With “American Idiot,” Green Day is back to rightfully reclaim the punk/pop throne. In the four years since the band’s last studio album, “Warning,” Green Day has watched groups it has clearly influenced, such as Blink-182 and Good Charlotte, try on the punk crown.
The Reprise/Warner Bros. release, a concept album Green Day dubs a “punk rock opera,” entered The Billboard 200 at No. 1, making it the first chart-topper for the 15-year-old San Francisco Bay Area trio.
“It’s pretty sweet,” singer/guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong says of landing in the top spot. “We’ve been doing this for a long time. The album is the most political we’ve ever been. To me, it doesn’t feel like it’s just another rock record that somebody put out. It feels like we tapped into the culture a little bit.”
The title has sold 267,000 copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan, scoring the band its best opening week. Opening-week shipments of physical copies of the album surged to more than 1.5 million units worldwide, according to Warner Bros., as the set also bowed at No. 1 in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, Japan and Canada.
The sales are good news to the band because it also means that people will digest the entire album, which includes two nine-minute opuses, the way the trio intended.
“On purpose we made a record that had to be accepted as an album, not as a bunch of singles,” drummer Tre Cool says. “It’s not ‘put out a single and work it to radio.’ That sucks. You’re just going to have to buy the album.”
The album, which Armstrong says he wrote “practically in chronological order,” focuses on a disenfranchised kid fueled on “soda pop and Ritalin” and his responses to the world around him both politically and socially.
Once he penned the second track (the five-part “Jesus of Suburbia”), Armstrong, who wrote the bulk of the album, says the tone was set. “After you write a song like that, it was like, ‘I can’t turn back now.’ You can’t all of a sudden say, ‘I want to write a normal record.'”
When Warner Bros. Records chairman/CEO Tom Whalley first heard the album’s political content, he admits, “In the back of my mind, I had a little bit of concern based on what had been happening politically in our country and the way other artists were condemned for speaking out, but the music was so great and it wasn’t overly political to the point that it was obviously picking a side. It speaks more to where the band saw the state of the country.”
Radio has quickly embraced the title track, which tackles the current state of paranoia and conservatism in America. “American Idiot” is No. 1 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart for three consecutive weeks.
Armstrong stresses that he intentionally avoided being specific in the songs. “Political songs have a tendency to date themselves a little bit. This is more a sign of the times, but it also draws from my own experiences.”
The band is planning to tour through next summer and there is talk of making “American Idiot” into a film.
Armstrong says he has been gathering names of potential writers, but that fans shouldn’t look for a “Tommy”-like project. “I like the ‘Tommy’ record, but not the movie that much,” he says. “I’d like to do something that comes across more like a movie, not a musical.”
Excerpted from the Oct. 9, 2004, issue of Billboard. The full original text is available to Billboard.com subscribers.
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