Monday, May 25, 2009

Viva La Gloria


For the past few days I haven't really been able to listen to much music other than 21st Century Breakdown, the new Green Day album. In some ways it's the band's best ever, their most mature, the fulfillment of all the promise they've always had. It's the best record of the year so far, and possibly the best of the new decade. There are no weak cuts. And, according in yesterday's NY Times the release couldn't have come at a better time for Warner Bros, their label. Reporting on the cascading economics of the music industry, the Times points to CD sales that have been cut in half in the last 10 years. Warner Bros doesn't really stay in business by selling music; they sell bonds to investors who get sold a bill of goods.
Last week the group led by Edgar Bronfman Jr. decided to try to sell $500 million of new bonds to replace some of its existing debt and extend the overall maturity of its liabilities.

Like tickets for a 1970s concert for The Who, investors practically stampeded to get their hands on the paper. Investors were so enthusiastic that the company expanded the deal and sold $1.1 billion of senior secured notes. As a result, Warner paid off all its existing debt and extended the date by which it needed to pay it back until 2016.

U.S. Treasury bonds, for the same time span, are offering a modest 3.4% return while the Warner Music bonds are offering a juicy 9.5% annually. Some people never learn but unless Green Day puts out an album like 21st Century Breakdown every year between now and 2016, my guess is that the suckers who bought the bonds-- or, more likely, the poor saps they get unloaded on-- will wish they had stuck with the Treasuries... or invested their retirement funds in autographed Green Day memorabilia.

WalMart, which the record companies helped turn into their biggest sales outlet (perhaps more detrimental to their own health than downloading and piracy) refuses to carry Green Day because of dirty words. And iTunes, after non-stop badgering and threats from the label, has boosted the price of songs from 99 cents to $1.29, which Wall Street likes but is likely to lead to even more people choosing the free option. I called a friend to tell him how the new Green Day record was the best thing I had heard in years and before the phone call was completed he was downloading it-- from some kind of illegal site.

Warner is bragging because its quarterly earnings were only down 14% (much less than the industry's as a whole). And Goldman Sachs estimates their income could remain flat for the next three years. Break out the champagne? Probably not-- and the cost of the champagne could go towards buying another company, EMI, which is even worse shape than Warner Bros. If they do it fast enough, maybe both companies could get behind "Last Night On Earth," a song incredibly reminiscent of the Beatles' Revolver era.

I remember once going for a ride with one of my label's classic platinum artists who had invited me to his home to hear his just completed new album. He bragged to me that he wrote the whole thing in a day and recorded it in less than a week. I never knew for sure if he was joking but the record sounded-- and sold-- like he was describing it accurately. I don't know how long Green Day, along with producer Butch Vig, has been working on 21st Century Breakdown but if they told me it was for the whole 5 years since the release of American Idiot I wouldn't doubt them. It sounds like there was a great deal of thought, energy, sweat and tears put into this opus dealing-- in a very personal way-- with the horrific mess Bush left behind.

I might as well admit that the whole post was just an excuse for me to kick back and work on a clip for a Green Day song. It's a daunting task because the songs are so amazing that even before I start looking for photos, I know there's no chance I can do the music justice. It's kept me at bay all week. But... There are two songs called "Viva La Gloria!" (well one is "Viva La Gloria?") that are woven into the only artistically successful rock opera I've ever heard. I'm opting for "Viva La Gloria?" more because there are homages that remind me of the Doors and Queen than because I like it any more than the other--!-- rendition.

My friend Harry typed out this quote from Billie Joe Armstrong that's in the new issue of Rolling Stone which came to his house... in the mail. Looks like what the band accomplished with this record wasn't like a coincidence or whimsy.
"Maybe that's the reason most people don't go for it," he says. "You can scare yourself with ambition-- having the audacity to want to be as good as John Lennon or Paul McCartney or Joe Strummer. There has been so much great shit before me I feel like a student: Who the fuck do I think I am."

"But you have to battle past that," he insists in his rapid fire punk chirp. "It's the people who are overconfident who are the ones putting out the biggest piles of shit. If you're at that place where you're working hard but don't feel like you know what you're doing anymore,then you're on to something."

And it looks like the young man accomplished what he set out to do.

UPDATE: Billie Joe Has A Message For WalMart

The American record industry allowed itself to be bamboozled into giving WalMart and similar operations a near monopoly over their music. It was a catastrophe for them and their artists, especially emerging artists who now have no place to sell their CDs. But it should be no problem for a superstar act like Green Day, right? Well, no. Green Day won't self-censor their songs, which WalMart demands of artists, even platinum-selling ones. So they're not carrying 21st Century Breakdown. Billie Joe isn't budging. "They want artists to censor their records in order to be carried in there. We just said no. We've never done it before. You feel like you're in 1953 or something."

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At 7:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Said it before, I'll say it again to anybody that will listen. When 'American Idiot' came out, in context of the time, it may have saved my life. Great video Howie...haven't heard they whole record yet, but I think I'll go get it tomorrow.

At 7:27 PM, Blogger Jimmy the Saint said...

WTF?!? American Idiot was pretty damn good. And now they've topped it? Sounds like they are on their way to the "Next Great Band". Can't believe they've been in the big leagues, so to speak, for 15 years or so now.

At 11:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

itunes didn't boost the price of this song - the label has. labels now have the ability to have flexible pricing in itunes - and they are exercising their ability to charge more in this case. (itunes has tried to hold them to a 99 cent model for as long as possible)

At 11:43 AM, Blogger Tracy said...

Cant wait to get my hands on it! We need another game changing, politically influenced album.

At 7:02 AM, Blogger Bic said...

Great piece, Howie. I kind of lost track of rock and roll after about 1985. Maybe I'll start paying attention again.

I linked to this and embedded your video on my little blog.

Hope you don't mind.


At 7:10 AM, Blogger GDaddiction said...

Your comments are "spot on". Billie Joe is a freaking genius! I can't stop listening to the album, wondering how hw does it! He just keeps amazing me with his talent, I believe he is very under-rated as a writer, and performer. I must say mostly all of his writing speaks to me at one point inmy life or another....GENIUS!!!

At 2:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mike and Tre' did an awesome job on this album. I hope they keep up the good work.

At 5:43 PM, Blogger Bic said...

Howie, why did that great video disappear?

At 8:09 AM, Anonymous Marco B said...

Love the post. I can't stop listening to the record but it bothers me the record company didn't release the guitar hero and/or rock band version of the album with the cd launch. It was the perfect album to get the train rolling. I'm not a video game guy but the industry is dying and thinking creatively for a change might help.

At 10:54 PM, Blogger DownWithTyranny said...

Vimeo disabled the video and refuses to tell me why. I found another host though!

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