“We’re writing nine-minute epics, which is scary to think about,” says Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong, after previewing the very long new song “Jesus of Suburbia.” That track, broken into five different parts, is the centerpiece of the San Francisco punk band’s seventh studio album. American Idiot is, no joke, a concept album, or “punk-rock opera” as Armstrong calls it. The band veered in this direction after working on a more conventional album, only to have the master tapes stolen from the studio. Fortunately, the new tracks are as catchy as they are ambitious, recalling everything from Lou Reed’s New York album to Queen. Highlights include the nasty, media-bashing title track and “St. Jimmy,” a cool punkrockabilly hybrid. Despite its lofty ambitions, Idiot is still fun. “You know when you’re fifteen years old and you’re rocking out in front of the mirror playing air guitar?” says Armstrong. “I was trying to get that feeling going.“
This story is from the June 24, 2004 issue of Rolling Stone.