American Idiot is the seventh studio album by the American punk rock band Green Day. It was co-produced with longterm collaborator Rob Cavallo and released on September 21, 2004 through Reprise Records.
In mid-2003, the band began recording songs for an album titled Cigarettes and Valentines. However, the master tracks were lost and the band decided to start over rather than re-record Cigarettes and Valentines. They decided to produce a rock opera, inspired by the work of The Who and numerous musicals. It follows the life of "Jesus of Suburbia", a sort of anti-hero created by Billie Joe Armstrong. Following early recording at Oakland, California's Studio 880, the band finished the album in Los Angeles.
The album achieved popularity worldwide, charting in 26 countries and reaching number one in nineteen of them, including the United States and the United Kingdom. Since its release, American Idiot has sold over 16 million copies worldwide, including 267,000 in its opening week. The album won numerous awards including a Grammy for Best Rock Album, and was generally well received by critics.
In mid-2003, Green Day convened at Studio 880 in Oakland, California, and recorded about 20 songs for an album titled Cigarettes and Valentines. However, the master tracks went missing. The band, wondering if it should re-record the songs, consulted with producer Rob Cavallo over what to do. Cavallo told the band members to ask themselves if the missing tracks represented their best work. Guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong said the band members "couldn't honestly look at ourselves and say, 'That was the best thing we've ever done.' So we decided to move on and do something completely new." The band members agreed to spend the next three months writing new material.
The first new song Green Day wrote was "American Idiot". The band had difficulty following it up. One day, bassist Mike Dirnt was in the studio recording a 30-second song by himself. Armstrong decided he wanted to do the same, and drummer Tré Cool followed suit. Armstrong recalled, "It started getting more serious as we tried to outdo one another. We kept connecting these little half-minute bits until we had something." This musical suite became "Homecoming", and the band subsequently wrote another suite, "Jesus of Suburbia". Armstrong was so emboldened by the creation of the two suites that he decided to make the record an album-long conceptual piece. The band took inspiration from concept records by The Who, as well as musicals including West Side Story and Jesus Christ Superstar. During their sessions at Studio 880, the members of Green Day spent their days writing material and would stay up late, drinking and discussing music. The band set up a pirate radio station from which it would broadcast jam sessions, along with occasional crank calls.
With demos completed, Green Day relocated to Los Angeles to continue work on the album. The group first recorded at Ocean Way Recording, then moved to Capitol Studios to complete the album. Armstrong said, "As a songwriter, I get so deep into what I'm writing about, it's almost like I have to stir up shit to write about it." The band admitted to partying during the L.A. sessions; Armstrong had to schedule vocal recording sessions around his hangovers. Armstrong described the environment, "For the first time, we separated from our pasts, from how we were supposed to behave as Green Day. For the first time, we fully accepted the fact that we're rock stars."
American Idiot is a concept album that tells the story of a central character named Jesus of Suburbia. The album was a departure from Green Day's typical way of writing music. Armstrong said, "As soon as you abandon the verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge structure … it opens up your mind to this different way of writing, where there really are no rules." Armstrong said the band aimed to be ambitious, which he felt many contemporary rock bands were not.
The band favored loud guitar sounds for the record; Armstrong said "we were like, 'Let's just go balls-out on the guitar sound–plug in the Les Pauls and Marshalls and let it rip'". The guitarist played more lead guitar on the album than he had on any previous release, which he said he previously shied away from for fear of sounding "corny". Armstrong added tracks of acoustic guitar-playing throughout the record to augment his electric guitar rhythms and Cool's drumming, creating a percussive sound.
The album's protagonist, Jesus of Suburbia, emerged out of Armstrong asking himself what sort of person the title of "American Idiot" referred to. Armstrong described the character as essentially an anti-hero, a powerless "everyman" desensitized by a "steady diet of soda pop and Ritalin". Jesus of Suburbia hates his town and those close to him, so he leaves for the city. As the album progresses the characters St. Jimmy and Whatsername are introduced. St. Jimmy is a punk rock freedom fighter. Whatsername, inspired by the Bikini Kill song "Rebel Girl", is a "Mother Revolution" figure that Armstrong described as "kind of St. Jimmy's nemesis in a lot of ways". Both characters illustrate the "rage vs. love" theme of the album, in that "you can go with the blind rebellion of self-destruction, where Saint Jimmy is. But there's a more love-driven side to that, which is following your beliefs and ethics. And that's where Jesus of Suburbia really wants to go", according to Armstrong. Near the end of the story, St. Jimmy apparently commits suicide. While the singer did not want to give away the details of the story's resolution, he said the intention is for the listener to ultimately realize that Jesus of Suburbia is really St. Jimmy, and Jimmy is "part of the main character that pretty much dies". In the album final song, "Whatsername", Jesus of Suburbia loses his connection with Whatsername as well.
Upon American Idiot's release in September 2004, American Idiot peaked at number one on the Billboard 200 album chart. It achieved five times platinum status in the United States, eight times platinum status in Canada and six times platinum status in the United Kingdom. Five singles were released in support of the album, all of which charted on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart. "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" topped both the Mainstream and the Modern Rock charts. Its music video received heavy airplay on music television.
Allmusic praised the album from both perspectives; either as "a collection of great songs", or as a whole. Pitchfork Media said the "ambitious" album was successful in getting across its message, and "keeps its mood and method deliberately, tenaciously, and angrily on point". Uncut wrote that although the album was heavily politically focused, "slam-dancing is still possible", in a moderate review, while The New York Times praised Green Day for trumping "any pretension with melody and sheer fervor".
Entertainment Weekly said that despite being based on a musical theater concept "that periodically makes no sense", Green Day "make the journey entertaining enough". It described most of the songs as forgettable, though, arguing the album focuses more on lyrics than music. Robert Christgau's C+ said the album featured "emotional travails of two clueless punks" using "devices that sunk under their own weight back when The Who invented them", and The Guardian called American Idiot a mess—"but a vivid, splashy, even courageous mess". Rolling Stone said the album could have been, and was, a mess, but that the "individual tunes are tough and punchy enough to work on their own".
In 2005, American Idiot won a Grammy for Best Rock Album and was nominated in four other categories including Album of the Year. The album helped Green Day win seven of the eight awards they were nominated for at the 2005 MTV Video Music Awards; the "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" video won six of those awards. A year later, "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" won a Grammy for Record of the Year. It was named The number 1 album of the Century by Kerrang in 2009.
A musical adaption of the album was created and released in 2009, American Idiot premiered at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre on September 4 2009. It was initially intended to run through October 11, but before the premiere, the theatre announced a three week extension. The new closing date is November 1. The musical is a collaboration between Green Day and Michael Mayer (Tony Award winning director of Spring Awakening). Green Day does not appear in the production, but the show has got an onstage band. The cast features Tony award winner John Gallagher Jr. (Spring Awakening) as Johnny, Michael Esper (A Man for All Seasons) as Will, Tony Vincent (Jesus Christ Superstar) as St Jimmy, Rebecca Naomi Jones as Whatsername, Mary Faber as Heather, along with 14 other actors. The show features all of the songs from the album American Idiot, some b-side tracks and a few songs from Green Day's later album, 21st Century Breakdown.
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