Unbiased reviews of new vinyl releases, audiophile reissues, and more

Monday, June 29, 2009

Green Day: 21st Century Breakdown 180 gram vinyl

21st Century Breakdown [Vinyl]

Green Day is back with 21st Century Breakdown, their eighth studio album and follow up to their 2004 Grammy-winning effort, American Idiot. While American Idiot was a concept album, their current release takes things one step further and presents a full-blown rock opera, complete with three acts: Heroes and Cons, Charlatans and Saints, and Horseshoes and Handgrenades.

Pressed at Record Industry in The Netherlands, the vinyl arrived clean, flat, and was virtually noise-free during playback. The gatefold cover is made of standard weight cardstock and the two 180 gram platters are housed in poly-lined paper sleeves, a nice detail that helps keep the vinyl from obtaining paper-scuffs. A full-size lyric sheet is also included.

As soon as you drop the needle on 21st Century Breakdown, you're reminded of American Idiot. Lots of muted vocals followed by crashing guitars and drums--they employ this so much, that at times it starts to feel a bit formulaic. This newest release also throws out a larger wall of sound, with a more layered production--even using strings on one or two numbers. Fans of the band will likely be split on this, with some finding it a welcome branching out, and others turned off by what they see as a too-slick-production style.

As was the case on American Idiot, the band continues to wear their influences on their sleeves--and The Who, David Bowie, and even a bit of Neil Young can be heard throughout the record. While I doubt I'll ever like this record as much as their last, it continues to grow on me with every listen--and while only a few songs stand out as singles material, the album does flow very nicely and should make for a decent companion to American Idiot.

Green Day in the studio

The mastering is credited to Ted Jensen of Sterling Sound, but it isn't clear whether that credit is for the compact disc or the vinyl mastering. The deadwax doesn't contain any initials or other clues identifying the engineer. I've contacted Sterling Sound and will let you know once I've confirmed the identity of the vinyl mastering engineer and determined whether the recording itself was analog or digital.

Compared to the domestic vinyl edition of American Idiot, which was half-speed mastered by Stan Ricker, 21st Century Breakdown has a brighter overall sound. Whereas Ricker's vinyl mastering job was on the dark side and really emphasized the low end, 21st Century Breakdown has a more balanced sound, if a bit sterile at times.

In the same way that the material on 21st Century Breakdown doesn't quite measure up to American Idiot, the vinyl mastering isn't quite as impressive either. The guitars sound a bit less organic, the vocals a bit thinner, and the bass generally doesn't have as much slam--although at times it does sound very good.

Compared to the 256 Kbps download I burned to cd and used for comparison, the vinyl does sound significantly better. Dynamics are better, there is more detail--the vinyl simply exhibits more overall resolution than the Mp3. Although I haven't listened to the cd, I would suspect that it would also sound better than the Mp3. Whether it sounds as good as the vinyl, will likely depend upon the relative strength of your vinyl vs. your digital rig.

While this release breaks no new ground, fans who enjoyed American Idiot will also want 21st Century Breakdown in their collection. And, although not up to par with the audiophile quality mastering afforded the American Idiot vinyl, those who haven't bought the cd or who regularly collect vinyl will find it to be a nicely pressed, decent sounding and moderately priced vinyl package.

buy 21st Century Breakdown
on vinyl

My Vinyl Review recommends the domestic vinyl pressing of American Idiot:

buy American Idiot
on vinyl


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