Back in the spring of 2004, when I heard that Green Day was going to launch a comeback with a punk rock opera, I kinda snorted. In my defence, so did a lot of other people.

The general consensus was that Green Day was on the downside of its career, soon to be relegated to “’90s at noon” request shows. Sure, the kids seemed to dig the band when it went out on tour with Blink 182. And yeah, that greatest hits record did well. But to resuscitate a career with a punk rock opera? Seriously?

Even insiders didn’t express much confidence. Secret reservations — never confirmed and always denied — were whispered that this CD would be lucky to sell 75,000 copies in Canada.
All this seems silly now. American Idiot became a mega-selling Bush-bashing opus that not only captured a surly public’s mood during W’s second term but also the travesty that followed Hurricane Katrina with Wake Me Up When September Ends. The CD is within a hair’s breadth of selling a million copies in Canada alone. Add in the six million(-ish) units sold in the U.S. and many more around the world — well, don’t we all look foolish for having doubted Billie Joe and Co.?

So what do you do for an encore? A sequel. Naturally. Two weeks from today, Green Day gets the equivalent of a holiday weekend movie opening for the release of 21st Century Breakdown. Hopes are so high that the band’s label can’t wait until the usual Tuesday to get the record out. I don’t blame them. I’ve heard the album and I think it’s brilliant. The libretto for 21st Century Breakdown is built around two American kids, Christian (a “kamikaze nihilist”) and Gloria (a naive idealist). Together, the young couple are left to make sense of the world wrought by their 43rd president. Their story is told through three acts and 17 songs. (Yes, that’s the official number of tracks.) It’s filled with complex movements, delicate piano breaks, Beatles-esque moments and the kind of anthemic stuff that’ll drive concert security forces crazy.

Butch Vig — the knob twiddler behind Nirvana’s Nevermind — must have had the time of his life (no pun intended) producing this record. This is a tight, taunt, tense record, but one that still manages to end on a positive note.

I’m sorry I doubted you, Green Day. Won’t happen again.