Raising the Bar

American Idiot (Reprise Records)
Green Day

By Kory Wilcoxson

Green Day has almost always been a few notches above the average punk bands, but I don't know if anyone saw this coming. Sure, the California trio has shown surprising range (witness the montage theme "Good Riddance [Time of Your Life]"), but, after all, this is the band that named one of their albums Dookie.

So what were the odds that the creators of "Basket Case" could produce an ambitious, sprawling, politically charged rock opera that far surpasses anything the Who ever put on stage? American Idiot is better compared to the social commentary of Rent than the pinball antics of Tommy. Its energy feeds on the disillusionment and anger of post-9/11 America; it also happens to be the best music of Green Day's career.

Even if you can't follow the complex story of St. Jimmy and , American Idiot has a lot to offer, from the driving title song to the melancholy Boulevard of Broken Dreams. These masters of the three-minute three-chord punk song continue to mature in musical range (I love the rock-anthem quality of "The Waiting") and risk-taking (two 9-minute medleys of five songs each).

Part of what makes American Idiot so good is just how high Green Day has aimed; had they not come through, this could have been one spectacular flop. Because they did, they've crafted an album that will not only define their career, but could very well define the decade.