As I write the final review for Green Day's new album trilogy, I think it's only fitting I shamelessly plug Rudy's Can't Fail Cafe, the Oakland, Cali. restaurant partially owned by Mike Dirnt, Green Day's bass player, and a mecca to any visiting Green Day fan. I'd like to give a special thanks to the bartender, Topher, for his excellent service, his enthusiastic description to this clueless newbie of all his favorite foods on the menu, and especially for introducing me to The Malt Liquor, the best milkshake I've ever had. Finishing up my review of iTRE! in this iconic place made writing about the music of my favorite band even more special.
So, onto the review. Where the first album in Green Day's trilogy iUNO! began with "Nuclear Family" and told the story of a married man on the edge of a mid-life crisis, and the second album iDOS! is his transition from fantasy to reality in the form of a self-indulgent, self-destructive party laden with sex, alcohol and drugs, the soon to be released and final album iTRE! is the hangover drenched in regret, remorse and finally acceptance with his willingness to move on and start over -- all while the guys in Green Day pay homage to all their heroes and the musical genres that inspired them.
iTRE! gets right to the point in the very first track "Brutal Love." With an old-school country blues sound, it's as if Green Day channeled Elvis, Johnny Cash and Janis Joplin, rolled them together and ground them into an '80s hair band to create a throw-back rock ballad. More than any other song in the trilogy, this one is all about the vocals. With a hint of blues in lyrics like "Oh how you want it/You're begging for it/But you can't have it/Even if you try," and the self-deprecating "Hello stranger/I'm a disaster," we know from the get-go that the protagonist is looking around at the aftermath of his choices and seeing for the first time the wasteland lying before him, knowing he's trapped "... in the clutches/In the hands of/This brutal love" and is beginning to question if it's worth it.
This self-evaluation continues in the second track "Missing You," with a classic '90s Green Day sound and style, the protagonist reflects on the love and family he abandoned in iUNO! as he realizes his wife is his anchor, the one he can't function without, and he completely fucked up. He gave up everything for the selfish brutal love fantasy in iDOS! and now she's gone -- and he can't find her.
The third track "8th Avenue Serenade" is his plea for life to not pass him by, for it to not be too late for his one last glory "before all the flames burn out," as he clings to the last dregs of his midlife crisis before he finally has to accept reality and grow up, telling himself to "cradle songs for a midlife."
"Drama Queen," the fourth track on iTRE!, describes her: the woman who inspired his spiral into alcohol and drugs and the temptation he mocks affectionately with lyrics like "She is my drama queen," and "I think she's going psycho" as he evaluates his situation with new eyes, realizing the nonstop sex, drugs and alcohol aren't all that great. A college bar sing-a-long, on another level the track mocks celebrity teens just hitting adulthood, who thrive on drama -- always moving in and out of trouble between rehab and prison just to make the front page of the tabloids.
As the protagonist in the story comes to these realizations, he begins a conversation with himself in the fifth track "X-Kid," as he accepts his middle-age status and that he's no longer a kid who can waste his life at the never-ending party. It's the final stage of the transition into truly growing up and taking responsibility. He accepts he's "... not so young" and is now an ex-kid, a real adult, who "Fell in love/But then... just fell apart," that the explosion from "Nuclear Family," the first track in iUNO! that set the stage for his demise, has taken its course: The dust has settled, and it's time to pick up the pieces and salvage what he can.
"Sex, Drugs and Violence," the sixth track, is his moment of piling on the excuses as to why he took this path in the first place. It's the story of his life, his fuck-ups and his need to regress occasionally into high school behavior, as the title of the song indicates. A fast-paced dance tune, my favorite take-away from the song is in the lyrics "Well I don't want to be an imbecile/But Jesus made me this way." Making Jesus the scapegoat is comedic proof that -- yeah, he really is an imbecile -- and I don't think Jesus had anything to do with it. It's good to hear Green Day music that doesn't take itself too seriously and makes me laugh again after the seriousness of their previous two concept albums, American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown.
A nod to late '70s punk, the seventh track "Little Boy Named Train" is all about Green Day's drummer Tre Cool's massive talent on the drums, as the story follows the protagonist through another confession of being a man lost who's "got no destination," as he makes the decision to get out of this destructive life hell-bent on destroying him. Telling his girlfriend goodbye as he acknowledges the relationship is doomed, "Amanda," the eighth track is a little gem of a song with the sound of early '60s pop rock. It's a reminiscent journey of love lost that was never meant to be, coupled with cynical regret he "couldn't be your man."
