[Note: This review comes courtesy of C’mon and Cheer Me Up!]
Here’s the thing about ¡Uno!, Green Day’s ninth studio album: most people have already made up their mind about whether they’ll like it or not simply because it’s Green Day. It’s as plain as that: the crowd that has disliked Green Day since their revitalization in 2004 will continue to dislike Green Day, and the old age punks will keep on seeing them as a band that’s riding the coattails of punk rock despite playing what is seen as a bastardized version of the genre. Meanwhile, on the flip side of things, there will also always be the Green Day diehards who fall in love with every new album (or musical) instantly, and the Green Day holdouts who enjoy new music even if they don’t find it to be the most fantastic thing ever. It’s a fact. Green Day remains to be one of the most polarizing bands in punk rock, and whichever side you’re on is likely to be the side that you’ll stay on.
With that in mind, it’s still fair to wonder what ¡Uno! is like, and how it compares to the rest of Green Day’s discography. There are a lot of factors to take into account, after all. Is it another attempt at creating a grand scale concept album, the likes of which have never been seen by a band that was once described as punk? Did they try to recapture their glory days by creating a back-to-basics type album? Or is it something brand new that the band has never done before? To be brief, the answer to these questions would be “No, not really, but at the same time, kind of yes.” But being brief is no fun in a review, so here’s a lengthy explanation:
First and foremost, ¡Uno! is not a concept album in the same vein as 21st Century Breakdown, nor is it a rock opera like American Idiot, so in this respect one can say that Green Day has decided to tone things down from their more recent studio output. However, it’s important to remember that ¡Uno! is the first in a trilogy of albums, and as such, should not necessarily be considered reflective of the “final product”. It’s true that Green Day is releasing ¡Uno!, ¡Dos! and ¡Tré! individually rather than a single three-disc set, so it can be inferred that they are sequenced in a manner that they can be listened to as separate works. However, given that all three albums were recorded in the same time frame, it would only be natural for all three albums to flow cohesively together, creating something bigger than the individual parts. This is purely speculation for now, although anyone who thinks of the album’s flow not being consistent (first single “Oh Love” is a bit of a strange place to end things; it has all this build up but then goes nowhere), should consider that the first song on ¡Dos! might help to pick up some of the slack. In other words, while ¡Uno! is not a traditional concept album, Green Day has taken the idea to a different level. The kids these days call it “being meta”.
So ¡Uno! is a concept album, but not really. With that cleared up, is ¡Uno! a return-to-form album that so many bands have a tendency to do? Kind of. Obviously the band can’t go back to the days of singing about masturbation or snorting coke; they’ve just gone way too far to ever truly return to that stage of their career (and let’s face it: even if they did it would just feel too phoned in). ¡Uno! does, however, shine some light on the band’s ability to still write catch three minute rock songs, and, as many people are willing to point out, at times the sounds will recall Green Day circa 1997-2000. Often throughout the album’s forty minute runtime do the songs begin to sound as if “¡Uno!” is what Cigarettes and Valentines might have sounded like had the mastertapes not been ‘stolen’. In spite of the fact that the aforementioned “Oh Love” is a five minute ode to the big, sometimes dumb, repetitive choruses of classic rock, a majority of the album does not follow suit. A song like “Carpe Diem” is what “Before the Lobotomy” might have sounded like if it had been recorded as a b-side to 1997’s “nimrod.” And the main riff to third single “Let Yourself Go” sounds very similar to another punk song you may have heard before, although the guitar solo was lifted directly from the band’s earliest days from when they were still on Lookout Records. It should also be mentioned that it’s incredibly nice to hear Mike Dirnt’s distinctive basslines again after having been in short supply on the last few records. The number of similarities to “nimrod.” and “Warning” are not few in supply, and to namedrop them all would be time-consuming, but they are there for those who are listening out for them. In this regard, “¡Uno!” is a bit of a back-to-basics type album, although at the same time there really wasn’t anywhere to go musically after “21st Century Breakdown.” After an album like that, the only choices are really to go even bigger, or take it down a notch.
¡Uno! does find the band tread slightly new territory, albeit it not often. Second single, “Kill the DJ”, takes an almost indie-dance approach- for better or for worse- and winds up sounding somewhere between “Rock the Casbah” and Franz Ferdinand. “Troublemaker” uses a repetitive riff that the band may have used once or twice by the band during their time as one of their side projects, and “Oh Love” finds itself aping The Who far more than the Ramones. Do these few examples qualify ¡Uno! as something that Green Day has never been done before? No, not really. The amount of new things tried out by the band are overshadowed by the familiarity of the rest of the songs, which will both help and hurt the album, and possibly the band, in the long run. ¡Uno! shows that Green Day has the ability to come back from the unknown, but it also shows a little too much sameness throughout. And while this is something that’s welcome for now, after a few months of listening it could very well play itself out. All the more reason to wait for both ¡Dos! and ¡Tré! to drop to see if Green Day adds more variety to their newest collection of songs.
Generally when a band releases a new album, it’s not really expected for the same band to release another collection of brand new songs for at least another two years, and that the new album can be listened to without the anticipation of whether or not the follow up will affect its flow. It’s not like that with “¡Uno!” at all, because as fun and as light-hearted as the songs may be, just knowing that two more albums are coming in the near future begs the question: how will all three albums sound when played back-to-back-to-back? It’s kind of difficult to give ¡Uno! a definitive rating until the full trilogy has been released so a tentative score will have to do for now. Kudos to Green Day for breaking out of the mold that they have built for themselves over the last three or four years, but shame on them for using such a calculated ploy to build anticipation for new music of theirs. More importantly though, shame on me for falling for it. And shame on me for breaking the fourth wall.
[Note: Upon the release of ¡Tré!, the album has more context and the score has been retroactively altered]