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Friday, September 21, 2012

Green Day's ¡Uno!: A First Listen

Posted By on Fri, Sep 21, 2012 at 11:33 AM


Green Day broke my heart. American Idiot I can forgive -- it exists for the right reasons, even if it got too famous and made them think they could conceptualize, and its half-good tunes are still half-good. Plus they snuck Kathleen Hanna into a would-be Broadway musical. But 21st Century Breakdown was the worst album of whatever year it was, with the single "Know Your Enemy" earning the dubious distinction of the worst Green Day song, something so offensively facile and instantaneously annoying that it deserves to be classed with such rightfully banished properties as Fatboy Slim's "Slash Dot Dash." A plea for simplicity answered, I'm told that Uno! is a return to form, nothing but quick little pop songs to be followed by two more albums of same. But I'm skeptical. Let's see if my childhood favorites still have what it took to make Dookie and Insomniac flawless.

"Nuclear Family"

Basic chords -- the kind that work. A call-response between Mike Dirnt's bass-that-people-who-don't-hear-bass-can-always-hear and Billie Joe's is-that-an-honest-to-god-solo guitar. Armstrong tries on a bunch of welcome vocal affectations, from hiccups to screams to rockstar yelps to a countdown from 10 at the end. Power-pop backing vocals. Power-pop everything, actually. Even a decent lyric, if not the wit of their youth: "It's the death of the nuclear family staring up at you." Their best song in 12 years.

"Stay the Night"

Now they're not even pretending punk; no distortion on these opening chords. This would've fit great on Warning except for the giveaway: lyrics like "I want to break your heart until it makes your stomach turn" aren't up to their old standard even when they were whining. Nice Elvis Costello moves in Armstrong's lead-up to the chorus, which itself is catchy if unsurprising. The instrumental bridge/solo could've come from R.E.M.'s Chronic Town, the half-time breakdown from Blink-182's Neighborhoods. What's new? Nothing, thankfully.

"Carpe Diem"

As end rhymes go, "Sweat"/"Bomb threat"/"silhouette," not to mention "nothing left to lose"/"detonate the fuse," aren't back to basics or simplistic punk, they're simplistic period. But I can't stop thanking them for not being attached to music as unimaginably horrible as 21st Century Breakdown was. This is a lot less distinctive than the first two songs, but now that I know how bad it could be, I can live with treading water.

"Let Yourself Go"

Arena-Ramones, with Tre Cool drumming like an android and Armstrong having the music drop out for lines like "I'm sick to death of your very last breath and I don't give a fuck anyway" before a Futureheads-like "go-whoa" chorus followed by (!) Refused-like (gulp, is that you Billie Joe?) screams, plus another guitar solo -- did nobody notice that Armstrong's never played guitar like this before? You know, in between the parts where he plays the only way he always did? Again, not a winner, but they're still trying!

"Kill the DJ"

This is funny. Why do so many hugely famous bands, from Smashing Pumpkins to the Roots to Tom Petty, end up doing a latter-day career song about the radio sucking? And this one's distinctive, because they have the chutzpah to make a Clash/Franz Ferdinand hybrid that lingers on the hook "Shoot the fucking DJ" with Euro-friendly falsettos and all. "Sodom and Gommorrah in the century of thrills" at least gets bonus points for alluding that the DJ might be some Rush Limbaugh prick rather than, boo-hoo, a perpetrator of Auto-Tune. This actually sounds more like their underrated Aussie counterparts the Living End.

"Fell for You"

I don't know if they think power-pop lyrics aren't meant to parse, but "I went down like the speed of sound/ I'm out of sight not out of mind" just isn't trying as hard as the music. I'm trying not to be too hard on them -- I'm just glad they've absconded with half-assed concept operas. But only the first two songs have been up to Nimrod or Warning's (and certainly not Dookie or Insomniac's) standard. They're out of the swamp, it appears, but little else.

"Loss of Control"

Another one that sounds even more like the Ramones than the cliché would have you believe -- but could you believe Joey Ramone's lyrics are missed? Never thought I'd say that about the guys who wrote "Walking Contradiction," but I never thought they'd make a song as spleen-destroyingly awful as "Know Your Enemy," either.


As far as latter-day power-chord clap-alongs called "Troublemaker" go, Weezer's was better. And at this point Armstrong's solos are just wanking. The final verse thinks it's "Pump It Up" crossed with "Ballroom Blitz," but it's closer to the last Hives album. (The last Hives album was not the best Hives album.) I miss nothin'-but-rock albums as much as, if not more than anyone reading this. But I refuse to settle.

"Angel Blue"

This one's pretty cool actually, with an "I Fought the Law" style guitar lead ripped at warp-speed and harmonies that are starting to resemble Weird Al Yankovic. They seem to be shuffling their old chord progressions around at random again, and I swear the guitar solo quotes Coldplay's "Charlie Brown." These songs are blurring together and not in a good way -- I'll be remembering this as the one where Armstrong pauses to ask (OMG THE WORDPLAY) "Won't you be my bloody valentine?" Didn't Good Charlotte already make that reference?

"Sweet 16"

Doubling down on the power-pop -- which seems to be the best strategy on this padded record's few-and-far-between lights, even though they already made a whole record that succeeded at that -- they pull off a decent Beach Boys-meet-Head Automatica tune with a vocal so understated you could almost pretend it's the Wrens on the chorus. And all good intentions aside, you will want to.

"Rusty James"

The distinctly Californian flavor of the pop here actually somewhat resembles that last Girls album that I was ultra-conflicted about. But this has the best harmonies and hook since "Nuclear Family," and it would make a nifty penultimate track if I was as enamored with the songs in between. The ending is exceptionally gorgeous. But this album was just pretty good. What do I expect from Green Day at this point? I guess if ¡Dos! and ¡Tre! stay on track (sucks that they even have to treat "simple" as a concept now) this is the kind of album they'll be making for the rest of their lives. I hope they had the time of their life.

"Oh Love"

I hated this more-bonus-track-than-single five-minute washout when I first heard it, but in context it makes a nifty denouement despite the fact My Chemical Romance is probably supplying choruses less inane than "Tonight my heart's on a noose" these days. Bless them for trying. And I hope they try harder, because a great new Green Day album remains an uphill battle even if they're a third* of the way there.

(*Hint, hint.)

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