In an effort to heighten the overall meaning of the story taking place on Green Day's latest album, I have taken it upon myself to try and do my best at giving you -- the casual listener -- an interpretation of what I believe to be the overall storyline present on 21st Century Breakdown.Agree with me or not, let me know if you have any ideas to go along with my own or even dismiss them entirely! It's all speculation anyway, and besides... it's just for fun.
This is my own personal interpretation of the story Green Day presents on 21st Century Breakdown. It's quite long, but I think I have it pretty figured out, so before I run through each song, let's go over a few key elements to understanding this tale:
- Each act is a separate narrative that divides up the main plot points of the story.
- The two main characters are Christian & Gloria.
Now, Gloria is referred to as a "hurricane" a few times, perhaps in reference to the 1985 "Storm of the Century" Hurricane Gloria. It would make sense her name refers to this as she is regarded as an unstoppable force -- who is eventually brought down by her own inner demons (more on that later) -- and the hymn Christian sings to her over the radio is entitled "Song of the Century." This also ties into the fact that she is the new "Storm of the Century" as the tale takes place in the development of a new era. She could also be named after feminist protester Gloria Steinem, a woman who took it upon herself to stand up for female equality in the 1960's and 1970's.
Christian is obviously an allegory for a Christ-like hero and contains some elements of Caesar, since the story incorporates the fall of the Roman Empire as a metaphor for this record's telling of a modern-day America crumbling down. Christian also closely resembles the main protagonist of John Bunyan's novel, "The Pilgrim's Progress," which tells an allegorical tale of a man aspiring to earn his rights to go to Heaven (from his sinful "City of Destruction" to the "Celestial City" (aka Heaven). There are many religious references here about a troubled young man who desires to reach the Promised Land, and by the end, eventually yearns to "see the light," after crossing a river he obviously mocked earlier in "East Jesus Nowhere." This is a references to the practice of Baptism, a rebirth of sorts that would ultimately lead Christian into an entirely new, optimistic life.
There is only one reference in "East Jesus Nowhere" to the "dogs," a group of uncivilized, uneducated soldiers who are struggling to create order in a time where no one believes structure is necessary. These "dogs" are likely referencing former President Bush's regime, forcing religion upon people who refuse to listen and acting like animals by ruthlessly abusing power. By the time "21 Guns" comes on, they are asked to cease fire and be honorable men.
Now, onto the songs...
1. "Song of the Century": Coming through a static radio broadcast, this intro may seem pointless, but it foreshadows to later events. The speaker is Christian, singing a hymn out to Gloria before trying to move on and start a new life of hope & prosperity. Some of the subtle clues here are Christian referencing Gloria as someone who had a voice in the community and started a war that cannot be won, asking her to "sing us a song for me." This key line is explicitly giving us an idea of who Gloria is, which we will find out in a moment.
Act I: Heroes and Cons -- my guess is the heroes and cons are one in the same, meaning the ones who were supposed to be our heroes fooled us and left us for dead.
2. "21st Century Breakdown": The title track sets it all up for us. Sung from the point of view of a casual bystander, it's referencing several famous anthems from over the years and telling the story of an outsider with desires to escape an already-failing world. Essentially, the writing was on the wall, and there was ultimately no chance for a new horizon. After all the struggles of trying to remain positive and be a good, hard-working man, by the end, the speaker breaks down and confesses that despite the presence of faith ("I sat in the waiting room wasting my time / And waiting for Judgment Day"), hope never came. It left people helpless and losing their belief in God, as the ones they trusted (their government) destroyed it all ("I praise Liberty / And freedom to obey"). Pay close attention -- "freedom to obey," meaning it's a privilege and a right.
3. "Know Your Enemy": With the world now in panic, somebody needs to stand tall and speak for the group looking for answers. The rally cry is sung from Gloria's perspective, asking people if they know who they should blame. "Do you know your enemy? / Gotta know your enemy!" she cries, insisting that "violence is the energy." "Revolt against the honor to obey" -- there's a twist on the aforementioned line, with one key word replaced. It's evident that these protesters have pride, and are simply angry as hell. Raging mad and passionate, these words are something that Gloria will later come to regret as her message is heeded by nearly everyone. Notice the common theme of fire references and the classic spirit of revolution. More religious references come up here: "Blood's been sacrificed."
4. "Viva la Gloria": Here is where we begin to understand why Gloria is the ringleader. In the deluxe booklet, there is a large painting of Gloria with an American flag bandanna over her face, symbolizing her protest to revive the old, classic America we know & love (on the title track, we realize this is the desire through the speaker's proclamation of being ignored despite holding the ideals of working class America). Sung by Christian, the song starts out with a slow piano ballad, as if Christian already sees he and Gloria share something special. Standing atop the edge of a building overlooking the broken landscape, Christian is fearful she is going to jump. He pleads with her to look at his own hands to show that he has been through a great deal himself and that their war has just begun. "Your slogan's a gun for hire / It's what we've waited for," he says, leading us to believe that she is a savior of sorts, the leader of a new world. Again, referencing the presence of faith, it's obvious Christian is a faithful individual who sees a great spirit in Gloria, and admires her courage. The song then moves into its heart: Christian calling out Gloria's name; listing that she spray paints her names across the walls (trying to spread her message through guerrilla tactics). It's apparent throughout the song that Gloria is out trying to spread her message, with Christian wondering where she actually is (he sees evidence of her, just not Gloria herself). The song passes through months of time, with Christian pleading she keep at it, not to "lose [her] faith to [her] lost naivete." By the end, Christian is still screaming out to her, and we sees signs that some other figure is still ruling the nation (...last November, when your banners were burning down") and that the use of light is a key communicative tool between the two now-separated lovers. Like with every other song here, the last lyric is a key line that ties into the next song ("Tell me the story of your life...").
