Green Day – ¡Uno!
With their last two records, Green Day all but painted themselves into a corner. The masterful American Idiot transformed the trio from snot-nosed pop-punks to an “important band” virtually overnight, jump-starting the trend of frustrated, post-9/11 politics that threaded its way into mainstream pop music during the 2000s. But the responsibility of being an “important band” weighed heavily on the group, and though Green Day tried to relieve some of the stress by fleeing into their garage-rock side-project Foxboro Hot Tubs, their attempt at replicating Idiot‘s success, 21st Century Breakdown, only proved that they ran of things to say about the state of the nation. And with nowhere else to run, they soon pledged that their next record would be devoid of any overarching concept for the first time in over a decade.
The thing is, even if they didn’t have the message, they still had the ambition, so Green Day decided to pull something risky: They announced a sprawling triple-album, with the three installments bring released within a few months of each other. The first of these, ¡Uno!, arrived in September 2012, and it shows they weren’t kidding around about their back-to-basics approach. There are no nine-minute opuses, no teenage heroes and no bleak journeys through America here; instead, the album simply blends pop-punk and classic power pop, skewing it closer to Warning‘s British pop sensibility than anything they’ve done since. In a way, it’s refreshing to hear Green Day back in this setting, back at doing what they do best and doing it without hurry or pretense, but they’re also a much different band than they were in the ’90s. They’re veterans now: They know how to precisely craft a hook for maximum impact, and they aren’t afraid to add some polish to the production in order to reach that goal. And while this takes some of the energy and spontaneity out of their music, it does make ¡Uno! a satisfying late-period record.
Sometimes Billie Joe Armstrong runs into a little trouble with his words, ranting about “shit-talking drama queens” and DJs, which doesn’t wear as well on a 40-year-old as it did when he “got no motivation” on “Longview.” But Green Day generally steer clear of these sorts of issues, delivering punchy rockers like “Fell For You” or “Troublemaker” without much care for what’s hip or rebellious. Even “Kill The DJ” nails its new-wave swagger well enough to overcome its silly lyrics. It’s true that none of these tracks stand up with their best work—though the snotty, clever opener “Nuclear Family” and the crisp pop of “Oh Love” come closest—but this is a surprisingly consistent set, one that will likely satiate diehard fans, even if the album plays it a little too safe. ¡Uno! essentially confirms that this trilogy won’t be anywhere close to a groundbreaking punk watershed on par with the Clash’s Sandinista! or Hüsker Dü’s Zen Arcade but instead a collection of small, quaint pop gems. It’s not one for the history books, but I say bring on Round Two!