Rejoice punk-rock lovers! Green Day's long-awaited eighth album, 21st Century Breakdown, finally hits stores today. Three years after the critically acclaimed hit, American Idiot, the band that defines our generation continues to blow minds with staggeringly energetic, angst-driven and thought-provoking music that reflects the social issues and culture of our times. 'It's an audio scrapbook of what bothers or fascinates us on a daily basis,' says drummer Tre Cool. The Grammy-winning act tries to outdo themselves creatively with every release but the tremendous success of American Idiot set the bar very high, putting enormous pressure on the band. Exhausted, both physically and creatively, by an endless world tour, the band had to take a well-deserved break to give their minds breathing space and journey through off-stage life in search of inspiration. 'We could afford the luxury of taking more time to make the record,' says bassist Mike Dirnt. Before returning to the studio with bags of astonishing ideas, singer-guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong was busy building houses for the homeless in the Hurricane Katrina disaster. Dirnt went backpacking in Europe, while Cool ignored government advice and visited Cuba. Growing up in the Vietnam-war era in a district full of revolutionary spirits, protestors, activists and hippies, the band is never afraid to take a stand. The new 18-song record, like their previous works, aims to awaken and inspire people, Armstrong says, 'to empower yourself, to question everything and try to declare your own independence'. 'It's sort of a theme in all our records,' says the frontman. '[But this time,] it's a big, bold, strong stroke.' He thinks they are delivering their message in style. As a way to 'make it easier to digest', the punk-rock opera was put together in three acts: 'Heroes and Cons,' 'Charlatans and Saints' and 'Horseshoes and Handgrenades', featuring two characters: rebellious, nihilistic Christian and sentimental, gentle Gloria. The romantic couple represents those who have been through 'the panic and promises' of the past five years, and are witnesses of the '21st century breakdown'. '[It is] more symbolic than a linear story,' says Armstrong. 'They are the two schizophrenic sides of the record. Gloria represents someone with vitality, like a torchbearer, and holds on to the beliefs of punk rock. Christian is a self-destructive person who . . . wants to burn the whole place down.' Through the two recurring characters, Green Day put forward their thoughts on the hypocrisy of religion, the search for something eternally human, the meaning of addiction and the importance of knowing your enemy. But the trio say they are not on a mission to change the world, and they deliberately avoided being preachy. 'We are not telling people how to live their lives.' says Armstrong. 'You want people to draw their own conclusions.'