September 26, 2016

Spinning Singles: Green Day, “Still Breathing”

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No one is going to blame you if you spaced out for Green Day’s 2012 three-album, 37-song outpouring ¡Uno!, ¡Dos! and ¡Tré! The trilogy called into clear relief the inherent contradiction in the trio’s 2009 21st Century Breakdown. Green Day’s broad brush, lite manifesto take on politics was both far too milquetoast to seriously listen to as political punk, but too sincere and ideologically weighty to reward casual listening like fellow aging punks Descendents. The band kept 21st Century Breakdown and American Idiot’s big budget production and streamlined production for ¡Uno!, ¡Dos! and ¡Tré!, but left the vague hectoring behind. The truth came out. The trilogy was fine listening material. The problem was that no one seemed all that interested in listening.

As Jason Lipshutz pointed out for Billboard in 2012, a number of mitigating factors — Armstrong’s rehab trip, Reprise’s difficulty in releasing three albums in half of a year — also depressed sales. Yet, it’s hard to shake the feeling that a 20th Anniversary re-release of Kerplunk! (or Dookie, if they could wait two years) would have done more for Green Day fans than a glut of new material.

I’m not arguing that Green Day should hang up the headphones and never go into the studio again. But at a certain point, it’s worth asking if they really have anything more to add. “Bang Bang,” the first single off of the band’s Revolution Radio (due out October 7 on Reprise, although a leaked version is already available), tweaks their political diatribe formula a bit. Rather than a sweeping critique of everything and seemingly nothing at the same time (see “American Idiot,” “Holiday”), “Bang Bang” focuses in on the way that the media portrays and feeds into mass shootings. Musically, however, there’s little in the track that Green Day hasn’t put in front of listeners again, and again, and again, and again.

The same holds true for “Still Breathing” (released September 23), the third and latest single from Revolution Radio. Especially given singer/guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong’s role as a middle-aged, dissatisfied punk in Lee Kirk’s film Ordinary World (which will be released a week after Revolution Radio), it’s tempting to hear “Still Breathing” as an anthem about just stickin’ it out in the punk world. “‘Cause I’m still breathing on my own/My head’s above the rain and roses,” Armstrong proclaims on the single’s chorus. Cliché, melodramatic descriptions of whom and what Armstrong feels like (a soldier coming home, a single mother, an ambulance) fill out the rest of the track. Although it’s fun to jibe Green Day for their rebel-without-a-cause political anthems, “Still Breathing” shows that the other option is worse. At least on their ever-so-earnest tirades the band was singing about something.

Shay Collins is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected].