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21st-Century Breakdown

Green Day: Then and now.

When Green Day vaulted to superstardom in the early 1990s, it was nothing more than a very good, very loud punk-pop band. Over time, however, the East Bay trio evolved into something more political and complex. Now, with three new albums (September’s ¡Uno! November’s ¡Dos! and, due December 11, ¡Tré!) the band strips away the pomp and circumstance of its recent discs, opting instead for hook-heavy party tunes. A retreat? Not necessarily.

SOUNDING LIKE
‘90s: English punk acts like the Clash and the Buzzcocks; U.S. hardcore bands such as Hüsker Dü and Black Flag
Now: English punk acts like the Clash and the Jam; Cheap Trick–ian power pop, White Stripes–y blues, sleazy lounge-rap
Which is better: Now! Diversity is a good thing

SINGING ABOUT
‘90s: Getting stoned, masturbation, self-loathing, the kids aren’t alright
Now: Getting drunk, sex, nostalgia, the Occupy movement, dead celebrities, the kids are alright
Which is better: A tie. Not as visceral as in the past, but still with something to say

APPEARING ON-SCREEN
‘90s: Beavis and Butt-Head, the final episode of Seinfeld
Now: Songs featured in CSI: NY and Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2; singer-guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong appears on The Voice and is parodied on Saturday Night Live
Which is better: Then, of course. You really have to ask?

CRAVING SOMETHING TO EAT
‘90s: Lots and lots of junk
Now: Guinness shakes at bassist Mike Dirnt’s Rudy’s Can’t Fail cafés
Which is better: Now, duh

OVERALL VERDICT: Few bands age gracefully (witness Armstrong’s recent onstage meltdown and stint in rehab). But while these new albums aren’t as epic as 2004’s American Idiot, they’re far better than what most bands release at this point in their career.

Originally published in the December 2012 issue of San Francisco.

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