So far this year’s slate of Green Day full-lengths has proven to be a decidedly mixed affair. ¡Uno! was a wash, but ¡Dos! was a marked improvement, leaving hope that the final installment ¡Tré! would help bring the entire enterprise to a satisfactory conclusion. Now that it’s here — its release pushed up a month as an apology for the band’s truncated 2012 tour schedule — ¡Tré! turns out to be a stumble backwards, and a summary of the trilogy’s shortcomings.
¡Tré! is intended as a comedown album, a woozy, bleary-eyed state of mind after the more rambunctious ¡Dos! It’s a laudable thematic approach, and it’s captured dead-on by “Brutal Love”, a slow, swaying lament where a game Billie Joe Armstrong gets to channel his inner soul boy. But “Brutal Love” is a succinct enough encapsulation of that feeling that little more needs to be said; it would have made for a better closer to ¡Dos! than the kick-off to another 12-track LP. While the morning-after hangover vibe gives Armstrong plenty of lyrical grist, it’s an impediment to the band as performers, who have to restrain their twitchier impulses for an uncharacteristically long duration.
As I conclude my trip with this trilogy, I now realize that’s really the recurring issue with the ¡Uno!/¡Dos!/¡Tré! project: the music has become secondary to Armstrong’s singing. In the past, the guitar, bass, and drums carried as many of the hooks as the vocals; now Armstrong’s voice is afforded unquestioned primacy. On ¡Tré!, that shift has the consequence of forcing the instrumentation (never complex to begin with, suiting the kings of pop-punk) to be functional and characterless. Additionally, the brisk tempos of standard Green Day (heard as recently as “Ashley” on ¡Dos!) are largely discarded, and syncopation is at a premium so as not to force the prized vocal line into uncomfortable contortions. Though a song like “Sex Drugs and Violence” tries to spice its groove up with a rhythmic skip here and there, the result is more like feet hitting the breaks once in a while during a one-way drive. Reining in such an energetic band squanders one of its chief attributes, and it’s especially unfortunate for poor drummer Tré Cool, whose name and face are plastered on the sleeve but who has little space to show off his chops.
The star of ¡Tré! is not Mr. Frank Edwin Wright III there on the CD cover, but Billie Joe Armstrong, Man With Things To Say. I’ve said before that I think Armstrong is one of the great unsung lyricists of his rock generation, and I still believe that. I just wish Armstrong himself wasn’t of the same opinion, as his post-American Idiot penchant for making weighty pronouncements is partly what ¡Tré! and its siblings were meant to avoid. By all means, Billie Joe, share your feelings about the Occupy Movement on “99 Revolutions”, and your ruminations on waking up after a night of fuck-ups on virtually every other track. But you don’t need to make a show of it by slowing down the tempos and embellishing the rigid backing with acoustic guitars, piano, strings, and whatever else your assumedly gargantuan studio budget can afford.
The wide spread afforded by the ¡Uno!/¡Dos!/¡Tré! trilogy does not suit a band whose aptitudes include simplicity, energy, and irreverence. It’s a proven quantity that when Armstrong, Cool, and bassist Mike Dirnt fuck around and bash it out like caffeinated ferrets, magic happens. Yet ¡Tré! falls back into the blustery bad habits cultivated on the group’s second rock opera, 2009’s 21st Century Breakdown. Tellingly, the final track is “The Forgotten”, the somber piano ballad first heard on the The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 soundtrack, its languid solemnity and its swath of overwrought strings a one-song refutation of the triptych’s “back-to-basics” intentions. It’s almost as if ¡Dos! never happened.
No, Green Day does not need to remake Dookie well into middle age. Yes, branching out and trying new styles to test your own abilities should always be encouraged. But when even faster moving songs (namely “Little Boy Named Train” and “Walk Away”) are drawn-out and barely memorable, something’s clearly gone awry. I wish I could close the book on ¡Uno!, ¡Dos!, and ¡Tré! with a more favorable assessment than a resounding, Eh, it was ok. But given Green Day’s continued fumbling with stadium rock pretensions, its alarming difficulty with scaling back down to brisk punky size, and the short supply of distinguished songs to be found amidst the whole endeavor, such a ruling is as generous as I can offer.