Super band Green Day set out to make a back- to- basics album and ended up with three, writes James Wigney
Three albums for the price of one.
WHEN a band’s last two albums each won a Grammy for best rock album, sold a combined 18 million copies, inspired a Broadway musical and propelled it to the status of a stadium act, where does it go from there?
For Green Day, the answer was clear – back to the beginning.
For most of the past decade, the US poppunk trio ( pictured) has been one of the biggest bands in the world thanks to its towering twin rock operas, 2004’ s American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown in 2009.
The ambitious, politically charged epics, sumptuously produced by long- time collaborator Rob Cavallo, had also proved to be something of a career saver.
After blazing on to the world stage in 1994 with their major label debut, the 10 million- selling Dookie, the rest of the decade had provided diminishing returns for the band, culminating with the underappreciated Warning in 2000.
The rock operas put them back on top and showed a new side to the once bratty stoners far beyond the furious guitar, bass and drums of their formative years.
But after touring the world several times in ever larger venues, the band was exhausted and looking for the next step – surely a third punk opera would be pushing it.
So when chief songwriter, singer and guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong started writing again after a break, the songs that emerged when he and bassist Mike Dirnt and drummer Tre Cool reconvened in the studio recalled not only the live energy they had honed on their long tours, but also the ‘‘ classic Green Day’’ of their early years.
‘‘ It wasn’t a reaction against it,’’ Armstrong says of the back- to- basics approach compared with the dense, multilayered rock operas.
‘‘ It was just time for a change. We try not to react against anything; it’s more about taking action.’’
The new approach also reinvigorated the band, which celebrates the 25th anniversary of its first live performance next month.
When they started to road- test the new songs in low- key gigs in New York and California, without relying on the everincreasing catalogue of hits, they felt like ‘‘ a brand new band again’’.
‘‘ It was the first time in a long time I felt like people were listening to brand new stuff and were looking at us like a foreign object,’’ Armstrong says.
‘‘ It was frightening and exciting at the same time. I wanted to throw up and I wanted to pound a beer.’’
It soon became clear that just one album wasn’t going to cut it.
Rather than release a double album, they hit upon the slightly bonkers idea of releasing three separate albums in quick succession: Uno! this week, Dos! in November and Tre! in January ( that’s One, Two and Three for the non- Spanish speakers).
‘‘ There were too many really good songs,’’ Armstrong says. ‘‘ And we noticed that the consistency was all good and we didn’t want to waste anything.’’
While plenty of the songs are happy to get down and dirty – F--- Time and Makeout Party spring to mind – the clued- in Armstrong hasn’t forgotten how to make a point either.
Kill the DJ lambasts the avalanche of meaningless spin and opinion from ‘‘ pundits and talking heads’’. 99 Revolutions, one of the closing tracks on Tre!, brings to mind the fury and discontent of the rock operas, referencing the Occupy movement, and containing lines such as ‘‘ how did the working stiffs become so obsolete?’’.
About to hit the road again, and with an Australian tour likely in February or March next year, Armstrong says the band is as fired up as ever.
‘‘ I look at it, like, as energy,’’ he says. ‘‘ We want to be the best band in the world and we are still going for that. We do that by working really hard and trying to tell the truth.’’