They tried to make Billie-Joe go to rehab – and he went. Now for part two of the Cali pop-punks’ troubled trilogy
It’s been a very 21st century breakdown. Recent events have elevated ‘¡Uno!’, ‘¡Dos!’ and ‘¡Tré!’ above their station as an ambitious but deeply flawed trilogy of albums and made something far more significant of them: an accompaniment to the ongoing saga of Billie Joe Armstrong’s addiction problems. Those struggles should not be trivialised, but with so much uncertainty surrounding Green Day’s future, it’s only natural to view these records – of which ‘¡Dos!’ is, in Tre Cool’s words, the one about “staying a little too long at the party, doing stuff you’re gonna regret” – through that prism. The albums were surely never conceived as such, but with hard facts unforthcoming, they remain our only window into what’s really going on with the band.
Just eight weeks after its release, ‘¡Uno!’ already sounds like a darker, more desperate record than the one we heard initially. ‘¡Dos!’ is also peppered with lyrical double-takes, the most startling being ‘Amy’, the slight but touching Winehouse tribute that closes proceedings. Given Armstrong never met his subject, you suspect his proposal – “Do you wanna be a friend of mine?” – comes from the conviction that they might’ve had a lot to talk about.
The patchiness that bedevilled ‘¡Uno!’ is present again on ‘¡Dos!’, though it’s not nearly so pronounced. The burlesque rap-rock Frankenstein of ‘Nightlife’ is pure hubris, while on ‘Fuck Time’, Armstrong delivers a rant on the conflict between feminism and post-millennial lad culture that… no, hang on. He just wants to beat you over the head with a simple guitar riff and “choke you ’til you’re blue in the face.” Him, Tarzan. You, unlucky.
In spite of its shortcomings, however, ‘¡Dos!’ still feels like a stronger album than its predecessor. The brash, breathless likes of ‘Lady Cobra’ and ‘Wow! That’s Loud’ (think The Beatles’ ‘She’s A Woman’ as played by The Who) mark a welcome dusting-off of their garage-rock alter-egos Foxboro Hot Tubs, while the nimble-fingered Motown bassline that underpins ‘Stray Heart’ makes it a more infectious single than any of ‘¡Uno!’s anaemic offerings. ‘Ashley’ – three minutes of spittle-flecked hate directed at an ex-girlfriend who “used to dangle my heart with your puppet strings” – may be the meanest, dumbest and best of the lot.
By now, we can probably begin to draw some conclusions about this whole affair. The obvious one is that, for all their fitful moments of greatness, these albums remain too cluttered with filler to measure up against the best of the band’s stuff, though ‘¡Dos!’ is a tentative step in the right direction. Life has been imitating art for Green Day recently. For the sake of ‘¡Tré!’ – not to mention Billie Joe – our hopes now rest on an improbable third-act redemption.