Forest For The Trees, etc.

May 12, 2009 at 5:15 am (Uncategorized)

Still blown away by 21st Century Breakdown, I’m happy to report.

I’ve read a number of reviews from blogs, magazines, newspapers, etc. on the record over the last few days. Many of the reviews are overwhelmingly positive. Far too many, however, seem to have assigned the review to a writer clearly in over his or her head and not up to the task.

I’m talking most specifically about the number of writers (especially in the UK press) who seem to be hung up on the relevance of Green Day’s lyrics of social/political angst in light of the band being millionaire Grammy winners. Then there’s the clueless jackhole from SPIN, who seems to be mortally offended that Billie Joe & Co. might still express feelings of anger and disillusionment in the post-Bush rainbows and unicorns era of St. Obama.

Here’s a memo for those folks, and any of y’all falling into the same trap, then. What I want you to do is think of the most galvanizing, memorable, impactful rock and roll records of your formative years. Nevermind? Sure, absolutely. Doolittle or Surfer Rosa? Hellsyeah. Slanted And Enchanted? Definitely. Now then. What song, specifically on whatever album you chose (if you chose Bruce Cockburn or Billy Bragg you’re disqualified for hating music already, so get off the bus now) really *spoke* to you as an adolescent or post-adolescent? “Smells Like Teen Spirit”? “Debaser”? “Gigantic”? “In The Mouth A Desert”? Now then: tell me what those songs are actually about.

See, those songs are lyrical gobbledygook. 99% of all pop and rock and soul music is lyrical garbage. Take the music and the singer’s delivery away from the lyrics and you’ve usually got some pretty awful doggerel going on. The thing of it is, it doesn’t matter what the specific message is; what’s important is that the song itself is the message. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” isn’t great because it has great lyrics; the song is great because it sounds like it is about something, and that something is teenage rebellion. Who the hell knows what it’s actually about, but it sounds totally kick-ass, and that’s good enough.

Which brings us to Green Day and 21st Century Breakdown. For all I know, the lyrics are utter tripe, the specifics vapid and empty. I don’t care, because it all sounds like a great statement of post-adolescent rage and anger and disillusionment and even hope…and whether it actually is or isn’t any of those things isn’t the point. It sounds like it could be those things, and that’s enough for rock and roll. Don’t be the jerkoff egghead in the mosh pit trying to tell us that Green Day is already set for life off royalties for the godawful “Time Of Your Life” song, because we don’t wanna hear it when we’re pogo-ing to the amazing riff from “Horseshoes And Hand Grenades”.

One of the best rock shows I ever attended was in the cold drizzle in Louisville, Kentucky on Derby Eve, 1994. Pavement was playing a set at an outdoor stage called Cliffhangers, and I just remember being in the pit while they did “Conduit For Sale” and all of us drunk twentysomethings, full of piss and vinegar, screaming along with Bob Nastanovich “I’m TRYIN’ I’m TRYIN’ I’m TRYIN’ I’ll TRY…” as if those words were some sort of national anthem. They meant nothing, but they felt as if they meant something, and so they did have meaning for us, after a sort. When you finally get to spend some quality time with 21st Century Breakdown–and if you like rock and roll at all, you really should do that–don’t get hung up on the McGuffin; just let your goosebumps tell you how good it is.

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