Album Review: Green Day – UNO!

The De Mello Rating – ***

Punk rock was founded on a rebellious principle by teenagers whose parents had lived through the Great War and regaled them with stories of such. In Legs McNeil’s brilliant book Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk there is a particular passage that illustrates this better than any other. Dee Dee Ramone (p. 236) is speaking and he tells this story:

My mother used to tell me stories about the war. She would tell me about how they wouldn’t let some people into the bomb shelters because they were too full, and after the air raids, she’d come out and see all the people who didn’t get in, lying around with their guts hanging out of their mouths.

These are the stories that the baby boomer, punk rockers grew up with. Coming up with parents so affected by World War II turned some of those punks into either fighters against the establishment like the Sex Pistols purported to be or people on the complete other spectrum that essentially made three minute anthems to girls, being uncool and nonsensical things like the KKK stealing babies away. In other words, fun like the Ramones.

When punk’s resurgence started to make waves in the ‘90’s the musical landscape was falling apart, Kurt Cobain offed himself, faux grunge bands seized on a trend and there remained two punk factions. Those firmly ensconced on the side of Bad Religion believing that punk could be used to change the world and the other side that believed the music should be fun and just sort of talk about everyday shit. Those in the latter group were the people that fell in love with Green Day and bore rise to bands like Blink 182 , Sum 41 and AFI for better or worse. Green Day exploded onto the scene with Dookie, but had previously released two really good albums in 1039 Smoothed Out Slappy Hours and Kerplunk.

Green Day was the fun band, they talked about teen angst better than any band since the ‘70’s punk bands, but nothing was ever overtly political until they simply couldn’t take it anymore. They released American Idiot on September 21, 2004 (eight years ago tomorrow) and it immediately set off a firestorm on this band that once almost exclusively talked about using meth and jerking off. “Who were they to release such an album? What do they have to say?” were some of the common refrains to come from those that didn’t understand the message. They were speaking of angry populace that they felt was being marginalized under an oppressive regime. It won the Grammy for Best Rock Album in 2005 and went platinum six times over.

American Idiot is the best album Green Day has ever done, it is in fact one of the best rock albums I’ve ever heard. Now after another rock opera type album, they are back to their freewheeling Dookie ways. Actually this first of three installments, Uno!, is more like Dookie with a splash of Nimrod. It’s fun, energetic and completely devoid of political insinuations and to be honest I’m okay with that. It’s nice to just listen to the music and veg out. Sometimes I don’t want to think about the music I’m listening to.

That’s not to say it’s mindless drivel. Quite the contrary, Green Day is back to talking about love and girls in a fun way. Uno! isn’t sappy, though; Green Day doesn’t do sappy. These are semi-serious auteurs in the prime of their careers that took a lot of shit for taking a chance. Some called them sell outs and worse pop divas, but far from it, this band modeled themselves after bands like The Clash where they could deftly maneuver in and out of styles and genres depending on their mood. When The Beatles made Revolver, Sgt. Pepper, the White Album and then Yellow Submarine the critics thought Yellow Submarine was the nadir of their band’s existence, but it turned out to just be a fun album.

You cannot expect Green Day to stay the course and be political every album and on the other side you can’t expect them to be like Tom Morello and scream about all the injustices that occur in every part of the world, every second of the day. Sometimes the music is simply about the music and not about being the savior of a generation. Green Day has crafted a catchy punk album that will go down similar to the Clash’s Sandanista as maybe not the best album they’ve ever done, but certainly not the worst. I am interested to see how the entire series of three albums plays out and how they work together as a triumvirate.

As for this album on its own, I gave it three stars because I find it to be right in the median of their discography. It is certainly not as good as American Idiot or Dookie, which were life altering albums, but not nearly as bad as Insomniac or 21st Century Breakdown. This is a good punk rock album and that’s all Green Day wanted to do this time around.

Best Song: Sweet 16 – I’m a sucker for a song about reminiscing. This song is just a pure three minute punk rock jam and I love it.

Worst Song: Rusty James – Conversely I simply felt this song didn’t fit into the overall motif of this album. It’s not necessarily bad, it just doesn’t meld well with the other songs.

Uno! comes out September 25 on Reprise Records.

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