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21st Century Breakdown is the eighth studio album by American punk rock band Green Day. It is the band's second rock opera, following American Idiot, and its first record to be produced by Butch Vig. The band commenced work on the record in January 2006. 45 songs were written by vocalist and guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong by October 2007, but the band members did not enter studio work with Vig until January 2008. The writing and recording process spanned three years and four recording studios and was finished in April 2009.

21st Century Breakdown was released through Reprise Records on May 15, 2009. Armstrong has described the album as a "snapshot of the era in which we live as we question and try to make sense of the selfish manipulation going on around us, whether it be the government, religion, media or frankly any form of authority". The singles, "Know Your Enemy" and "21 Guns" exemplify the themes of alienation and politically-motivated anger present in the record.

Critical response to 21st Century Breakdown was generally positive. Most critics considered the composition and Armstrong's lyrics a success, although a minority of reviewers treated the album's concept as flawed. The record achieved Green Day's best chart performance to date by reaching number one on the album charts of various countries, including the United States Billboard 200, the European Top 100 Albums, and the United Kingdom Albums Chart.

Writing and recording

Green Day began to write new songs for what would become 21st Century Breakdown in January 2006 after touring extensively in 2005 in support of seventh album American Idiot. At the time, frontman Billie Joe Armstrong stated, "We'll start with silence, and that's how we'll be able to find the inspiration to find another record." The band did not release any details of the writing and recording process until October 2007, when Armstrong said in an interview with Rolling Stone that he had written "something like 45 songs". The band members worked on the primitive conceptual stages of the album at their rehearsal studio in Oaklandmarker, Californiamarker. Little was revealed on the themes or musical style of the album, but Armstrong pointed out, "I want to dig into who I am and what I'm feeling at this moment – which is middle-aged." He added that many of the 45 songs were written on piano rather than guitar.

Green Day began the recording process for 21st Century Breakdown in January 2008. Later that year, it was confirmed that the band worked with producer Butch Vig. The album was recorded with Vig throughout 2008 and into early 2009 at four different locations: Ocean Way Recording in Hollywood, California, Studio 880 in Oakland, Californiamarker, Jel Studios in Newport Beach, Californiamarker, and Costa Mesa Studios in Costa Mesa, Californiamarker. While recording in Hollywood, the band members bought cheap turntable from Amoeba Music and listened to many vinyl record for inspiration, including albums by The Beat and The Plimsouls. Armstrong cited as inspiration the music of The Kinks' Ray Davies, The Pretty Things' S.F. Sorrow, The Doors' The Doors and Strange Days, and Meat Loaf's Bat Out of Hell. Drummer Tré Cool noted the influence of Eddie Cochran and The Creation on Armstrong's writing.

While writing at his home studio, Armstrong worked on a cover of The Who's 1966 mini-opera "A Quick One While He's Away"; Green Day recorded a full-band version of the song during the album sessions. Vig noted that frustrations would sometimes cause delays in the recording process for 21st Century Breakdown. Armstrong kept his lyrics closely guarded and intentionally mixed his demos so that the vocals were low in the mix and thus unintelligible to the other band members. It was not until late 2008 that he chose to share his words with Cool, Vig, and bassist Mike Dirnt by sitting down with them and reading the entire album's lyrics aloud in order. The band members made the finishing touches on the album in early April 2009 and claimed that its release would lead to a "kind of... post-partum depression".

Themes and composition

21st Century Breakdown continues the rock opera style of its predecessor American Idiot. The album is divided into three acts: "Heroes and Cons", "Charlatans and Saints", and "Horseshoes and Handgrenades" and is set in Detroit, Michiganmarker. Its loose narrative follows a young couple named Christian and Gloria through the challenges present in the U.S. following the presidency of George W. Bush. Bassist Mike Dirnt has suggested that the songs "speak to each other the way the songs on Born to Run speak to each other. I don't know if you'd call it a 'concept album', but there's a thread that connects everything". Many of the record's themes and lyrics are drawn from Armstrong's personal life and he sings in the first-person narrative style about abandonment and vengeance in "Before the Lobotomy", "Christian's Inferno", and "Peacemaker". Rolling Stone noted that the album is "the most personal, emotionally convulsive record Armstrong has ever written".

