The first part of this ambitious trilogy, ‘¡Uno!’ fails to thrill
There are few stronger advocates of the format, but Green Day’s status as one of the last remaining ‘album’ bands is actually a pretty recent phenomenon. Before ‘American Idiot’, what the East Bay trio really excelled at was singles: though vexingly inconsistent over marathon distances, they were unbeatable in three-minute sprints. It seemed as though the dawning of an iPod culture that consumed tracks, not albums, could only benefit Billie Joe and co, who had entered the noughties in critical and commercial decline. Their rejuvenation, however, didn’t quite play out that way.
Ten years ago, you’d have gotten very long odds on Green Day becoming what they ultimately became: the pop-punk Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Today – in a US election year, no less – it feels strange to review an album of theirs that arrives without overarching conceptual narratives, neocon-baiting sloganeering, or an arse-numbing running time. How far these one-time laureates of soft drugs and serial masturbation have come.
Yet reviewing ‘¡Uno!’ isn’t as straightforward as you might think. Yes, it’s essentially a return to the Green Day of old – as meat-and-potatoes and uncomplicated a record as they’ve made since 2000’s ‘Warning’. But it’s also the first instalment of a hugely ambitious triple album whose staggered release (‘¡Dos!’ and ‘¡Tré!’ will follow in the coming months) renders it oddly incomplete. However successful the whole endeavour might end up being, ‘¡Uno!’ can only be judged on its own merits, and those merits are somewhat erratic.
Strangely enough, the singles are the most conspicuous letdowns. ‘Oh Love’ would be serviceable at half the length, but the average listener’s attention threshold for poorly disguised ‘All Right Now’ knockoffs just doesn’t stretch to five minutes . ‘Kill The DJ’, meanwhile, is an uncomfortable sashay into four-on-the-floor indie disco that, if we’re being generous, could be said to resemble an unusually gauche Franz Ferdinand B-side. The hardcore will no doubt rush to its defence, but the song is what it is: 40-year-old millionaires attempting to recreate a sound they’ve mistaken for being edgy.
The annoying part is, any one of the opening trio of songs on ‘¡Uno!’ would have served as a better – and more honest – introduction. The pyrotechnic power chords, stop-start clatter and reassuringly phlegmy sneer of ‘Nuclear Family’ is classic, unreconstructed Green Day, while ‘Stay The Night’ and ‘Carpe Diem’ both fizz with impossibly adolescent brio – indeed, the latter’s rallying-cry of “Are we all too young to die?” is the album’s best chorus.
Those songs – as well as the knock-kneed power-pop of ‘Fell For You’ (“Woke up in a pool of sweat/At first I thought that I’d pissed the bed”) and snarling last-gang-in-town-isms of the Rumblefish-referencing ‘Rusty James’ – form the good half of an old-fashioned, bipartisan, parent-maddening Green Day album. The others, by and large, form the rest of it, and therein lies the problem: the likes of ‘Trouble Maker’ and ‘Let Yourself Go’ are enjoyable, but basically unmemorable. They are rudimentary. They, for want of a better word, do. ‘¡Uno!’ is intended as a return (of sorts) to the smart stoopidity of ‘Dookie’, but in truth it’s more like the three albums that followed it: highs that prove unsustainable, and lows that hope you’re too adrenalised to notice.
Increasingly you start to suspect that, as they enter middle age, Green Day are a band who need a singular focus to truly thrive. It could well be that, in the context of ‘¡Dos!’ and ‘¡Tré!’ – the “garage-y, ‘Nuggets’-type” one and the “epic” one, respectively – ‘¡Uno!’ might sound a lot more satisfying, and we’re certainly keen to find out. There is, apparently, a unifying quasi-narrative connecting all three records (the build-up to a party, the party itself, and the eventual aftermath), which makes this album both one of the least ambitious and most ambitious things they’ve ever attempted. Somewhere between those two stools lies ‘¡Uno!’, slumped and defiant, like a paralytic teenager.