21st Century Breakdown
Green Day’s second concept album in a row picks up where 2004’s American Idiot left off. Listeners are invited into a loose narrative that revolves around two disenchanted souls named Christian and Gloria. This cynical "rock opera" is divided into three acts—"Heroes and Cons," "Charlatans and Saints," "Horseshoes and Hand Grenades"—all of which treat religion, politics and the state of things in 21st-century America with more or less equal contempt.
The title track offers a glimpse of vocational dignity when lead singer Billy Joe Armstrong describes America's laborers like this: "I am a nation/A worker of pride." "Know Your Enemy" counsels speaking out against violence. "¡Viva la Gloria!" includes a flicker of optimism ("Don't put away your burning light/ ... Don't lose your faith to your lost naiveté"). Christian voices his love for Gloria on "Last Night on Earth." The phrase "desperate, but not hopeless" is repeated on "Murder City." "Restless Heart Syndrome" rightly observes, "Something seems to be missing," then begs, "Somebody take the pain away." On "The Static," the narrator says, "All I want to do is/I want to breathe." The band longs for a place "where the value of your mind is not held in contempt" on "American Eulogy." The final song, "See the Light," claims, "I don't want to lose my sight/I just want to see the light."
Never mind those positive thoughts, though. The overwhelming feel of 21st Century Breakdown's 18 tracks is hopelessness. Many tracks appropriate political and religious jargon to launch seething, mocking attacks on both of those organizations. "East Jesus Nowhere" describes religious believers as "a sacrificial suicide/Like a dog that's been sodomized." The song sarcastically suggests that such people shouldn't even be allowed to have children. Previous generations and politicians fare little better. The title track blames Boomers for passing on a world sucked dry of hope ("We are the desperate in decline/Raised by the b--tards of 1969"). "Know Your Enemy" counsels anarchic revolution ("Overthrow the effigy/The vast majority/While burning down the foreman of control").
One result of the perceived failure of religion, politics, capitalism and democracy is paralyzing apathy. "My generation is zero," Armstrong says on "21st Century Breakdown, "I never made it as a working class hero." Another outcome is profound anger: "So don't f--- me around/Because I'll shoot you down," he rages on "Horseshoes and Hand Grenades." "I'm gonna drink, fight and f---/ ... Demolition, self-destruction/What to annihilate." By the end of the album, America is on fire as it devolves into dystopic anarchy. Also worth noting: A drawn image in the liner notes pictures Gloria topless.
21st Century Breakdown churns with cynicism and rage even as it wallows in despair. Moments of positive perspective on reality are few. Instead, the band's scathing vitriol often gets delivered with a hail of f-words. Clearly, these guys are very angry, and it's hard at times to discern whom they hate more: Me, you, themselves, God, politicians or America in general. Unlike some artists who grow in maturity with time, Green Day seems trapped in a perpetual adolescence, ever more infatuated with the "romantic" anarchic ideal of burning it all to the ground.