Green Day's current album, American Idiot, is billed as a punk opera. But that doesn't mean the band exactly followed the trail The Who blazed 35 years ago, when they released rock's first and still-definitive rock opera, Tommy.
"It's not so literal like that," says drummer Tr Cool, noting that American Idiot doesn't employ the linear storytelling device of most rock operas. "We have to leave it up to the imagination of the listener. Otherwise, you listen to it once and there's no underlying fabric that you can pull over, and nothing shrouded.
"There are lots of hidden things and lots of new meanings that come up after, like, the fifth, sixth listen. You keep hearing more and more. Even me -- that's the amazing thing -- I keep discovering things on this album."
To say the least, American Idiot is an audacious statement by Green Day, who in 2004 celebrated the 10th anniversary of the release of Dookie. That album, with hits like "Longview," "Welcome To Paradise" and "When I Come Around," became a multi-platinum hit and brought pop-punk into the rock mainstream.
Green Day did not go into American Idiot expecting to create a punk opera, according to Cool. In fact, the band had recorded about 20 songs for a conventional album, and had started mixing the tracks. But then the master tapes were stolen.
Angered by the theft, the band decided to start from scratch again and forget any rules they had made for themselves about songwriting. This approach prompted the three band members -- singer/guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong, bassist Mike Dirnt and Cool -- to playfully challenge each other.
"Mike wrote a 30-second song," Cool says. "Then Billie listened to it and he put a 30-second song after it, and then I put a 30-second song after it, but connected. We were just doing that, and taking turns and trying to outdo each other."
The album doesn't tell a story so much as present a series of snapshots involving several key characters, with Jesus of Suburbia being the main protagonist.
"Definitely this album has a lot of meanings for different people," Cool says. "I would say the story of it is kind of like a timeline of just, basically, [Jesus of Suburbia's] life and the stages and the choices he makes, and the places he goes and the people he's with."
It's tempting to consider American Idiot the band's attempt to stay one step ahead of the many pop-punk bands who also enjoy considerable commercial success.
Cool, while acknowledging his pride in the influence Green Day has had over the past decade, says competition isn't what fuels the band.
"I don't know about staying ahead or whatever. It's just, we don't want to do the same things over and over," he says. "Like these (other pop-punk) bands, they're all going to grow, too. They started out basically in the pop-punk genre, and then they moved to whatever they're going to do. Everybody has their path. You can't judge the Beastie Boys on 'Fight For Your Right To Party.'
"We'll see what happens with these bands. It's a great honor when a band that's hugely successful will sit there and say, 'We owe it all to Green Day.' That's awesome."
-- Alan Sculley
Green Day with Jimmy Eat World
Pepsi Center, 1000 Chopper Circle, Denver
Monday, Sept. 19, 7 p.m.
Tickets: $36.50-$41; call 520-9090 or visit ticketmaster.com.