The following statements are true:
21st Century Breakdown is a great album.
21st Century Breakdown is a shitty album.
In creating the follow-up to American Idiot, Green Day made the respectably ambitious choice to go really big. They created another full-blown rock opera that follows a young couple named Christian and Gloria through life in the United States following the presidency of George W. Bush, as they “deal with the mess our 43rd president left behind”. All good.
The good news is that there are a ton of extremely well-written songs here. And really, that’s what the core of any great album has to be. You get plenty of the up-beat rock that Green Day does so well, along with a good mix of epic rockers that would make Queen proud, and some very well executed ballads. If there’s any weakness in the songwriting this time around, it would be some vague lyrics. I think Billie Joe went a little too universal in order to help with the whole grandiose vibe. An issue, but not the end of the world.
Now the bad news. They chose Butch Vig to produce the album. Despite his work on some classic albums from Helmet, AFI, and L7, this turned out to be a horrible choice. Without question, the production killed what this album could have been. It sounds generic and lifeless. Tre’s drums could be a drum machine set to the default rock kit for all I know, and Billie Joe’s voice is just all too sweet and layered. There’s no grit. There’s no humanity. You can’t actually hear any of the playing, if that makes sense. You just hear this too-well-balanced end result. There’s nothing worse than an album being ruined by something that isn’t the music. Ugh.