At long last, Green Day’s epic 2012—three albums released in three months, not to mention frontman Billie Joe Armstrong’s stints in rehab and on The Voice—comes to an end. After the decent yet unremarkable ¡Uno! and the spotty ¡Dos!, the veteran pop-punk group has delivered its coup de blah, ¡Tre!. Where the first two albums aimed for (and often missed hitting) some kind of coherent sound—be it power-pop or garage rock—the conspicuously concept-free ¡Tre! succeeds most as an exercise in influence-dropping and self-recycling, with a glimmer of inspiration here and there.
Armstrong has described ¡Tre! as being a “mixed bag,” but ironically, it’s the most consistent and cohesive installment of the trilogy. To its credit, the disc avoids making missteps as jarring as ¡Uno!’s “Kill The DJ” or ¡Dos!’s “Nightlife.” Instead, the mediocrity is spread around more evenly. “Missing You” is the first of many spiritless, midtempo pop-rock gems that sound like Green Day in its ’90s prime, only stuck in tar. In the case of “X-Kid,” a rousing intro degenerates into a flat hybrid of two songs from the band’s 1992 album Kerplunk, “Who Wrote Holden Caulfield?” and “One Of My Lies.” It speaks volumes that Armstrong sounds most inspired when trying to stand on his own 20-year-old shoulders. And at least it’s better than halfhearted homages to Elvis Costello (“Sex, Drugs & Violence”), The Kinks (“Drama Queen”), and, weirdly enough, “The Marines’ Hymn” (“Dirty Rotten Bastards”).
What saves ¡Tre! is a smattering of standout tracks, including a horns-and-strings-swept retro-R&B torch song, “Brutal Love.” Not only does Armstrong unleash his most organic and emotive vocal all year, he manages to match passion to his ambition. Just as good, “Missing You” evokes the ringing, Replacements-esque spunk of Green Day’s pre-fame work without coming across as flailing or strained. And in spite of the hollow, pro-Occupy rhetoric of “99 Revolutions”—“How the fuck did the working stiff become so obsolete?,” sings Armstrong without a hint of a clue—the song itself keeps the hooks pushed into the red. ¡Tre! trails off, though, with the sleepy, five-minute piano ballad “The Forgotten,” which fulfills its title before it’s halfway over. With their uneven trilogy finally put to bed, Armstrong and crew have clearly taxed, overextended, and deflated themselves. Time to take a bow. Or maybe a nap.