Three-quarters of the way through Green Day’s last album, Billie Joe Armstrong screamed, “I’m not fucking around!” – somewhat of a rich proclamation given that he had spent the previous forty-five minutes doing just that. Even the most steadfast defenders of late-2000’s Green Day would struggle to argue that the Californian quasi-punks’ 2009 album, the three-act ‘epic’ 21st Century Breakdown, wasn’t at least partly bogged down by verbose politicking and Billie Joe’s own pompousness.
Thankfully, Green Day ditch all of their grand ambitions on ¡Uno!, the first release in a trilogy of albums, instead churning out a 40-minute album made up of tracks resembling the short bursts of pop-punk that the trio became known for in the mid 90s. The band’s intention of replicating past success is made clear from the very first track, Nuclear Family. The album opener is a 3-minute aural assault with a memorable hook and mosh-worthy guitar riff. It’s an aspect of Green Day’s music that had been drowned out on the band’s thematically overwrought 2004 and 2009 releases, and it’s a refreshing change to hear Green Day simply having fun with their music.
The jewel in Green Day’s pop-punk crown in recent years has definitely been their live show, and it’s not hard to see several of these tracks being fan favourites and live staples for many album cycles to come. Kill the DJ – though cheesy, lyrically shallow and repellently generic – is undeniably catchy, and will undoubtedly serve as cause for mass singalongs in arenas and stadiums around the world over the next few years, while Carpe Diem would slot perfectly into a setlist between any two tracks from Dookie. The album’s mid-tempo songs are sure to be favourites as well, with album closer Oh Love managing to be agreeably sentimental without being tainted by the obnoxious whininess that featured on past ballads like 21 Guns and Wake Me Up When September Ends.
That said, there’s something severely distasteful, and almost sad, about a middle-aged man singing with obviously contrived teenage angst, and it’s in the moments when this tone is amplified that ¡Uno! really falls flat. On the otherwise enjoyable Let Yourself Go, Billie Joe sings, “I don’t give a fuck anyway” in a manner that absolutely reeks of midlife crisis. That same stench is present on the track Let Yourself Go, which is about as generic as anger towards an undefined authority figure can get (“I’m taking down all my enemies ‘cause they’re all so fucking useless”). Armstrong does manage to successfully recapture the 90’s Green Day attitude on the track Fell For You, a love song in the vein of some of Green Day’s earliest tracks such as At the Library and Only in You; however, the album is definitely more miss than hit in that regard.
There’s a reason why Green Day’s music always seems to appeal most to teenagers: the band present the idea of rebellion in a neatly packaged format, and thanks in no small part to Rob Cavallo’s soullessly pristine production, Green Day’s exhibition of rebellion is as innocuous as ever on ¡Uno!. As catchy as many of the tracks on this record are, it’s hard to ignore the fact that Green Day now make music almost exclusively for teenagers who think the world is against them and forty-somethings who wish they still thought that way.