The title track's opening lyric "Born into Nixon, I was raised in hell" references Armstrong's birth year of 1972, while "We are the class of '13" references the fact that his eldest son, Joseph, will graduate from high school in 2013. Dirnt has expressed his belief that "Last of the American Girls" was written about Armstrong's wife Adrienne, who he claimed is steadfast in her beliefs and assertively defends them. Armstrong has cited his "disconnected" childhood—he was raised by his five older siblings after their father's death, while their mother worked graveyard shifts as a waitress—as the roots of the discontent expressed on 21st Century Breakdown. "East Jesus Nowhere" rebukes fundamentalist religion and was written after Armstrong attended a church service where a friend's baby was baptized.

Musically, 21st Century Breakdown is similar to the punk rock style of American Idiot, but many critics have claimed that Green Day's traditional sound has evolved in the five years since their last release to incorporate new influences such as "well-built, muscular pop rock" and "king-sized stadium rock". Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone indicated that the album sports ballads that are Green Day's "glossiest ever"; he claimed that the band "combine punk thrash with their newfound love of classic-rock grandiosity". MTV compared the material to that of classic rockers like The Who, while Spin called the title track "Green Day's most epic song yet". Cool has remarked, "It's important to us that we're still looked at as a punk band. It was our religion, our higher education", but has noted that Armstrong had "gone archival" in writing 21st Century Breakdown by gleaning inspiration from "the architects of rock & roll". Armstrong himself has stated, "Ground zero for me is still punk rock. I like painting an ugly picture. I get something uplifting out of singing some of the most horrifying shit you can sing about. It's just my DNA."

Promotion and release

Green Day performing in a 21st Century Breakdown showcase concert at the Kesselhaus, Berlin, May 7, 2009.

On February 9, 2009, Green Day announced the album title and that the record would be split into three acts: "Heroes and Cons", "Charlatans and Saints", and "Horseshoes and Handgrenades". On March 17, a teaser trailer for 21st Century Breakdown was posted on the band's website. The international release date of May 15 was announced on March 25. In early April 2009, Green Day premiered "Know Your Enemy" on television; a portion of the song was used as introductory music to the 2009 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament Championship game. The band first performed 21st Century Breakdown in full during a string of California club shows in April 2009. At each show, concertgoers were given programs containing all of the album's lyrics. The first single, "Know Your Enemy", was released on April 16, and the world premiere of the song's music video occurred on April 24 on the MTV UK website.

21st Century Breakdown was released internationally on May 15, 2009 through Reprise Records. The special edition vinyl version was limited to 3,000 copies and consisted of three 10" records, one for each of the album's "acts", a CD copy of the album, a 60-page art booklet, and a code for the digital download of the full album. The album artwork process was led by Chris Bilheimer and is based on a work from artist Sixten, who confirmed that the couple on the cover were "just friends of a friend at a party in Eskilstunamarker, Sweden" and explained that a mutual friend snapped a picture of the pair kissing. He added, "I love their passion, and just had to make a stencil out of it to spread the love." The cover art was noted for a marked similarity with that of Blur's 2003 album Think Tank, itself a stencil by artist Banksy. Green Day will showcase a collection of similarly themed art, called The Art of Rock, at an art exhibition in London between October 23 and November 1, 2009.

The record reached number one on the Billboard 200 in the U.S., where it sold 215,000 copies in its first week, which was a shortened three days. The album remained at number one on the Billboard Top Rock Albums chart for three weeks. It debuted at the top of sales charts in twenty four countries, including a peak of number one on the European Top 100 Albums. 21st Century Breakdown was only released in a Parental Advisory version containing explicit lyrics and content; Wal-Martmarker refuses to sell albums with a Parental Advisory sticker and requested that Green Day release a censored edition. The band members responded by stating, "There's nothing dirty about our record... They want artists to censor their records in order to be carried in there. We just said no. We've never done it before. You feel like you're in 1953 or something." The second single, "21 Guns", was released to radio stations on May 25. The band embarked on a world tour in July 2009; the North American leg lasted through September and the European leg will end in November. "East Jesus Nowhere" was released as the album's third single on October 19, 2009.

