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Upon the release of Green Day’s latest album, which has been five years in the making, we take a look back at their groundbreaking career.


GREEN DAY has come a long way, having gone from playing grimy East Bay clubs to selling out stadiums across the globe. With the release of its eighth and latest effort, 21st Century Breakdown, the little punk band that could -- composed of guitarist/vocalist Billie Joe Armstrong, bassist Mike Dirnt, and drummer Tré Cool -- has taken yet another step in a remarkable, unlikely journey that began more than 20 years ago.

Rooted in the northern California punk scene of the late 1980s, Green Day exploded from the underground with a pair of infectious platters for Berkeley-based label Lookout! Records. The band’s second album, Kerplunk, proved to be a bona fide indie hit (selling some 50,000 copies at the time) and prompted the band to make the jump to Reprise Records/Warner Bros.

Released in early 1994, Dookie, the group’s Rob Cavallo–produced major-label debut, emerged in the wake of grunge and the dark cloud of Kurt Cobain’s suicide. Green Day’s plucky pop-punk tunes captured the changing mood of the times and brought an accessible -- if slightly caricatured -- version of 1970s Brit punk to the American masses. Dookie would become one of the best-selling albums of the decade, moving some 15 million copies worldwide.

The band’s attempts to follow up that album -- Insomniac (1994), Nimrod (1997), and Warning (2000) -- inevitably fell short of fans’ sky-high expectations and the gaudy sales numbers established by Dookie. Still, with each record, Green Day subtly altered its style, with Armstrong opening up his songwriting approach and expanding his musical palette. While the band chose to grow creatively, a small army of copycats, from Blink 182 to Sum 41, rose up to wrestle the mantle of punk-pop kingpins away from the group.

Over the years, Green Day’s success has brought with it considerable turmoil, especially as the group has had to dodge sellout accusations from punk purists and weather internal band strife. In 2004, rather than crumble, the band channeled its angst into the rock opera American Idiot, an album that would become the group’s second major breakthrough. The politically charged disc shot to number one in 19 different countries, selling more than 12 million copies and earning Green Day Grammys for Record of the Year and Best Rock Album.

The five years that have passed since the release of American Idiot have seen the group evolve its musical vision even further. With 21st Century Breakdown, Green Day continues the conceptual approach and polemic spirit of the last album. Influenced by the big-tableau sonic vision of the Who and Bruce Springsteen, the 18-track Breakdown -- divided into a trio of thematic movements -- takes a strident lyrical approach to such subject matter as religion and class warfare.

With the band members now approaching their 40s, it’s hard to know how long they will continue, and it’s impossible to predict what form their changes will take next. But if the band’s history has proven anything, it’s only that more surprises are in store.