Cough Syrup Daydream -- Green Day's Uno!
In issues of the old "Lookout Records! catalog," Larry Livermore, or some earnest shitworker, referred to Pot Valiant's eponymous EP as "what your cough syrup daydreams sound like." With an awful cold, while fighting through my own cough syrup haze, I listened to the new Green Day album for the umpteenth time, wondering just how far the boys from Rodeo had come from their early days on the aforementioned (and sadly gone) pop punk label.
Green Day's new record, Uno!, is much better than expected. Gone is much of the rock star posturing and topical songwriting that plagued or strengthened their last two rock operas: 2004's American Idiot and 2009's 21st Century Breakdown. Nor is there an overarching conceptual theme, except perhaps an attempt to write fun songs in the tradition of their Lookout! records. Yet, if you are looking for the ubiquitous return to form record, you may need to imbibe in similar large amounts of cough syrup. Perhaps a robotrip is the only thing that will alleviate the belief that Green Day can ever be capable of a record as punk as Insomniac or as sweet as 39/Smooth. Yet Green Day has created a fun record. It might be their best from a purely songwriting standpoint since Warning.
Green Day records have never been short of memorable hooks and catchy choruses, and Uno! might have more than any. It also has guitar solos (something long time fans have been missing since the '90s) and the snottiness you expect. Despite Billie Joe's recent public protest, there is little Justin Bieber on this record. If anything, there is much homage to 80's power pop, and far more production quality than is ever needed. In fact, if the production was more low key, the album would be much punchier and a bit better.
I don't chagrin the guys in Green Day their need for expansive production -- when you are creating rock operas of any magnitude, production is the first rule. But here, with a collection of smaller songs, the overblown, sugarcoated production overshadows the songwriting. The songs need to breathe; I would really love to hear the demos.
Uno!'s songs are so ingratiating, so damn catchy, that I don't know where to begin. The rock history that blasts out of the speakers beforehand at Green Day gigs is apparent more than ever. There is not as much Who worship, but I detect more than a bit of the Romantics hiding behind the shower curtain, ready to pounce. Green Day has always been compared to poppier bands in the punk spectrum from the Buzzcocks to Stiff Little Fingers, and they have been increasingly drawing from arena rock. With Uno!, they make the power pop record, they have always threatened us with. On Warning, they came close to Tom Petty territory, but here they focus on other influences. Much has been said about their Clash worship, but it comes full circle on "Kill the DJ." Flirting with disco, dance, and world rhythms, the track attempts to be "Rock the Casbah." Billie Joe sings "Some one kill the DJ. Shoot the fucking DJ" in his best Mick Jones impression, complete with "woos" and a rhythmic ska back beat. It is catchier and less literary than "Rock the Casbah," and is surely the most experimental they have been in some time. The more I listen to it, the more I like it, but I feel that it suffers from the Clash comparison -- hell, it sounds more like a lost Big Audio Dynamite outtake.
"Nuclear Family" revisits the poppy mainstream punk that Green Day has become known for, replete with big hooks and Tre Cool's steady drumming.
"Stay the Night" is the requisite power pop ballad, in which the Romantics influence first rears its head. The catchy chorus is sure to blast out of sound systems and elevators for some time to come. "Talking in my Sleep" is a great touchstone; hopefully, Green Day can pave the way for this kind of music on the radio again -- I just wish they sounded more like "What I Like About You" era Romantics. "Carpe Diem" continues in this vein, relying on heavy choruses and little lyrical development during the verses. "Let Yourself Go" has been referred to as an outtake from Insomniac, and it really delivers on this promise. Billie Joe snarls as Dirnt's bass returns to the classic east bay lines that made their early records so dynamic. "Fell for You" is the type of pop song that only Green Day can write, altering the classic boy meets girl formula with lyrics that show why they are great song writers when they want to be: I had a dream that I kissed your lips and it felt so true / Then I woke up as a nervous wreck and I fell for you /I'll spend the night living in denial / Making paper planes just for a while." "Loss of Control" calls the scene to task: "I wanna find me a better scene where it's not the same opinion / I'd rather go to a funeral than to this high school reunion.""Sweet 16" returns Green Day to the same topic that they brutalized on Insomniac, the loss of youth that Pinhead Gunpowder fondly (sarcastically) called "a decade lost in the East Bay fog." Here we are going on even more years, but the protagonist remembers his "Brown eyed girl that's throwing down a bottle of Old English" juxtaposing it with typical love song images" 'Cause you will always be my / Well you will always by my / You will always be my sweet sixteen." Yes, Green Day can still write a love song. "Rusty James" recalls "Nimrod" as Billie Joe proves himself, heart on his sleeve, as one of the last ones of the long gone scene, alluding to the Clash in the process: "When there’s no-one left around /And you’re the last gang in town." With this love letter to the scene, it is hard to question his sincerity, even as he sells out stadiums.
"Oh Love" is the first single off the record, and when I first heard it, I hung my head. A tad over sung and a bit melodramatic, it epitomizes what the band has been doing for the last few years.No doubt, it could be a bridge for the newer fan to dig deep into this record and come face to face with the band's past and perhaps even visit their early catalog. Uno! is new ground for the band because it doesn't forget this past. While not entirely successful, it shows that Green Day is capable of still crafting a good pop song without denigrating their punk past.