5. "Before the Lobotomy": Gloria has been captured and taken by some unknown group. We will find out later that while it sounds like she was caught unwillingly, she actually surrendered herself. As the slow acoustic intro starts, we are in the middle of Gloria's "dream," looking back on her previous life as a young girl. She feels as if it were so long ago in a different time, that it never actually happened. It turns out Gloria had a lobotomy, to remove the part of her brain from caused all her pain, misery and acting out, essentially turning her into a vegetable. Unhappy and uncomfortable with her turn as a prophet of sorts, she had the surgery to prevent herself from remembering such hostile and violent times (more on this on "Restless Heart Syndrome," where this is all cleared up). While in love with Christian, she "sign[s] [her] love a lost memory." She even goes on to say Christian's faith has been "sold" to him, and that the rest are "normal and self-controlled," that he acts on the words from another faceless person from on high (more reasons as to why this ties in with Bunyan's novel). Despite all this, Gloria feels happier that she (apparently) chose this for herself. The reason as to why this is unclear in the beginning is mainly due to Christian's reaction, which evolves the rest of the album. Pay attention to the last line: "Songs of yesterday now live in the underground..."
6. "Christian's Inferno": Pretty straightforward one here. Christian receives news of Gloria's death and takes it badly, assuming someone else did this to her. He confesses he fell "under the grip of this modern hell," and lashes out by exclaiming fire pours through his veins and is ready to start "pouring out like a flood." Feeling more alive than ever, Christian begins denying his faith in God and says he is now "the chosen one," and continues to say he will devolve the current state of man from "man to ape."
7. "Last Night on Earth": After his brutal outrage, Christian takes a moment to sing to Gloria. Again, he mentions light, and how it will be their one means of communication throughout the story. He explains that he'd been living a relatively normal life before finding Gloria, and realizing she was why he'd been living all along. We get a glimpse of the new side of Christian's insecurities here, mentioning "so if you dare to second guess," which is his way of letting people know he sticks to his opinions -- and you better believe him (this will come up on the next track). Christian admits he's risking it all for Gloria, to keep her memory alive, but that his "beating heart belongs" to her -- and his motive is clear.
This takes longer than you think, so don't worry -- Act II explanation coming soon!
Wow, in only four days, my review for 21st Century Breakdown is currently my second most-read review. Rise Against holds the top spot with a little over 13,000 page views -- but it earned those in much less time. I have a feeling at the end of the week, Green Day will surpass that.
Pretty cool, since I've never had a review as widely-read as some people (Tony, in particular) here. When you look at the most popular reviews here, mine aren't up there -- so unless I write a review trashing a band highly-praised by most users here (All Time Low and Taking Back Sunday do have albums coming out soon, ya know), I am knocking on wood that Green Day can do it for me.
I have a bunch of reviews that will be posted this next week once my homework palette clears, none that are bands anywhere near Green Day's stature (most are unsigned or lesser-known punk bands). I am debating reviewing Taking Back Sunday, since I only had one "major" review for May. I'd like to take on another challenge, and New Again would provide that. Not sure yet. That could potentially be a biggie... hmm.
Anyway, as the quarter winds down, more reviews are bound to be posted. It will be my one year staff anniversary next week, and I have just begun, AP Faithful.
21st Century Breakdown just might be the most challenging review I have yet to write. Getting people who dismiss the album as a stale counterpart to their previous accomplishment to see your perspective on how good it actually is will be an obstacle.
I've given this review a great deal of thought, and I am literally scribbling notes down on what I want to say. Hope it's enough to convince the detractors that Green Day might just be the smartest mainstream rock band next to Jimmy Eat World.
Should be posted Tuesday or Wednesday morning, but it's gonna be brutal, man. Getting a mass group of people who have a passionate yawn over this album to see your side (a positive side, at that) can be agonizing.
Coming from a guy who firmly stands his ground on review scores, this one might require me to get my thick skin on -- might be a bumpy ride! Hahaha
Green Day was one of the first bands to get me into rock head on. The Offspring's Smash was my gateway album, but Dookie was not far behind.
I have enjoyed every release since then, and I can honestly say they've never let me down. Seriously. People can hate on American Idiot all they want, but that album not only helped give punk a more mainstream appeal, it blended punk and classic rock with an operatic motif. Impressive stuff for sure.
With all that said, hearing the "very rough demo" title track for the new album, I like that they're going even further back into the classic rock inspiration bag. The new song has many elements of Queen, Bowie, The Who and even Springsteen. It's a rough production, however from the looks of it, the band is again branching out and expanding their scope.
Gotta say, I'm incredibly excited for what the summer has planned. Am I back in 2003? Green Day, blink-182, Third Eye Blind, NOFX? Goddamn, I am going to be enjoying my blazing Ellensburg days.