Critical reception

Media reception to 21st Century Breakdown was generally favorable; aggregating website Metacritic reported a rating of 70% in July 2009 based on 30 critical reviews. DailyMusicGuide's Tom Rowse called the album "enthused, fresh, punchy and melodic" and claimed that it "pulled Green Day up from being just a punk band to a true anthemic stadium band". Dan Silver of The Observer awarded the record four stars out of five and likened it to both Bruce Springsteen's music and the avant-garde writing of Chuck Palahniuk. Rolling Stone's David Fricke called 21st Century Breakdown "a compound bomb of classic-rock ecstasy, no-mercy punk assault and pop-song wiles; it's like The Clash's London Calling, The Who's Quadrophenia and Hüsker Dü's Zen Arcade all compressed into 18 songs". Dan Cairns of The Times concluded, "Lyrically, it may succeed in capturing the contradictions, vulnerabilities and longing for harmony that thrum through Armstrong, Dirnt and Cool, their country, and humanity as a whole. But its real triumph, in an age of trimming, of market testing, of self-censorship and lowest common denominators, is not simply to aim insanely high, but to make it to the summit."

Criticism centered on the concept of the record; BBC's Chris Jones said that it is "griping vaguely against 'authority'" and that "too many buzz words obscure incisive meaning". Steve Kandell of Spin wrote that the humor of American Idiot was "sorely missed" and that the energy of the album seemed "directionless". The Guardian's Alexis Petridis indicated that "the storyline becomes impossible to follow". Adam Downer of Sputnikmusic was the most critical professional reviewer of the album and questioned the clarity of the lyrics by calling 21st Century Breakdown "more conceptually vague/ridiculous than American Idiot"; he went on to say that it "spirals out of control in its own heroic glory and never regains focus, thus ending with a product that Green Day couldn’t afford to produce: an average record".

Track listing

Bonus tracks



Additional musicians


  • Butch Vigproducer
  • Chris Lord-Algemixing engineer
  • Chris Dugan – engineer
  • Keith Armstrong; Nik Karpen; Wesley Seidman – assistant engineers
  • Brad Kobylczak; Joe McGrath; Andrew Schubert; Brad Townshend – additional engineering
  • Ted Jensen – mastering
  • Shari Sutcliffe – production coordinator
  • Bill Schneider – band coordinator, guitar technician
  • Micah Chong – guitar technician
  • Kenny Butler; Mike Fasano – drum technicians


  • Chris Bilheimer – design, photography, stencils
  • Andrew Black; Micah Chong; David Cooper – stencils
  • Marina Chavez – back cover photo

Release history

Region Date Label Format Catalog
World May 15, 2009 Reprise Digital download
United States CD, double LP 517153
United Kingdom CD 9362-49802-1
Australia Warner Bros. 9362498021
Deluxe CD 9362497777
May 29, 2009 LP 9362497853

Chart performance


Chart (2009) Peak

(sales thresholds)
Australian Albums Chart 2 Platinum
Austrian Albums Chart 1 Platinum
Canadian Albums Chart 1 2× Platinum
Czech Republic Albums Chart 1
Danish Albums Chart 1 Gold
European Top 100 Albums 1
Finnish Albums Chart 3 Gold
French Albums Chart 1
German Albums Chart 1 Gold
Irish Albums Chart 2
Italian Albums Chart 1
Japanese Albums Chart 1 Gold
Netherlands Albums Chart 4
New Zealand Albums Chart 1 Platinum
Norwegian Albums Chart 1
Polish Albums Chart 6
Portuguese Albums Chart 2
Spanish Albums Chart 1
Swedish Albums Chart 1 Gold
Swiss Albums Chart 1 Platinum
UK Albums Chart 1 Platinum
US Billboard 200 1 Gold


Year Title Peak chart positions

US Alt.

US Main.






2009 "Know Your Enemy" 28 1 1 20 8 19 21 5
"21 Guns" 22 3 17 14 2 3 36 12
"East Jesus Nowhere" 18 35
"21st Century Breakdown" 71




  1. Fricke, p. 48
  2. Fricke, p. 50
  3. Fricke, pp. 48-50

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