From signing with a major to pioneering the mosh-pit ballad, Green Day have never hidden their ambition. American Idiot, which tells the sagas of two characters (the television-glazed Jesus of Suburbia and the more nihilistic St. Jimmy) as both struggle through a war-torn world and an ”information age of hysteria,” is a particularly big leap. The album adheres to the tenets of rock operas dating back to Tommy: songs with multiple sections, lyrical darts aimed at the Man, and story that periodically makes no sense. A girl enters and leaves, and one of the men — who may be the same person — dies and returns ”home,” wherever that is.
All of which should make anyone want to hole up with an Ramones album. But Green Day — namely, frontman Billie Joe Armstrong — make the journey entertaining enough. At various times, American Idiot evokes football-game chants, ’50s greaser rock, military marches, classic rock (hints of ”Strawberry Fields Forever” and ”All the Young Dudes”), and the band’s own past (”Wake Me Up When September Ends,” an elegiac bookend to their own ”Good Riddance [Time of Your Life]”). As often happens with concept albums, the disc tends to rely on lyrics over music, so some of the songs are forgettable. But Green Day are now slinging mud not at their audience but at America’s pumped-up militaryindustrial complex — where ”a flag [is] wrapped around a score of men” and war rages ”from Anaheim to the Middle East” — without losing their bratty humor or power chords.