Green Day, ’21st Century Breakdown’ – The First Listen

When we went in to hear the first two acts of Green Day’s epic ’21st Century Breakdown’, due for release on May 15, we were impressed. But we did wonder…. Where were the singles? Sure, ‘Know Your Enemy’ is a towering comeback by any standards (listen to a 30 second burst on Greeenday.com), and the rest of it is gold by anyone else’s. But with the world theirs to now conquer completely, we couldn’t help but wonder if they’d missed a trick by not including quite as many of the stupendously massive anthems they’ve always been capable of doing.

When we visited their UK label last week to hear the finished work, we got our answer. They’ve taken the unusual step of backloading the album with two of its potential biggest hits. After an odyssey that takes in gypsy-tinged folk, piano balladry and scuzzy death noise, ‘Horseshoes And Handgrenades’ sees them remix their history, celebrate themselves and throw absolutely everything at the wall with their definitive statement. This is how it plays out.

Horseshoes And Handgrenades
The album reboots itself, with the crackle of a radio declaring a new start, as a voice declares; “I’m not fucking around, I’m not coming out,” and the record steps up a gear. Melodically this is a cousin of ‘American Idiot’s title track, albeit a version re-animated by classic Stooges.

The Static Age
Possibly their poppiest moment since ‘Dookie’, and if this isn’t a single then something is clearly up. Lyrically it concerns information overload (the static on a TV screen, see), with surf pop flourishes and melodic echoes of ‘Macy’s Day Parade’ – just loads faster.

21 Guns
Referencing the 21 gun salute of America’s military fallen, this is this album’s stadium-bound equivalent of ‘Boulevard Of Broken Dreams’. The chorus riffs off ‘All The Young Dudes’ and the sentiment is great big overwhelmed ‘WHAT THE FUCK?’

American Eulogy
As ’21st Century Breakdown’ gears up to its climax, it reprises the opening ‘Song Of The Century’ and closes down the story of album protagonists Christian and Gloria. Indeed, this is this album’s ‘Jesus Of Suburbia’ in that it’s a big, sprawling concept piece made up of two songs, ‘Mass Hysteria’ and ‘I Don’t Wanna Live In The Modern World’.

See The Light
The ray of hope throughout the carnage that sums up this album’s character and the predicament of modern-day America – to try and find some salvation after the mistakes of the past decade. It’s a gigantic, epic, almost prog ending loaded with the suggestion that tings might just be okay after all. “I drank the water from the hurricane,” sings Billie, “and I started the fire just to see the flame.”

Read about Green Day’s plans to turn ’21st Century Breakdown’ into fully staged musical in the new issue of NME.