Monday, May 18, 2009

Green Day - 21st Century Breakdown

Here comes that 90’s whining, non-motivated post-punk bank with yet another critically acclaimed work – their second in a row to be termed “an opera.” How did the boys follow up their most critically acclaimed (and surprisingly successful) punk opera, “American Idiot?” By composing and recording an even bigger, punk opera (in three acts, no less!): “21st Century Breakdown.”

“Breakdown” really is that rare masterpiece of pop which the record companies have been hungry for and mourning the loss of, all while simultaneously doing everything in their power to ensure these kind of albums don’t happen at all. That it got made at all is rather amazing – and that it’s “Green Day” who got there – is a rather telling – and WELCOME surprise – and a healthy indication that the music industry is not quite as dead or stagnant as many would like us to believe it is.

As with “American Idiot” the boys have looked to the mess of the world around them for inspiration finding plenty to fuel their cantos of complaint and contemplation. While most rock/pop musicians are drone on endlessly about the banalities of unreciprocated love or busying themselves at press conferences denying their homoerotic locker room entanglements and media-grabbing antics “Green Day” harkens back to the days of social consciousness of the folk strummers – and the angst of 70’s punk. That they’re capable of blending it all into a sort of unifying stew . . . an amalgamation of “pop styles” that existed before they sauntered onto the scene is a welcome sign of hope for an otherwise very tired and often lackluster pop industry.

The songs run a surprising gamut of styles from well scrubbed, no frills post-punk to enormous anthem-like ballads “21 Guns” (which they performed beautifully – and powerfully – on the Saturday Night Live season finale). There’s something inspiring here, too, hearing angry young men sing a call to arms as they do in one of the opera’s most hypnotic numbers, “Do you know you the enemy?

“Bringing on the fury
The choir infantry
Revolt against the honor to obey
Overthrow the effigy
The vast majority
Burning down the foreman of control . . .
. . . Violence is an energy
Silence is the enemy
So gimme gimme revolution”

Yes . . . Gimme revolution, too! It's all awfully inspiring, provocative and infectious. Rather quickly I found myself singing along - each song almost instantly memorable even after but a single hearing. I must say, I find it most interesting (and just a bit amusing) that, for two records in a row now, rock's most unexpected bad boys have chosen to describe their work as opera. They'll get no argument from me.

Despite the praise being heaped upon it, a lot of critics are saying this latest “opera” is “too perfect” (what in insane thing to say) and cannot possibly repeat the success of “American Idiot.” Yet, what’s truly interesting to me is that “Breakdown” (unlike “Idiot”) is in actual preparations for a fully-staged theatrical presentation by the Berkeley Repertory Theater, which opens in September. Can Broadway and London, or even Hollyweird be that far behind? The songs – played back-to-back, last just a touch over 70 minutes – which, with some “breath” between them (and stage business) could make a nice short evening length work. Arjuna also runs at 70 minutes. These two could share a fascinating bill someday!

I’d imagine that neither of these two operas will win much fandom on this list – but each serves to show that opera as a form is very much still alive . . . and a lot more than high notes, bad wigs and dying courtesans.

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