Green Day released 21st Century Breakdown last week and it seems like there has been an intense media saturation with the band ever since. It seems like every print magazine and website is running stories praising their achievement and touting this album as their greatest yet. Well, it’s easily the best album released so far this year, but of Green Day’s career? You see, there’s the inevitable comparison between 21st and American Idiot, the band’s previous “punk rock opera.” Looking at 21st, it’s set up a little more blatantly, divided into three acts with the main characters of Christian and Gloria and BLAH BLAH BLAH. Do you really care? Probably not, so check this out– a loose track vs. track comparison on the two albums.
American Idiot vs. Know Your Enemy
Both lead singles off each album and have a very similar chord driven guitar riff as a hook. “Enemy” feels too repetitive, while when I put on “Idiot” today, some five years later, it still feels fresh, relevant and indignant. Winner: American Idiot
Jesus of Suburbia vs. 21st Century Breakdown
This is the hardest for me. I love the opener “21st Century Breakdown.” The build into the first D chord with Mike’s background “Ooos” is the perfect way to kick of the album. The lyrics are also probably the strongest on the record and the open stringed bridge riff is killer. I only compare it to “Jesus” by default because the song has several parts and is the longest song on the album. But going against “Jesus” is like taking on Lebron James right now. Really no competition. After 5 years, I still think that “Jesus” is the best song the band has ever recorded. Maybe if “21st” was an extra four minutes long we’d have a fight on our hands. Winner: Jesus of Suburbia
Holiday vs. East Jesus Nowhere
These songs are similar in tempo, lyrical content and arrangements. I don’t think “East Jesus Nowhere” will become a single, even though I think it might be the superior song with Billie stretching his vocal delivery. Winner: Push.
Boulevard of Broken Dreams vs. 21 Guns
Now it’s getting creepy. These songs are almost identical with the acoustic verses, a heavy chorus and a lyrics made for contemplation. I think “21 Guns” wins though because the solo is stolen from the melody of the theme to “Full House.” Listen again and tell me you’re not singing ‘everywhere you go…” Again, “Broken Dreams” was a monster rock and pop single for the band, setting the bar pretty high. For the same reason, I’m sick of the song. Winner: 21 Guns (Until radio F’s it out) Side note comparison: the octave-wah breakdown on “Restless Heart Syndrome” vs. the outro on “Boulevard;” can you plagiarize yourself?
Are We the Waiting vs. Last Night on Earth
From what I’ve read, people are praising “Last Night” and foresee it to be a hugely successful ballad. For me though, the song never really goes anywhere. Just like “Are We the Waiting,” the song sits there in a slower groove, slowly building, but then falling flat. I’ve got nothing against ballads but this tempo may even be too slow for Green Day. Also, has anyone else heard that climbing lead guitar melody after the chorus before? That’s been bugging me for a week. Winner: Push
St. Jimmy vs. Christian’s Inferno
The two rebel anthems side by side, antagonist verse antagonist. “St. Jimmy” is a good song, but the tempo change in the second half always lost me. “Christian’s Inferno” starts off mean, gets angry, and stays pissed the whole way, while managing to have a pretty catchy (read: poppy) chorus. Jimmy feels like a snotty pogo punk who calls you out for not being punk enough, but Christian would burn your house down and laugh. Winner: Christian’s Inferno
She’s a Rebel/Extraordinary Girl vs. Viva La Gloria/Last of the American Girls
Here we have the two women in each story. I’ll argue that the two American Idiot songs contribute to the three-song lull that plagues the middle of the album. Decent songs on there own, but held up to the rest of the album they fall short. As for “Gloria” and “American Girls,” the music of the two tracks personifies the optimism of their namesake and bring hope to the narrative. “Gloria” also reminds me of the International Superhits track “Maria,” in so that the chorus is pretty much just saying the girl’s name. It’s also nice to see the band incorporating the piano into the intro, then stepping on the gas to rock. Winner: Viva la Gloria/Last of the American Girls
After all of this, I think 21st Century Breakdown may be the better album simply because it has more. A bigger scope in story, more ambitious arrangements, and simply more songs. While some might say that more doesn’t necessarily mean better, in this case I think it does. Much was made about Butch Vig producing this effort, but I really can’t tell the difference between his work and that of Rob Cavallo (and that’s a good thing). The album has also been heralded as some sort of step towards classic area rock, diverting from Green Day’s Gilman Street roots. I disagree. Never has a band gotten more mileage out of three chords progressions and a DIY attitude. There’s no great magic behind songs on 21st. The difference is just in the presentation. The songs are still fast, still have melody and are simply written. The only difference is the touches of piano and new characters. Sure “Horseshoes and Hang Grenades” sounds like a heavier Foxboro Hot Tubs track, and the last third of 21st may drag slightly, but all of the songs are solid.
The biggest band in the world can do whatever they want, but as we’ve seen, it helps to stick to a successful formula. American Idiot has some epic songs, but it also has songs that are forgettable and inferior. I may not completely “get” the whole narrative story on 21st Century Breakdown (yet), but I don’t really care. The album rocks and I can sing along to it. And that’s all you can really ask from Green Day.