21st Century Breakdown is maybe the best awful album ever


I hesitated to review this album, but some things just need to happen.

There are times in the lives of some musicians when they try to transcend their old sounds to recreate their images, usually to appeal to a wider audience (many call it “selling out.” I don’t). Bands like the Rolling Stones did it tastefully. Smash Mouth did not. Now we get to sit back and see how Green Day handles the transition from nasty punk kids to epic arena rock stars.

If we mark the end of Green Day’s pop-punk rock career at the release of 2002’s B-Sides compilation, Shenanigans, we can consider 2004’s American Idiot the foundation of their new sound and 21st Century Breakdown the attempt at icing that lucrative musical cake. So did they pull it off? Have they finally stopped writing those childish songs about weed and masturbation in favor of sweeping, emotional/political epics??

Yes. Yes they have. The new album is nothing short of what you’d expect of Green Day’s follow-up to American Idiot. It’s well-made in the same sense that High School Musical 3 was well-made. If you just love a movie about dancing teens singing about things WAYYY beyond their 17 years of life experience, it’s incredible. So 21st Century Breakdown is kinda like that. Like High School Musical 3. Exactly like it.

The album kicks off with “21st Century Breakdown,” the confused three-part title track/suite. It’s a great way to start the album that is equally confused. Billie Joe Armstrong spends most of the time with faux-angry songs that shake a fist at authority and society with distorted power chords and yelling (awww they’re like a more sophisticated Good Charlotte!). But sometimes he favors piano because that’s classy, right?

So maybe the lyrics will be as epic as the music! On “East Jesus Nowhere,” Armstrong proclaims:

“A fire burns today / Of blasphemy and genocide / The sirens of decay / Will infiltrate the faith fanatics”

Yikes.Yiiiikes. High School creative writing class anybody? On the rest of the album he just sings about how awful the world is and how Republicans suck and youth is the best blahblah fight the system (Armstrong=37 years old; part of the system).

In a nutshell, 21st Century Breakdown is great if you want what the band is selling (sadness, anger, arena rock). If you loved American Idiot and that kind of thing, you will love 21st Century Breakdown. If you hated that album and are just begging for more songs about masturbation and weed, don’t waste your money. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go watch HSM3 with my Zac Efron cardboard cutout.

Green Day – “21st Century Breakdown” [MP3]

Green Day – “East Jesus Nowhere” [MP3]

Green Day – “Restless Heart Syndrome” [MP3]

15 comments to 21st Century Breakdown is maybe the best awful album ever

  • Blake

    This album isn’t good, but not for any of the reasons you give.

    There is no correct age to critically discuss “the system.” The album isn’t bad because a 37 year old man is singing about what a sad state the world is in.

    This album isn’t good (not even if you “want what the band is selling”)because it is far, far too long and repetitive. There’s nothing to hold the listeners attention. There is nothing to keep them intrigued.

    The content of the lyrics and the age of the lyricist is of no consequence. Although, I suppose if you only find greatness in lyrics about weed and masturbation, then more mature topics may be over your head and lead you to believe this to be a horrible album sung by some washed up 37 year old who has grown up and moved on to socially important issues, in doing so creating horrible music (oh no, no masturbation, how boring).

    Nice review, I hope that in the future you are able to find an artist who sings about things that are appropriate for his/her age.

  • It’s not that you can’t “fight the system” as a 37 year old, but that you will be held to a higher standard based on your age and experience. If a 37 year old is “rebelling” in a manner befitting (and using the vocabulary of) a teenager, that warrants legitimate criticism. If a band made a name for itself by singing irreverent slacker anthems about smoking out and jerking off, they warrant scrutiny when attempting social and political commentary in their songs. If Bob Dylan wants to sing about fighting the man, for example, I don’t think anyone is going to give him any grief for being an old man. If Blink 182 write a song about the long term geopolitical consequences of the Iraq war, people are going to scrutinize it. Pop punk songs about jerking off are just as legitimate of an artform as Dylan-esque social anthems – they have their place in the tapestry of pop, and just because you appreciate them for what they are does not mean you have a juvenile taste – it means you can understand and appreciate art within the context that it warrants. From what I’ve heard of this album, it is overproduced and takes itself too seriously. Billy is trying to be the voice of a generation and tackle issues that he perceives as deep, and the commentary comes off as amateurish and superficial. This is a legitimate criticism. The Clash, no doubt one of Green Day’s influences, had a long career, cycling through a wide range of styles, but were ultimately successful more often than not, even as their sound evolved and they aged – but they started off singing political rebellion songs on their very first album, and they addressed these issues in an artful and sophisticated way.

