I was all set to review the new Joy Formidable album, Wolf’s Law, this week. The Joy Formidable is one of my favorite new bands, and their sterling debut, The Big Roar, still gets a lot of play at Casa de Salles. I’ve been anticipating this new one for a while, and looking forward to reviewing what will turn out to be the year’s first major release.
There’s just one problem. I still haven’t heard Wolf’s Law. Nor have I heard either of my backup plan records, Camper Van Beethoven’s La Costa Perdida or Bad Religion’s True North. The story’s too long and convoluted to go into here, but suffice it to say that I had not received my copies of these albums in time to make this week’s deadline. (That’s right, in 2013, we’re taking the word “deadline” seriously.)
So here we are, talking about 2012 releases again. In a very real way, it feels like we’re still warming up, like the year hasn’t quite started yet. Next week, though. Next week, full steam ahead.
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I was a sophomore in college when Green Day’s Dookie blew up the airwaves.
I worked at our college radio station, and was forced to play “When I Come Around” and “Basket Case” and “Longview” more times than I care to remember. I thought the album was terrible. Three-chord pop-punk with whiny lyrics and no imagination. Rinse, repeat for an entire record. I expected this bratty trio to go away pretty quickly, and when their second major-label album, Insomniac, fizzled out, I felt vindicated. (Well, spiteful and mean. But also vindicated.)
But man, they showed me. Over the next 14 years, they evolved, until finally delivering their twin towering achievements, American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown. I still can’t bring myself to love Idiot, though I do give it oceans of credit for ambition and scope. Breakdown, on the other hand, was the one, the album they’d been striving for. A 70-minute rock opera in three acts, Breakdown found the band exploring new territory, and claiming it all. I was actually impressed enough that I included the record on my 2009 top 10 list.
And I was foolish enough to be excited when the band announced their next project: a trilogy of albums, each in a different style. I foresaw two possible outcomes: either these three albums would be a triumph, the next logical step in Green Day’s evolution away from the simplistic punk band they once were, or they would be a Sandinista-style mess, signaling the moment the band’s ambitions got away from them. I quite like Sandinista, so I was thrilled about either prospect.
I didn’t anticipate what actually happened, though: Green Day decided to sleepwalk their way through more than two hours of boring, insipid “rawk” in a misguided attempt to recapture their Dookie glory days. Now that all three installments of this trilogy (Uno, Dos and Tre) are out, the full shape of the problem is clear – the band focused on quantity instead of quality, and purposely wrote material reminiscent of their earlier days. Both of these things were terrible, terrible mistakes, and the end result is an exhausting set that feels like the work of a band running low on ideas.
On their own, these albums never rise above mediocre, but at least they’re over quickly. Uno is the glossy pop record, the songs that would have been hits in 1994. The tone never changes, but the quality varies, from the obvious yet catchy “Stay the Night” to the idiotic “Kill the DJ” to the endless “Oh Love.” Dos is intended as the garage-rock album, which means it’s dirtier (musically and lyrically), but still sounds like old Green Day. If you’re OK with a bunch of 40-year-old men writing songs like “Fuck Time” and “Makeout Party,” you may not hate this. I liked the final song, the sorta-touching “Amy,” but it’s more than balanced out by the hideous slinky-rap experiment “Nightlife.” The less said about that, the better.
And now here is Tre, wittily named after drummer Tre Cool, to close things out with a whimper. Billie Joe Armstrong described this one as the “epic” installment, but aside from a couple songs, I’m not sure what he’s talking about. Most of Tre sounds like Uno played slower – the same chords, the same kinds of songs, just drawn out for the stadium crowd. It offers nothing this band hasn’t done better elsewhere, and because it fails to forge that “epic” identity, it flails around in search of anything to connect these 12 songs. (Hint: there isn’t anything.)
But for the first time in this three-album undertaking, Green Day does deliver a few tracks I like, so let’s focus on those. The best of the bunch is “Dirty Rotten Bastards,” something of a miniature version of “Jesus of Suburbia.” Over its six and a half minutes, it shifts from one anthemic riff to another, threatening to collapse in on itself at any moment, and yet somehow pulling it off. There’s more interesting stuff here than on all of Dos. Opener “Brutal Love” is pretty good, too, with its ‘50s pop arpeggios and strings. I will also admit to a soft spot for “The Forgotten,” the treacle-spattered piano ballad that closes things out, but I may like it just because it isn’t based on pounding-eighth-note guitars. (I just listened again. It’s much worse in isolation.)
I also kind of like “8th Avenue Serenade,” with its tricky beat and wordless falsetto hook. But that’s it. The rest of Tre is just as mindless, repetitive and boring as Uno and Dos. There’s nothing here as embarrassing as “Kill the DJ” or “Nightlife,” but if this is their grown-up record, it just sounds lifeless and tired. Just listen to “Sex, Drugs and Violence.” You’ve heard that riff a million times, and at least half a million times just from this band. Even something like “99 Revolutions” doesn’t sound like it would get anyone out of bed, never mind out to the battle lines.
Tre is merely the final act in a bland and thoroughly disappointing three-act show. If you listen to this trilogy in order, you’ll hear a band grasping for direction. When they’re not going through the motions, they sound confused and uncertain. After the sheer confidence of 21st Century Breakdown, this was the last thing I expected. I’m not sure where Green Day goes from here. More distressingly, I’m not sure they have any idea either.
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And now, a quick look ahead. The schedule for 2013 is starting to shape up, and while there aren’t any potential slam dunks on the horizon, there are some potentially solid records headed our way.
Next week, Tegan and Sara return with Heartthrob, the follow-up to 2009’s terrific Sainthood. What I’ve heard has been excellent. Local Natives deliver their second album, Hummingbird – their first, Gorilla Manor, is an underrated gem. We’ll also get the second Fiction Family album, charmingly titled Fiction Family Reunion, and a new one from Mike Patton’s band Tomahawk.
February 5 is the first huge release week of the year, with new ones from the Eels (Wonderful, Glorious), Frightened Rabbit (Pedestrian Verse), Jim James of My Morning Jacket (the preposterously named Regions of Light and Sound of God), Richard Thompson (Electric), Bjork (remix album Bastards), Coheed and Cambria (finishing up their The Afterman epic with Descension) and Harry Connick Jr. (Smoky Mary). After that, Feb. 12 will only bring us one, but since it’s the third Foals album, Holy Fire, I’m not complaining.
Mark Kozelek’s new thing Like Rats will hit on Feb. 19, and we get new ones from Steven Wilson (with the incredible title The Raven That Refused to Sing and Other Stories), Johnny Marr (The Messenger), Thom Yorke’s other band Atoms for Peace (Amok), KMFDM (Kunst, which is German for art), and a reunion album from the Mavericks. If you ever wondered what Roy Orbison might sound like if he moved to Nashville, you should check out the Mavericks.
A new Cloud Cult album, Love, leads off March 5, with They Might Be Giants (Nanobots), Trent Reznor’s How to Destroy Angels (Welcome Oblivion) and a double album from Autechre (Exai) right behind. I’m sure you’ve heard a lot about that new David Bowie, The Next Day, and that comes out on March 12. The rest of March is filled out with records from Low, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Billy Bragg and Anthrax.
And then April will see new things from Telekinesis, Dawes, the Knife, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Frank Turner, Young Galaxy and (incredibly) another new Guided by Voices album. I haven’t even gotten around to reviewing the three they put out last year. So yeah, no anticipated home runs, but some solid stuff coming down the pike. I’ll probably split reviewing duties between the column and the blog, so keep up with both to read every last bit of my babbling.
See you in line Tuesday morning.