 on the Billboard Albums Chart. Additionally, single “Oh Love” has not impacted the likes of say “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” (no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100) or more recently “21 Guns” (no. 22). Regardless, unless next week’s potential no. 2
album somehow far surpasses its projected 150,000 copy opening (like by 500,000 copies), it still wouldn’t reach the no. 1 spot next week thanks to juggernaut Babel by British folk revivalists Mumford & Sons.
So with Armstrong seeking rehab, !Uno! Is being promoted on Green Day’s substantial popularity. Things happen and it is important that Armstrong curbs his substance abuse issues, even if the forum for breaking down was, well, tacky and embarrassing. The album itself is solid and a definite return to the band’s roots. While 2004’s American Idiot was a bona fide masterpiece (nominated for multiple Grammys and won Best
Rock Album), 2009’s 21st Century Breakdown (also a Grammy winner) ‘tickled my fancy’ less – still solid though. Maybe it was because of how great American Idiot was and the snarling, clever “subliminal mind-f*ck America” line in the title track or the chilling “Wake Me Up When September Ends” that was never toppled by the somewhat annoying “21 Guns.” Regardless, !Uno! Does not dare eclipse American Idiot, but it does restore Green Day’s past sensibilities with quick tempo, pointed
lyrics, and full-on punk-revivalist mode.
At twelve tracks and just over forty minutes, !Uno! Is compact with no ‘filler.’ That is not to say that all cuts are each other’s equals (they’re not), but there is no huge miss to be found. Well written and produced, !Uno! Is a treat.
“Nuclear Family” opens the effort compactly at 3:03 with driving guitars – very much in standard Green Day fashion. The cut doesn’t make it to the elite level set by opener “American Idiot,” but it holds its own. The chorus is notable, as it is on most ‘Green Day’ songs: “Like a Chinese company conspiracy/It’s the death of a nuclear family staring up at you/it’s looking like another bad comedy/just as long as it comes in hi-fidelity for me too…” The verses yield some notable lyrics, with “Drinking angel’s piss, gonna crash and burn…” definitely topping the list as most interesting and perhaps blasphemous? (P.S. I feel guilty even reading it!)
“Stay The Night” is slower (at first) than the opener and longer in duration at just over four and a half minutes. The tempo is initially dictated by guitar. Once the drums enter in, the tempo accelerates and eliminates some predictability. Positively, the songwriting structure of this cut – and throughout the effort – is well conceived and executed, featuring pre-chorus, chorus, and an instrumental break. The chorus certainly sells here: “So say you’ll stay the night/‘cause we’re running out of time/so stay the night/I don’t wanna say goodbye…” Consistency is key.
“Carpe Diem” opts once more for succinctness, which bodes well. The tempo is quick though not too quick, meeting somewhere in the middle. Armstrong commands as always with his vocal production particularly well attended to here. Background vocals complement on the refrain “Carpe diem, a battle cry/are we all too young to die…” The songwriting is repetitive and typical of punk idioms, which suits the band’s sensibilities. A solid guitar solo adds to the solidness exhibited by “Carpe Diem.”
If the first three cuts were solid (“Nuclear Family” being arguably the best), the next two cuts are ‘killer.’ “Let Yourself Go” delivers that signature snarl that Billie Joe Armstrong possessed on “American Idiot.” Less notably, it’s that same snarl he possesses on the infamous breakdown video, though with a few (though not that many) less f-bombs. You can tell from the onset with Tré Cool’s pummeling drum groove that you are in for an invigorating ride. Quick and fiery, Billie Joe Armstrong is completely unapologetic. On the first verse, he sets the tone:
“Shut your mouth ‘cause you’re talking too much/and I don’t give a damn anyway/ you Always seem to be stepping in sh*t/and all you really do is complain/hitch a ride, tell ‘em/All you like/small minds tend to think alike//Shut your mouth cause you’re talking too much/and I don’t give a f*ck anyway!”
Yeah, he’s ‘on autopilot.’ The chorus is as angst-laden and effective with Armstrong screaming on the latter half: “Let yourself go, let yourself go, let your self go…Gotta let me go, gotta let it go…” brief and fresh, “Let Yourself Go” is vintage Green Day.
“Kill The DJ” concedes nada as the band opt for a funkier groove that lowers the rapid tempo of “Let Yourself Go.” The snarl doesn’t dissipate as Armstrong gets in his fair share of interesting lyrics: “Walking after dark in the New York City park/I’ll pick up what’s left in the club/my pocketful of Sodom and Gomorrah/in the century of thrills…” Yep a biblical reference to sexual immorality… Additionally, he urges “Someone kill the DJ, shoot the f*cking DJ… voices in my head are sayin’ Shoot that f*cker down…” All this while delivering the most danceable beat of the album.
“Fell For You” is well organized as far as songwriting structure, even if it doesn’t possess the same spark as “Kill The DJ” or “Let Yourself Go.” The chorus is lengthy, making it slightly less catchy or addictive than the best of the effort. Length does work in “Fell For You’s” favor. “Loss of Control” restores any ceded momentum, opting for uptempo fare once more. On the first verse, Armstrong asserts “I’m taking down all my enemies ‘cause they’re all so fucking useless…” Typical mindset of a punk rock/pop band, right? It is quite a philosophy. Armstrong furthers his bite on the pre-chorus “April Fool though you’re falling love/but now you’re sucking on a door knob that I slammed in your face…” and confirms “we’re all crazy, you’re all crazy now…loss of control” on the chorus. Green Day ‘lose no control’ here.
“Trouble Maker” clocks in at a brief 2:45, again keeping in line with the punk idiom of shorter cuts. The groove is catchy pop-punk that features a ‘cutesy’ approach by Billie Joe on the verses. The hook certainly doesn’t give Bob Dylan a run for his money anytime soon (“Wanna be a troublemaker…”), but it is catchy. Well produced and sporting an excellent guitar solo, “Troublemaker” is ‘al’ight.’
“Angel Blue” proceeds in typical fashion (quick tempo, simple harmonic scheme), delivering another solid cut – by no means the second coming. The songwriting structure continues to be a selling point, particularly with using a pre-chorus following the second verse, omitting it the second verse, and bringing it back prior to the last chorus. Yeah, maybe that’s confusing, but it works for the band and well.
“Sweet 16” still moves and finds Billie Joe sporting some clearer, gentler vocals. Catchy, “Sweet 16” is less notable than the top tier cuts. Likewise “Rusty James,” the efforts third-longest cut, maybe its weakest. It is still solid, but ultimately does not ‘shape’ the album with it’s presence as the penultimate cut. As always, Billie Joe’s knack for choruses aids “Rusty James’s” cause.
Where “Sweet 16” and “Rusty James” may have downgraded momentum and excitability, promo single “Oh Love” appears timely to send ¡Uno! Off in appropriate fashion. The songwriting is solid while Armstrong’s vocal performance is exceptional, particularly on the chorus: “Far away, far away/waste away tonight/I’m wearing my heart on a noose…tonight my hearts on the loose.” Add a solid bridge and a strong guitar solo and you’ll easily forget that “Oh Love” was over five minutes in length.
Overall, !Uno! Is a solid and sound effort from Green Day. It accomplishes its purposes to resurrect the band’s punk roots and incites excitement for the two remaining products of the trilogy. Even if “Rusty James” isn’t as ‘swagalicious’ as “Let Yourself Go,” it is still solid. If you are are fan of Green Day and their rock operas weren’t ‘your cup of tea,’ then !Uno! Should be.
Favorites: “Nuclear Family,” “Let Yourself Go,” “Kill The DJ,” “Loss of Control,” “Oh Love”