Album Review: Green Day – “21st Century Breakdown”

Green Day’s 21st Century Breakdown was the anticipated follow-up to the band’s 2004 album, American Idiot. 21st Century Breakdown was released on May 15, 2009, and was produced by Butch Vig. The album follows a rock opera style, and is divided into three acts: “Heroes and Cons,” “Charlatans and Saints,” and “Horseshoes and Handgrenades.”

The album opens with “Song of the Century,” which consists of static and singer Billie Joe Armstrong’s vocals being distorted to sound as if it’s being heard through an AM radio. This is also the shortest song on 21st Century Breakdown.

This is followed by the title track. The song opens with the lyrics, “Born into Nixon, I was raised in hell”; this refers to 1972, the year that Billie Joe Armstrong was born. The section about the “class of ‘13” is a reference to the year that Armstrong’s oldest son will graduate from high school. It’s a song about disillusionment, and it’s also one of the most epic songs that Green Day has released. The next song on the album is “Know Your Enemy,” which was the lead-off single for 21st Century Breakdown. Lyrically, it talks about trying to fight apathy. Musically, it’s a very driving song.

The next song is “Viva la Gloria!” It starts out slower than the two previous songs, and the introduction utilizes piano and strings. However, once the song kicks in, the tempo picks up considerably and sounds much more like a “typical” Green Day song. “Viva la Gloria!” tells the story of Gloria, the main female of the story being told in the album. “Before the Lobotomy” introduces the listener to the main male character, Christian. Like the previous song, it starts out slow, although this time, the slower section features an acoustic guitar; the song picks up the tempo after the introduction.

Next on the album is “Christian’s Inferno,” which is the most driving song at this point in the album, and it expresses Christian’s frustration with how his life is. “Last Night on Earth” is a slower song, and it almost has a Beatle-esque sound to it. Unlike the other songs on the album at this point, it’s a love song. This song also closes the first act of 21st Century Breakdown.

The second act of the album starts with “East Jesus Nowhere.” The song opens with clips that sound like televangelists, and then goes into the song. Musically, the song picks up the pace from “Last Night on Earth.” Lyrically, “East Jesus Nowhere” rebukes fundamentalist religion. “Peacemaker” is a song about abandonment and vengeance, which is a similar theme to “Before the Lobotomy” and “Christian’s Inferno.”

“Last of the American Girls” is a song about a girl who is steadfast in her beliefs and will defend those beliefs. “Murder City” opens with a very driving drumbeat, and then explodes into a “typical” Green Day song. It’s a song told from Gloria’s point of view, which is evident from the line, “Christian’s crying in the bathroom, and I just want to bum a cigarette.”

The next song is “Viva la Gloria? (Little Girl),” which starts out slow with a piano, but the pace of the piano picks up as the song gets going. Then, the remaining instruments kick in with the second verse. It’s another song about the main female character, Gloria. “Restless Heart Syndrome” opens with piano and strings. As the first verse gets going, drums are added to the mix. This is one the first truly “slow” songs on the album. Lyrically, it’s a song where the speaker is realizing how they are their own worst enemy. This song closes the second act of 21st Century Breakdown.

The third act of the album opens with “Horseshoes and Handgrenades.” Musically, the song really picks up the pace from “Restless Heart Syndrome.” It’s a song where the speaker is expressing anger at another person. “The Static Age” is a more pop-sounding song, and the speaker is expressing how they feel we are living in an age of static, and not being able to figure out what’s really going on.

“21 Guns” was released as the second single from 21st Century Breakdown, and it’s the longest song on the album. It’s another slower song; the speaker sounds as if they’re defeated and ready to resign themselves to their situation. “American Eulogy” starts with a piece that sounds like “Song of the Century,” and then it launches into two parts: “Mass Hysteria” and “Modern World.” “Mass Hysteria” is a very upbeat song, and there are some definite references to the presidency of George W. Bush. This segues directly into “Modern World,” which is also an uptempo song, and it expresses ideas of being dissatisfied with how the world is.

21st Century Breakdown concludes with “See the Light.” The song opens with an acoustic guitar, but the tempo and instrumentation picks up over the course of the first verse. With all the disillusionment present in the album, this song tries to convey that there is potential hope for our characters and their futures.

21st Century Breakdown tells an interesting story, and it’s a rather strong album musically. While American Idiot was done in a similar fashion, the story of that album is definitely a little more on the general side than 21st Century Breakdown. The stories presented on both albums are good, but 21st Century Breakdown presents a story focusing on the situations, disillusionment, and behaviors of specific characters; this adds a sense of “humanity” to the project. If you enjoy “concept albums” and albums that tell stories, then I would suggest Green Day’s 21st Century Breakdown.


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