When Billie Joe Armstrong sings “I’ve got an impulse” in “Stay The Night”—one of the most infectious songs on Green Day’s rousing ¡Uno!—he could be talking about the album as a whole. The pop-punk mainstay’s last two full-lengths, American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown, stretched Armstrong’s trio to its limit, ambition-wise. And then, with 2009’s Broadway hit American Idiot: The Musical, it went over the edge. For a scrappy band that wormed its way out of the punk underground almost 20 years ago, these sprawling projects were surprisingly successful. Armstrong applies the brakes, though, with ¡Uno! Not only is it the least ambitious album Green Day has made in a dozen years, it feels downright off-the-cuff.
“Nuclear Family” launches the disc with a blatant attempt at blowing things open—and at that it succeeds. Packed with jerky hooks and melodic flourishes, it’s a squib of spirited, spit-flecked power-pop that means little, signifies nothing, and couldn’t care less. Armstrong’s voice has never sounded more comfortable in its own worn whine, even as he uses that exhaustion to poignant effect in the heartsick, lust-weary “Stay The Night.” But on the sarcastically dubbed “Carpe Diem,” Armstrong succumbs to entropy—as does the whole band, who put up drab, jangly wallpaper behind him as he sings, “Life’s a gas and it’s running out / Living a cliché, gonna seize the day.” The album rallies behind stomping power-pop gems like “Fell For You” and “Loss Of Control” and the pseudo-psychedelic party jam “Troublemaker.” Song-length punchlines like the fake-funky “Kill The DJ” don’t do the disc any favors, though; that type of bratty pastiche is better left to The Offspring.
Despite its slapdash, scattershot cheek, there is a lingering thread of concept behind ¡Uno!, the first of three Green Day discs being released over the next four months. (The others are titled, with a distinct lack of anything resembling a deep theme, ¡Dos! and ¡Tré!) Aside from that, ¡Uno! is the kind of album the band became famous making: a random assortment of pop-punk nuggets strongly infused with ’60s craft, ’70s snarl, and ’80s bounce. Granted, filler abounds, and it doesn’t land with quite as much delirious abandon as it once did, but Armstrong’s power-pop impulse can still pack a face-splitting punch.