Which leads us to the ninth track "Walk Away," an intense rock ballad about accepting failure and moving on while showcasing another moment of some of Billie Joe Armstrong's best vocals. Blatantly stating "Pick myself up off the ground/And take the pain," "But the scar remains remind me/That I'm still living," "The harder you're gonna fall" and "Now you're gonna lick your wounds...," more than any other song in the trilogy, this one is eerily prophetic, given the so-called "meltdown" at the iHeart Music Festival and Armstrong's resulting trip to rehab. Factor in the emotional confession in the lyrics and this trilogy gives the cliché "life imitating art" a whole new meaning. As for the story, this song is the moment our protagonist leaves temptation firmly behind him and moves into recovery.
And then we have the tenth track on iTRE!, "Dirty Rotten Bastards," the story within the story. A rock anthem over six minutes long, it's a male bonding experience as he and his friends nurse their hangovers and mock the stories of flawed human beings trying to recover and clean up the messes. Easily imagining them hanging out in an Irish pub as they lament about women in general, middle-aged married life and fucking it all up to act out their fantasies, this song showcases the strengths of every single member of Green Day. From Jason White's insane guitar riff, to Mike Dirnt's bass solo, to Tre Cool's kick-ass drums to Billie Joe Armstrong's vocal range, this song is the highlight of the entire trilogy. It's the turning point to starting over, to acknowledging the mistakes, to laughing at their own inadequacies as they sing "The next stop is therapy/We're the retarded/And the broken-hearted/The season of misery," raising their glasses in a toast before the straight-up punk rock pit song forces its way through until the tension releases into their admittance of getting "carried away."
And the call-to-arms titled "99 Revolutions," the eleventh track on iTRE!, is a supportive shout-out to the Occupy Wall Street movement and the recognition that all is not right with the world. In another classic Green Day sound and style, within the context of our protagonist's journey, the track is his decision to take action, to fix what he can, and accept and move on from what he can't. He explains in the final track "The Forgotten" that though the path he chose may have sent him on a self-destructive bender that almost killed him; though it was foolish and immature; though it didn't work out as he'd hoped, it was right to experience it anyway. A beautiful song dominated by piano and strings, it's about grabbing life as it presents itself, "Don't walk away from the arms of a moment," "Don't walk away from a bad dream" and "Don't walk away from the arms of love," because in the end, it is the journey, the unique and overall pattern and the lessons learned rather than the outcome that makes all the difference.
"The Forgotten" by Green Day, official music video from iTRE!
If I could choose next year's Grammy contenders from Green Day's trilogy:
1. "Lazy Bones" from iDOS! for its heart-wrenching honesty, reflecting Billie Joe Armstrong's personal struggle with addiction and his subsequent breakdown, and the fallout and effect on the entire band when it all came crashing down at the iHeart Music Festival.
2. "Brutal Love" from iTRE! for being a perfect song on every level, musically and emotionally, with the best vocals I've ever heard from Billie Joe Armstrong.
3. "Fell For You" from iUNO! for taking an early Beatles-esque sound with simple chords, a catchy beat and easy lyrics, and turning it into something fresh, new and relevant that can thaw even the coldest heart and make it sigh -- and in my opinion, it is the best song in the trilogy.
4. "Walk Away" from iTRE! for its slow build-up to a power pop rock ballad with more emotional, powerful vocals from Billie Joe Armstrong that speak of fucking up, acceptance and moving on.
5. "Dirty Rotten Bastards" from iTRE! for the way it showcases each band member's strengths as it laughs at the self-deprecating story of a flawed human being.
6. "Let Yourself Go" from iUNO! for proving beyond doubt the senseless stupidity of censoring profanity in music and other mediums on that epic night at the Video Music Awards when MTV was in overdrive muting all the F-words during Green Day's onstage performance, until it appeared the channel was having technical difficulties because of all the silences.
7. "The Forgotten" from iTRE! simply because it has all the elements of an intentional Grammy song and most likely will be a contender anyway.
8. "Fuck Time" from iDOS! because, well, I just want to hear Green Day play it in its uncensored entirety on national television, 'cause I'm, ya know, twisted like that.
Top five favorites from the trilogy, subject to change at any given moment:
1. "Fell For You" -- iUNO!
2. "Let Yourself Go" -- iUNO!
3. "Lazy Bones" - iDOS!
4. "Brutal Love" -- iTRE!
5. "Wow! That's Loud" -- iDOS!
"Dirty Rotten Bastards" -- iTRE!
"Stray Heart" -- iDOS!
"Walk Away" -- iTRE!
"Amanda" -- iTRE!
"Stay The Night" -- iUNO!
"Fuck Time" -- iDOS!
"Missing You" -- iTRE!