Five years after they revived the rock opera, re-ignited political rock and resurrected their career, Green Day returns with another concept album that's bigger, badder and bolder than American Idiot. Divided into three acts with recurring themes and musical motifs running throughout, 21st Century Breakdown is another indictment of rampant American idealism. But where Idiot took on Bush and his overseas war machine, Breakdown stays on U.S. soil, surveying the state of religion, welfare and various other collapses as the two young lovers at the center of the tale navigate their shaky futures.
Singer-guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong can still be heavy-handed with his symbolism (last time around, his characters were named St. Jimmy and Jesus of Suburbia; this time they're Christian and Gloria), but 21st Century Breakdown contains his best batch of songs since Dookie. They're certainly more ambitious than the masturbating teens he sang about 15 years ago. "Born into Nixon, I was raised in hell," he laments on the opening title tune. "My generation is zero." From there, Christian and Gloria recount their crushed dreams, lack of direction and eventual resignation over blasts of punk-rock, sweet pop and sweeping ballads. But there's promise on the closing "See the Light": "[It's] never too late," sings Armstrong on a '70s-style rocker that sums up 21st Century Breakdown's hopeful uncertainty in four-and-a-half tightly packed minutes. In other words, not much has changed in five years. — Michael Gallucci