It's been three years since Green Day last released an album, but more importantly, it's been 12 years since the trio released an album that wasn't a politically charged indictment of modern society. The group's underrated 2000 album "Warning" was its last outing that didn't focus directly on social disruption and calls for change, and after the career-rejuvenating "American Idiot" (2004) and even more bombastic "21st Century Breakdown" (2009), it's also the last time that the Green Day guys were viewed as fading stars. So here comes "Uno!," the first of three albums to come in the next four months from Billie Joe, Mike and Tre ("Dos!" and "Tre!" will follow in November and January, respectively). As ambitious as a three-album rollout is, the more daunting task at hand is taking a decisive step away from the battle against Washington, D.C., and returning to the three-minute rushes of snotty songwriting that made Green Day famous in the mid-90s.
Curiously, "Uno!" barely acknowledges the rock-opera stylings of "American Idiot" or the wartime strife of "21st Century Breakdown," instead focusing on sensory pleasures like sex, broad ideas like love, and the nostalgic rush of no-frills rock and roll. In that last regard, the album is not as dangerous as it would like to be: despite the rampant f-bombs (way more than in any prior Green Day release, it seems) and pleas to "kill the DJ," "cut the crap" and "crack your cranium delirium," Billie Joe Armstrong and co. are simply too established and have written too many "Wake Me Up When September Ends"-esque songs to reinvent themselves with such a mean-streak persona. But "Uno!" is successful in the areas in which Green Day has always been reliable. Tracks like "Troublemaker" and "Carpe Diem" offer spritzes of fresh songwriting, while "Oh Love" uses old-school charm to become a leech on your iPod. The one-two punch of "Nuclear Family" and "Stay The Night" remind rock fans that Mike Dirnt and Tre Cool are still absolute pros when it comes to rapid-fire punk tunes. And Armstrong -- who, sadly, has sought treatment for substance abuse on the eve of the album release -- remains insatiable as a singer, pushing himself and his band to deliver the dirtiest riff and the slyest grin imaginable.
How does "Uno!" fit in with the rest of Green Day's three-album opus? We'll find out in the coming months. But until its sequels are released, Green Day's latest should be regarded as a disposable but thoroughly enjoyable return to the band's long-deserted roots. The Cali punks are back, and it's nice to see them.
What are the standout tracks on Green Day's new album? Check out this track-by-track breakdown on "Uno!"
1. Nuclear Family - Like the blast of "Nice Guys Finish Last" that begins "Nimrod," "Nuclear Family" kicks off Green Day's three-album project with a snarl, highlighted by the line "Drinking angel's piss, gonna crash and burn!" The song's got hooks to spare, Mike Dirnt's bass riffs sound effervescent, and the finale is a simple, effective countdown to madness.
2. Stay The Night - Straightforward romance, in both concept (simple declarations of limited time and pangs of loneliness) and execution ("Well I ain't got much time, so I'll get to the point/Do you wanna share a ride and get the fuck out of this joint" -- how's that for an opening coda!). It's scary to think how big of a hit this song would have been in 1996.
3. Carpe Diem - One of the album's most immediate arrangements, with universally understood lyrics bookending a thrashing guitar solo. Another example of what Green Day has done so effectively over the past two decades -- flicking off immaculate pop choruses that prod at conventional culture.
4. Let Yourself Go
The Ramones circa 2012: punk-rock harmonies by way of repetition, jittery vocals, and a middle finger to everything standing in Billie Joe Armstrong's way. The anger may be a little forced, but it still resonates.
5. Kill The DJ
More profane recklessness, this time with a slick dance groove that's a calculated stylistic curveball in the tradition of "King For a Day" or "Misery." The politics are there, but don't speak as coherently as one would hope.
6. Fell For You - It's a template that Green Day has abided by dozens of times -- chugging guitars, doubled-up drum fills, romanticized heart-tugging -- and once again, they get it right. An inconsequential but pinpoint-accurate rock song.
7. Loss of Control - A wordy pair of verses with some bizarre metaphors about alienation and a weak hook makes for the album's most shambled-together track. The instrumentation is tight, but not enough to save this one.
8. Troublemaker - A sexy sneer of a song, and a quick antidote to the redundancy of "Loss of Control." The guitar line is crisp and Armstrong's swagger never lets up, highlighted on lines like "I wouldn't say I'm straight, 'cause I'm bent out of shape!" Clap along to this one, kids.
9. Angel Blue - A three-chord riff that runs through the verses marks this ode to a screw-up whose heart melts for the perfect gal. The metaphors are spat out furiously, and Green Day crafts another lock-step banger.
10. Sweet 16 - "Old days are fine, but are left so far behind," Armstrong sings, presumably with tears tearing through his eyeliner, on the one album track with an undeniably gooey center. The melodies aren't gripping, but "Sweet 16" injects some much-needed sentiment into the disc.
11. Rusty James - Another track that addresses the dichotomy of "winners" and "losers," or more specifically, Armstrong's fellow outsiders and "the mainstream." Tre Cool's percussion is the stand-out here, subtly supporting the solos and grand choruses.
12. Oh Love
The smash first single is a slenderly shaped anthem that gets better with each listen. Sure, it's old-timey and simplistic, but Armstrong's dedicated vocal turn powers through any pretense.