“I'm not growing up,” sang Billie Joe Armstrong at the outset of Dookie eighteen years ago. “I'm just burning out.” As his recent much-publicized rehab stint suggests, he wasn’t kidding about the latter. And judging from his lyrics on iUno!, the first installment of Green Day’s gradually unfolding triptych of new releases, he remains committed at forty to the former as well.
Grownups, after all, don’t worry about “taking down all [their] enemies” or refer to them as a “fucking useless ... bunch of shit-talking drama queens” (“Loss of Control”) even if a fucking useless bunch of shit-talking drama queens is, in fact, what those enemies are. Neither do grownups insult former lovers by exclaiming “Thought you were falling in love, / but now you're sucking on a doorknob / that I slammed in your face”: Grownups know it’s doors and not doorknobs that one slams.
Of course, if the more than fifty million units that Green Day has sold worldwide mean anything, it’s that lots of people don’t mind the inarticulate expression of an American idiot as long as he and his bandmates remain adept at setting them to skeletal, tightly wound hooks that play like recycled Kinks or Ramones. And, from start to finish, iUno! plays just that way.
“Sweet 16” plays even better. Three minutes of wistfully romantic bubblegum sunshine, it could very well become a high-school-reunion anthem for generations who pooh-pooh “Jack and Diane” as their parents’ music.
And therein lies this album’s rub. Try as he may to hold on to sixteen as long as he can, Armstrong can’t help hearing time’s footsteps or pining, if only subconsciously, for a conservatism at odds with the profanity he sometimes overuses in a desperately unbecoming attempt to sound hip.
In “Nuclear Family” he likens the “breaking down” of that most fundamental social unit to a “Chinese drama and conspiracy,” neither of which, apparently, he considers a good thing. And he doesn’t sound any happier in “Kill the DJ” about walking through Central Park only to find that it has turned into “Sodom and Gomorrah.”
“I don't want a suicide, I don't want this to end,” he sings on “Lady Cobra,” a leaked track from iUno!’s soon-to-be-released follow-up, iDos! “I just want to be your friend.” Maybe life goes on long after the thrill of living is gone after all.
¡Dos! & ¡Tré!
By now it’s obvious that Green Day should’ve culled the best cuts from its ¡Uno! ¡Dos! ¡Tré! trilogy and made one killer longplayer. But they didn’t, so listeners will have to do it themselves. The obvious winners from iUno! were “Sweet 16” and “Nuclear Family.” As for iDos!, it mostly finds Billie Joe, Mike, and Tré, diligent wind-up toy that they are, ramming their heads into the pop-punk wall, oblivious to the fact that it’s their heads and not the wall that’s sustaining the damage. Or maybe they’re not oblivious. “I'm too mental to go crazy,” goes “Lazy Bones,” the best song on this triptych linchpin and the closest these guys will probably ever come to a common man’s fanfare. “I'm too drunk to be pure, / and my mind is playing tricks on me, / And I can't sleep tonight.” Oblivious or not, however, the brain damage is real. How else to explain Armstrong’s describing iDos! as “garage rock”? Green Day might be panning for Nuggets, but at least half of what it ends up with on iDos! is pyrite. (Oh, and it’s the one that should’ve been called ¡Tré!, as Tré Cool’s drumming makes it go to the extent that it can actually be said to.) So what of ¡Tré!? In the grand tradition of saving the best for last, it may as well have served as the template of the whole shebang. Yes, it’s that good. The stand-out cut is “Drama Queen,” perhaps the only time Green Day has waxed slow and acoustic and lived to tell the tale. In it Armstrong, the real-life father of two boys, nails the mixed emotions of every father whose teenaged daughter’s uniquely feminine problems put her just beyond the reach of anything he can do to help.
Illinois Entertainer 2012: H-M
Illinois Entertainer 2012: H-M