But simply because you can do something, is that a reason why you should do something? The big hype around this trilogy was that, following a decade of outlandish conceptual rock-operas and musicals, it would be a return to form for MTV’s favorite snotty East Bay trio, with not just one album, but three of them. But even that idea, for this gang of middle aged eyeliner-wearing, hair-dying, tattooed, John Varvatos-modeling designer punks, is a gimmick. And it begs the question: Why not show some creative restraint and make just one really good album?
To be sure, these records are no slouches, and each would be good enough make a hit for probably any young band out there today. ¡TRE! (out today, ), the latest batch of songs, is packed with bittersweet confection, handling matters of the heart, society, politics and just breaking out and getting free, rock-and-roll style. Lyrically, Armstrong mostly favors the macabre in contrast to the songs’ catchy pop sensibilities, twisting clichés and familiar phrases around into instantly accessible sing-alongs ready and coming to a stadium near you. (Once he beats addiction and returns from rehab, that is.)
More than the others, thankfully, ¡TRE! stays consistent throughout in a tone that feels absolutely natural to the band. Where ¡UNO! was supposed to be a throwback to classic Green Day but felt more like pandering to the youthful masses, ¡TRE! blends a mixed pace of punchy broadsides and heartfelt ballads that could pick up right after 1997′s Nimrod and 2000′s Warning without a problem. And where ¡DOS! was a charming-but-imperfect love affair with retro garage rock, ¡TRE! bests it too by resting on catchy hooks in its appeal rather than suddenly resorting to grave robbing.
In turn, ¡TRE! was supposed to be the epic album, reportedly filled with the odds-and-ends leftovers, so it feels ironic that it would be the best of the bunch and seem the most complete. Unlike the others, there are no blaring missteps of ill-advised genre mash-ups. And instead of all the posturing, it’s just a straightforward songwriting love affair that seems fitting to the band’s age and place.
The opening track “Brutal Love,” could easily fit in a Nashville bar backed by a country outfit or in a Las Vegas casino with a big band as Armstrong croons out his heartache, line by line. “Sex, Drugs & Violence” is an ode to rock and roll’s favorite bed partners, while “X-Kid” is a ripe alternative teenage anthem and “Dirty Rotten Bastards” is a marching, Pogues-like chantey until it breaks into an atomic freak out, all worth note. If this collection is the “epic” pack of songs, we could induce the band put some lessons learned from American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown to use here too. Only, this time around, they’re not restricted to a single, partially-pretentious concept or narrative line. Rather, this is Green Day as we’d hope and expect today — a big band playing big, honest songs.
Still, despite ¡TRE!‘s successes, and those on ¡UNO! and ¡DOS! before it…37 songs in four months? The whole package is overkill that could have easily been cut in half (or a third) for one really solid album that had fans and non-believers alike giving props and singing praises of Green Day’s return. Instead, now, even as ¡TRE! is released, it doesn’t stand alone, but rather as a confused part of some greater gimmick. It’s a contrivance. But for what purpose? For us to see how easy songwriting can be? Sorry, but that’s not compelling, mostly because it can always be better and more challenging. And even when you’ve won five Grammys and sold over 65 million records worldwide, that’s still something worth striving for.
The Best Song Wasn’t The Single: No song is more adventurous or dynamic than “Dirty Rotten Bastards.”
Best Listened To: While cruising suburbia, reflecting on your hard-up teenage existence with nothing to do and no place to go.
Idolator Rating: 4/5 (¡TRE!). 3/5 (¡UNO! ¡DOS! ¡TRE! trilogy)
— Colin Stutz