Veteran punks complete their filler-filled trilogy, and stagger across the finish line looking badly in need of a lie-down
Second verse, same as the first; the same riff you’ll swear you heard 15 songs earlier; the same tics, the same tricks; the same final-chorus key change you could set your watch by; the same lingering disappointment you’ll feel at the end of it all.
Listening to ‘¡Uno!’, ‘¡Dos!’ and ‘¡Tré!’ back to back, it’s difficult to fathom how, across a triple-disc canvas that offers nothing but room to experiment, Green Day could contrive to record the same album three times, with only minor variations between them. And yet that’s exactly what they’ve done.
If this trilogy isn’t the sound of a band who’ve run out of ideas, it’s certainly the sound of a band who can no longer tell good ideas from bad – and spinning out what might have been a strong single album into a trio of average ones surely ranks among their worst. Green Day’s longevity has been built on extending their appeal to successive generations of teenagers, but as the band grow older, that’s becoming harder to pull off. The original intent of these albums may have been to recapture their youth, but by the end of ‘¡Tré!’ Green Day sound less rejuvenated, more relieved to have reached the finish line. There’s a persistent jadedness and cynicism here that is probably appropriate for three guys in their forties, but inevitably undermines any attempt at sounding like their twentysomething selves. In its quieter moments, you can practically hear ‘¡Tré!’ huffing and wheezing about being too old for this shit.
Tellingly, the album’s best song is the one that addresses this malaise head-on. ‘X-Kid’ finds Billie Joe asking, “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,” atop an infectious new-wave guitar riff, and it’s probably the highlight of the entire trilogy; a coming-to-terms with their past rather than a fruitless attempt to relive it. And while we’re dishing out superlatives, opener ‘Brutal Love’ is also excellent, although its amalgam of doo-wop, soul and stadium rock means it’ll likely prove divisive with longtime fans.
Honestly though, that might not be such a bad thing. Too often, ‘¡Tré!’ falls back on a formula – fast, box-ticking choruses fashioned from chords you can count on the fingers of one hand – that Green Day have pretty much stretched to breaking point. ‘Sex, Drugs & Violence’ and ‘A Little Boy Named Train’, for example, aren’t bad songs, but there’s little to distinguish them from the (roughly) 19 similar ones found elsewhere on this trilogy; indeed, the latter even reuses a riff from ‘¡Uno!’. ‘Dirty Rotten Bastards’ marks a return to the jig-punk that didn’t really work on ‘Warning’ (and is an inexplicable six-and-a-half minutes in length), while ‘99 Revolutions’ – a rallying cry for the Occupy movement from punk’s most prominent
one-per-centers – feels more than a little perfunctory.
‘¡Uno!’ and ‘¡Dos!’’s dabblings in rap and indie-disco may not have worked out, but here it’s the songs that attempt something a little different that work best, such as the sombre hymnal of ‘The Forgotten’, or ‘Drama Queen’, which boasts a tumbling, Ray Davies-esque chord progression charming enough to make you overlook the creepiness of a 40-year-old dude singing about a girl’s first period.
It would be a shame if this was a case of “strike ‘¡Tré!’ and out” for Green Day. They’ve shown resilience in the past, after all: a decade ago, they were in a similar place to where this trilogy leaves them – an enormously popular live act on a creative fallow run – and they bounced back. Nevertheless, ‘¡Tré!’ does feel like the end of something, even if it’s just this era of their 25-year career. For all its allure, the past can be a deceitful mistress. Time to start looking to the future.