    Jamie Reply:


  • Daniel

    Yes. Yes they have. The new album is nothing short of what you’d expect of Green Day’s follow-up to American Idiot. It’s well-made in the same sense that High School Musical 3 was well-made. If you just love a movie about dancing teens singing about things WAYYY beyond their 17 years of life experience, it’s incredible. So 21st Century Breakdown is kinda like that. Like High School Musical 3. Exactly like it.

    What the hell are you talking about? Can a musician not sing about what is on his or her mind no matter what age they are? Who are you to tell me what is too old to “fight the system”?

    Also, that paragraph is not funny at all.

    Kayla Reply:

    You’re just angry because you really like Green Day.

    I thought that paragraph was HILARIOUS, and you are not.

    So there. Go smoke some weed and masturbate.

    As if Reply:

    Yep that about says it all :)

    Kayla Reply:

    are you um … talking crap to me?

  • Cliona

    They have sold out, in my opinion. It may seem severe but I think they need to hang it up and let it go. Leave us, the fans, with memories of their music, worth remembering!

    BigK Reply:

    What kind of fan are you! To tell any band to “hang it up”. A fan will support their band regardless of what they do. See them as people! At least they are now “trying” to get out a political messg instead of just talking about smokin weed and masturbating. Ok, so they fall a little, they have ups and downs. If they really care about their music, which I believe they do then the best thing the “fans” can do is continue to support the band so that they can continue creating music.

  • Cliona

    I do support them…but I hate the new album…And I think, until now they’ve made amazing music. But I think they’ve had their day. Don’t flog a dead horse or however that saying goes…

  • Dave

    I just watched an awesome performance from Green Day at a secret show in NYC. They played their hit “Know Your Enemy” and other new songs from their amazing new cd 21st Century Breakdown. I wish I was there, but these performances definitely make me feel like I was front row!! Check it out along with some really great pictures!



  • Tim

    as much as we all hate on Green Day, I took my sister to see them years back for her first concert (with Blink 182 and Saves the Day), and they were stunningly excellent live. They were playing early album stuff and even some Op Ivy covers I’m sure I was the only person in all of the Camden E Center (or whatever it’s called now) recognized. Then they brought a bunch of fans on stage to have them play with the band before Billy gave away his guitar. I was impressed. I still have no desire to seek out their music, but they earned my respect.

    As long as they don’t go back and digitally insert political anthems into Kerplunk!, I’m ok.

  • Will

    haha I hate to say it, because I love Green Day, but this record did fall short for me. I thought there were some great hooks; but that doesn’t make a record. Hopefully they can come up with something more sincere the next go around…

    I know this is a little off topic, but is anyone looking forward to The Used record that’s going to be released soon? I’m pretty excited about it. Their new video is creepy as hell. Enjoy!

  • Nihilist youth

    Green Day is not the ultimate sell-out band. That title belongs to the Beatles, The Doors or Led Zeppelin. Frankly, any band that has “made it” sold-out. Selling out isn’t a bad thing… it’s simply the artist doing what he’s gotta do to turn the water back on. I respect selling out, as long as the artist doesn’t lie to themselves and to us.

    Green Day is a fantastic band. Anyone that thinks they arn’t musically gifted is either lying to themselves, or a complete idiot. They survived nu-metal, rap-rock, pop-punk… fuck, they survived punk… and are about to survive hip-hop. You don’t make it this far on “Too Drunk to Fuck”. However, that doesn’t mean they arn’t lying to themselves.

    Armstrong would do well to recognize that while he’s protesting the man (and well he should), Armstrong happens to BE the man. He is so far up the industries ass, I’d dare say he’s single-handedly keeping the industry from collapsing in on itself in a gigantic fireball of faux-vinyl and Blink182 training-bras.

    Still, no matter WHERE you draw motivation to do right, you are still doing right and that’s all that matters. If The ultimate corporate whores minister to your soul and make a better person of you, than good on them, and good on you.

  • jimmy

    it sounds good and thats all i care about