The five years since the release of American Idiot, an album so strong that most critics didn't believe the Green Day crew had it in them, have only added to the burden of expectations for 21st Century Breakdown—something Billie Joe Armstrong and pals understand all too well. Each note of Breakdown echoes with so much diligence and dedication that the material can't help but feel a little self-conscious, like a term paper turned in by a rapidly maturing student determined to get an even higher A than he did last time around.
Which is not to say the recording's a bore. Tracks such as "¡Viva La Gloria!," "East Jesus Nowhere" and "Horseshoes and Handgrenades" are propulsive and powerful, and statement songs such as "21 Guns" earn their drama. But the themes at the heart of the three-part quasi-narrative tend to look back to the Bush era rather than anticipating what lies ahead.
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These guys are still working at a high level, though, and the care with which the album has been constructed may well mean that the tunes will sound better over time. But some more spontaneity would have been welcome. After all, this is punk rock, not The Eagles.