In an era when downloaded singles far outpace the sales of complete CDs, putting out a concept album seems a quaint, if not futile, way to present new music.

If any act can restore the lustre of the complete album, it may be Green Day: Their 21st Century Breakdown, released this spring, continues in the tradition of the band’s Grammy-winning American Idiot album, with key characters, political themes and compelling story that is told track by track, with elaborate artwork to further illustrate its themes.

“There are three different acts to this record,” says bassist Mike Dirnt, speaking in a cellar of a hotel “There’s a lot of content. We almost treated it like a vinyl record, therefore giving more for people to hold on to and call their own.”

Frontman Billie Joe Armstrong compares the process to writing a novel.

“You try to come up with more creative ways that the songs relate to each other, and they sync back into each other,” says Armstrong, the band’s chief vocalist, guitarist and lyricist. “That makes a listener want to go back and investigate an album.”

Plenty of fans have initiated at least a first probe of the album: It’s sold over 700,000 copies since its May release, and thousands get an in-depth examination nightly with the band’s current nationwide tour.

The group’s last CD, 2004’s American Idiot, not only sold millions of records, it also won the group two Grammy Awards, including Record of the Year honours in 2006 for the brooding song Boulevard of Broken Dreams. A critical triumph, the album, one of the first major musical statements critical of the Iraq war and the presidency of George W. Bush, was a departure for the punk-rock band, which got their start with their irreverent 1994 debut, Dookie.

American Idiot expressed the frustrations of many by painting a nuanced picture of modern-day suburbia, told through the eyes of characters so rich that it’s being developed into a musical to debut in the San Francisco area in October.

“I thought American Idiot had a lot in common with something like Rocky Horror Picture Show,” Armstrong says. “It would great to see a film made out of it someday too.”

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