25 January 2010


The Punk vs. the Pirates

My youngest brother's favourite band in the world is Green Day--a choice I wholeheartedly encourage. (If he weren't also so attracted to current Emo bands, he'd have great taste in Rock music . . . for an eleven year old.)

Yesterday, he splurged on a copy of Green Day's latest album, 21st Century Breakdown. Two minutes into the first track, I was amazed to realise that the careless Punk of Dookie, which had always been a bright star of my youth, had finally been surpassed by a more competent, worldly, even mature Punk. Not even The Clash ever bothered with themes beyond their initial rebellion. One doesn't expect these things . . .

The hour my brother and I spent lounging on my bed, listening to as many tracks as we could before he got picked up to go home, made last evening the most enjoyable one I've had in months. The simple pleasures of looking at album art, reading lyrics as they are sung, and inhaling the unmistakable smell of brand new CD jacket, were simply priceless. I haven't been able to do any of that since . . . well, since I became a digital barbarian casting my lot with the music pirates.

When my mother and step-father finally arrived, they were appalled to learn their son had bought an original CD when he could have spent a tenth of the price on a pirated copy. He must have got an awful lecture on the drive back to their house. I'm going to have to undermine whatever they told him, the next time I see him.

In last week's post The Price of Digital Technology, I finally came to admit that the totally "free" and "open" dissemination of art, music and literature is something we, as a culture, simply cannot afford. That is, it's not free, because we pay another sort of price--and by making it more difficult for artists, musicians and writers to ply their trade, it is also not open. I may not be able to do something about all the pirated media that already exists, but I can make sure that the artists, musicians and writers I love get a cut of my money.

Seven Notes on 21st Century Breakdown

C: Lyrically, Billy Joe Armstrong is in top form. Some metaphors might be a little sloppy, with nothing coming through but his disgust and anger--but 21 Guns is truly strong, and The Last of the American Girls is pure poetry and should be a single, too. (Bassist--Oooooh!--Mike Dirnt believes very strongly that the song was inspired by Armstrong's wife.)

D: I love the pensive element injected into many of the tracks. The hard rocking middle of Before the Lobotomy would have worked well enough on its own (especially with a title like that) . . . but the band chose to make the power-chord-driven accusation a kind of second act between two verses with a more reassuring melody. Wow.

E: Another big surprise: Last Night on Earth is a beautiful, tender love song . . . even if it might not have a happy ending. (Until I read of the saga of Christian and Gloria, I thought the song was addressed to his wife.)

F: All the scornful cross and crucifixion imagery scattered throughout the album, and the anguished and accidentally Augustinian Restless Heart Syndrome, make me wish Armstrong were Catholic, cum fide quaerens intellectum.

G: Now for a mark against the album . . . I feel safe in saying that Christian's Inferno, besides being a telling play on allusions, is "filler" quality.

A: Also, I don't think Act III lives up to the first two acts. See the Light is an especially weak, unconvincingly optimistic ending, a real let down after the opening title track. Green Day should have closed with 21 Guns.

B: I read somewhere that selective downloading may be killing the concept of the album, so that many of today's "albums" are merely collections of unrelated songs, some fodder for the singles chart and others simply filler. In that case, 21st Century Breakdown, a strongly thematic rock opera in three acts, may be the last great album I ever listen to.

Image Source: 21st Century Breakdown by Green Day


Paul Stilwell said...

"The simple pleasures of looking at album art, reading lyrics as they are sung, and inhaling the unmistakable smell of brand new CD jacket, were simply priceless."

I haven't done that for something like a decade - or more. Yikes. I have fond memories of my bonding with O.K. Computer. The day after I first listened to the album I was in the city in the morning during a huge rainy lightning storm. I was in a sheltered parking place that afforded a high view onto the city and there was lightning strike after lightning strike over the skyscrapers and I had 'Let Down' running through my head the whole time.

Adolescent yearning to be sure. But it sticks in my memory.

Enbrethiliel said...


Hello, Paul! =)

I might have remembered these "simple pleasures" two years ago, when I bought an original copy of Duran Duran's Greatest . . . but the paper quality wasn't great and there were no lyrics!

This short discussion makes me wonder what people who grew up with vinyl might have to say about the experience of falling in love with popular music!

By the way, I've just learned to play Let Down on Christine. =) The chord patterns are very simple, but very atmospheric.

Paul Stilwell said...

Awesome! I take it 'Christine' is your guitar?

I always hated it for some reason when albums didn't have the lyrics.

Yeah, one would think in the days of vinyl listening to music must have been more resonant on a human level...less consumptive - which is getting back to the issues you write of in your post.

ninjapeps said...

he got scolded for buying original? what's wrong with the world? it's not like he paid good money for worthless garbage like certain books and movies I could name.

Enbrethiliel said...


Paul: Yes, Christine is my guitar. =)

I think the reason I finally made the switch from cassette tapes to CDs was that the latter were more likely to have the lyrics.

Peps:If we want to split hairs, he got scolded for making a purchase his parents thought he couldn't afford . . . Oh, who am I kidding? =S Yeah, they scolded him for buying an original copy.

Marianne said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you! I was so excited to read your post! Artists' works are not free! our boys are recording artists and that is the trick...still even with being with a major record label!

Tell your brother, thank you for supporting an artist. Did you know that an artist is required by the record company to sell a certain amount of units...if they don't THEY WILL BE DROPPED!

Please pray for our boys as they make this journey. We want the world to know about them and also about their strong Catholic faith. Yep...they study the baltimore catechism daily...the newest read? OUR MORAL LIFE IN CHRIST

Enbrethiliel said...


Marianne, when your boys' album finally becomes available, I'll be honoured to buy a copy and show your whole family my support! You can also be sure of my prayers. =)

ninjapeps said...

he'd deserve a blow to the head if he paid for Coldplay's Leftrightleftrightleft or Nine Inch Nails' The Slip because those albums are legitimately available for free on the bands' respective websites.

Enbrethiliel said...


Thankfully, he doesn't listen to Mr. Gwyneth Paltrow's band and isn't into Nine Inch Nails!