Twelve million album sales later, Green Day face a singular problem: how on earth do they follow this unexpected rock colossus? They briefly vented their passion for old-fashioned garage rock as their alter egos the Foxboro Hot Tubs, but this return to youthful frolics was a red herring. Five years on, 21st Century Breakdown is even more ambitious than Idiot. Obama may have replaced Bush in the White House, but the pop-punkers remain just as pissed off as before. Split into three parts ('Heroes and Cons', 'Charlatans and Saints' and 'Horseshoes and Handgrenades'), Breakdown is a power-pop opera that follows the story of young couple Christian and Gloria as they cope with the fall-out of post-Bush America.
Bruce Springsteen's tales of middle America, The Who's concept albums and Queen's '80s bombast are the three most obvious reference points here. The band's cartoon-punk spirit and "a-woah, a-woah" chants lacks the subtlety of their heroes, but their ambition is so great that it doesn't really matter. The band's apathy and discontent can at times feel a little directionless as they rally against a nondescript "authority", but when the biggest and supposedly most political bands in the world (Coldplay, U2) are churning out wishy-washy anthems, it's refreshing to hear a band that aren't afraid of sticking their necks above the water and having a good rant. Can you imagine Chris Martin singing about "genocide" and "faith fanatics" as Armstrong does on 'East Jesus Nowhere'? Punk purists will doubtless deride the album's polished sound, but very few bands - if any - have galvanised so many listeners with politicised rock in recent years.
However, it's the band's way with a tune rather than their politics that truly shines on Breakdown. The steroid-pumped call-to-arms of 'Know Your Enemy', uncompromising fury of 'Horseshoes and Handgrenades' and ludicrous switch from overblown ballad to three-chord stomp of 'Before The Lobotomy' are instant standouts. But it's the rich diversity of Breakdown, an album that veers from West End piano ballads ('Last Night On Earth') to grotty guitar romps ('The Static Age'), which ensures you'll still be playing it in a year's time and discovering fresh delights with each spin. It still seems a little unlikely, but this record cements Green Day's position as one of the world's premier rock acts.