How does a band top the biggest, best-selling concept albums of the 21st century, sprawling punk-poperas that gave political voice to a disheveled generation?
How do the braying brats in Green Day expand on the social themes and adolescent angst of 2004's American Idiot and 2009's 21st Century Breakdown?
They don't even try.
Instead, singer-guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong, bassist Mike Dirnt and drummer Tre Cool have returned to their snotty Berkeley beginnings, three chords and a cloud of rage.
Yep, Green Day is making fast, furious hits a la Longview again — a whole bunch apparently. Starting with Uno!, released this week, the dudes will drop three good-time albums between now and January. It's an old-school idea, the kind of gratuitous sales stunt Kiss used to pull in the '70s.
For the most part, Uno! is fun, authority-thwarting stuff — although the fact that Armstrong just checked into rehab for substance abuse makes you wonder if cranking out a slew of attitudinal party platters was in its own way a Herculean task.
Regardless, Uno! was meant for Saturday nights. Opening with the finger-bleeding riff of Nuclear Family ("Gonna ride the world like a merry-go-round"), then slipping into the libidinal snarl of Stay the Night ("I got an impulse so repulsive that it burns"), the 12-track record is made up of relentless, breathless, candy-coated slam-dances.
Green Day became one of the top bands on the planet because there was usually a brain and a heart behind the rapscallion hellraising. You get a bit of that here, too. Carpe Diem, which sonically honors the Sex Pistols and the Ramones, advises young listeners to live life out loud — but don't be dumb about it. The Welcome to Paradise velocity of Angel Blue and the wistful guitars of Sweet 16 help these now-40-something men look back at their youthful foibles with a smirk, a sigh and a head bang.
Armstrong is so good at crafting hooks that the levity of lyric and brevity of ideas can eventually sound too effortless. Kill the DJ will get press because of its violent response to contempo radio, but the music itself is a strangely polished gallop, like a B-side from the Rolling Stones' disco phase. Shouldn't a death threat be more threatening?
Rowdy love song Fell for You sounds like it was torn off in a matter of minutes, with its scatological wordplay playing like a cheap way to make the throwaway cut more memorable. Troublemaker is a fine rock song, unless you were expecting the band to be, you know, more than fine. Green Day is better than that.
By the end of Uno!, you're happy for the slick, poppy diversions; a lot of this stuff cooks. But you're also ready for the party to be over. Here's hoping the next two albums, Dos! and Tre! (the latter featuring Mr. Cool on the cover), will pack more heft. After all, the boys are old enough to know that Saturday nights are swell, but there's something to be said for Sunday morning, too.
Sean Daly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.