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Album review: Green Day, 'Uno'

Greg Kot

11:04 AM CDT, September 27, 2012

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2 stars (out of 4)

Green Day has been in the business of making rock operas and Broadway plays for the last decade, but on “Uno” (Warner) the trio tries to conjure up a simpler time: the pop-punk brattiness of their 1994 16 million-selling breakthrough, “Dookie.”

Back-to-basics albums are generally a bad idea, an attempt to recapture a feeling or a time long since passed. And though Billie Joe Armstrong, Tre Cool and Mike Dirnt can still pound out a three-minute melody with punch and velocity, they can’t pass themselves off as bored, gleefully sarcastic delinquents quite as persuasively.

They’re multimillionaires who tried to grow up on albums such as “American Idiot” (2004), an improbable, politically charged classic. In connecting the teenage wasteland of his youth with the disappointments of Bush-era America, Armstrong and Green Day sounded more relevant than ever.

But “Uno” – the first of an expected three albums to be released in the next few months -- backtracks on those gains. There are some undeniably sharp, catchy tunes with “Let Yourself Go” hurtling on a wave of harmony vocals and “Carpe Diem” evoking the late ‘70s shout-from-the-rooftops Clash. “Sweet 16” echoes the wistfulness of the band’s first big-ballad hit, “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life).” All of which makes Green Day something of a classic-rock band, adept at recycling itself. Only “Kill the DJ” tries to break out of the formula, and it’s an embarrassment – a disco-inspired song that mocks disco. It’s a bad sign when that’s easily the most memorable lyric on the album. Otherwise, Armstrong sounds detached, despite a stream of curse words, and the band plays with a machine-like efficiency. At least Tre Cool lives up to his name – his kick drum sound just might be the album’s sole redeeming feature.

greg@gregkot.com