So much for a celebratory record launch. In the aftermath of Billie Joe Armstrong’s much-publicized tirade in the middle of his band’s performance at the iHeartRadio Festival in September and his subsequent admission to rehab for substance abuse, it can be easy to forget that there are two more LPs left to go in Green Day’s in-progress rapid-fire album slate. Promotional efforts have been postponed and tour dates have been canceled for the rest of 2012, yet new singles are still hitting with regularity, and the release date for the concluding installment ¡Tre! has even been pushed forward a month from January 2013 to December. As the band focuses its priorities on its frontman’s recovery, the business of releasing music proceeds as planned, just without the extra furor or fuss.
¡Dos! (the second entry in the trilogy, of course) arrives without the weight of expectation, even as it debuts in the shadow of a sensitive time for its creators. Its speedy release on the heels of its predecessor ¡Uno! — which bore the brunt of pent-up audience anticipation and scheduled media hoopla — means it’s easier for this LP to carry itself as Just Another Green Day Album. ¡Uno! tried to be that very thing, but its lack of immediacy and memorable tunes rendered it a might underwhelming even after multiple “maybe it’ll grow on me” listens. Thankfully, ¡Dos! ends up being the record people were promised last time around, a classicist return-to-basics for a group that had spent the better part of the last decade tipping ever farther into rock-god self-importance.
Everything about ¡Dos! is a step up from the last go-round, as if the previous LP was a mere dress rehearsal for the proper show. Unlike the opening-night jitters of ¡Uno!, where the band seemed stiff and a little too self-consciously calculated about its move away from rock-opera grandstanding mode, here the vibe is both livelier and more relaxed. Coupled with a spate of songs generally of a better rank than those included on ¡Uno!, ¡Dos! exhibits none of the drag present on the last outing. If I didn’t know that these CDs were all recorded at the same time, it’d say that ¡Uno! was a perfunctory head-clearing exercise for ¡Dos!, which feels like the album Green Day really wanted to make after saying no to further narrative-bound rock operas.
¡Dos!, as Green Day tells it, is supposed to be the garage rock party in the middle of the three-album set. While the band’s designation of ¡Uno! as the “power pop” LP turned out to be a few teenagers short of a fanclub, ¡Dos! suffers from no such ill-fitting labeling. Be it the full-on retro replica “Fuck Time” or the festooning of psychedelic verse harmonies atop a conventional Green Day backing in “Stop When the Red Lights Flash”, the record is littered with callbacks to various forms of rough ‘n tumble mid-20th century rock ‘n roll. Billie Joe Armstrong is particularly game in regards to conjuring the spirit of 50-year-old rock when he’s singing into the microphone, sounding downright Lennonesque on “Wow! That’s Loud”, a British Invasion pastiche that’s as much indebted to hyper-melodic mid-‘60s Who as it is to the Beatles at their mop-toppiest.
However, it’s the more traditionalist Green Day leanings that tend to be more satisfying than the time-warp simulacrums. Green Day-by-numbers is certainly welcome when it takes the form of no-frills punk rockers like “Ashley”, which hits harder and bounds along more briskly than any like-minded efforts from ¡Uno!. The retro touches work best as a new (old) sonic color for the trio to apply to the basic Green Day framework, as on “Stop When the Red Lights Flash” or “Makeout Party (where Armstrong has copped to channeling Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page for his guitar solo). Really, “Fuck Time”, “Wow! That’s Loud!”, and “Amy” are the only full-on period recreations, and their hit-rate is decidedly mixed. The way the band has talked about “Fuck Time” in recent months you’d think it’s an instant classic; as it is, it’s merely a perfunctory garage-pop number (befitting its origins as a tune intended for Green Day’s garage rock side project Foxboro Hot Tubs), noteworthy mainly for its risqué title and Armstrong’s pre-chorus orgasmic exhalations. Conversely, Armstrong’s tribute to Amy Winehouse is rendered as a stripped down, reverb-laden ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll ballad, and the pairing of that form and Armstrong’s touching performance makes for a poignant track that steals the album.
By process of elimination, ¡Dos! is the best Green Day studio album since American Idiot — given the uneven nature of the LPs in between, that’s praise that demands qualifiers. In its own right, ¡Dos! is a perfectly acceptable Average Green Day Album, that despite its many galvanizing moments still can’t touch anything the group issued before 2004. It’s also not without its outright missteps: Green Day’s tendency to recycle melodic ideas returns (lead single “Stray Heart” takes its most memorable hook from “Blood, Sex and Booze” from Warning, and “Lady Cobra” cops a riff from Fang’s “I Wanna Be on TV” — a song the trio once covered as a b-side — and a few vocal tics from Jack White) and “Nightlife” is leaden rap-reggae dreck that’s thankfully under three minutes. Yet credit is due, for this full-length nevertheless reaffirms Green Day is still capable of an engaging LP, and it rights the course for the ¡Uno!/¡Dos!/¡Tre! trilogy after a shaky start. It’s nice being able to listen to a new Green Day CD once again that’s a consistently good listen from top to bottom, much less one that doesn’t require to me slog my way through it to get to the end. Bring on ¡Tre!, I say!