concept albums

Message Bookmarked
Bookmark Removed
I guess it all started with "Sgt. Pepper" to which I never really warmed up. The idea of a concept album somehow contradicts my gut feeling of pop/rock music. It is something preconceived and quite intellectual lacking spontaneity and liveliness. Nevertheless there are some concept albums which work.

Which concept albums succeed from your point of view?

alex in mainhattan, Sunday, 2 December 2001 01:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

Concept Albums that succeed are those in which the atmosphere, not the narrative, is important. (Otherwise, you get a musical!)
"Diamond Dogs" is an effective concept album, in which the coherence of the music and the visual evocations carry the concept more than the story itself.

Simon, Sunday, 2 December 2001 01:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

I think Lou Reed has done some great ones. "New York" (the concept being quite vague as it is a city with almost ten million souls), "Songs for Drella" (with John Cale; maybe more a tribute to Andy Warhol than a concept album) and especially "Magic and Loss". The latter arrives at dealing with the difficult subject of the death of several friends from AIDS in an ironic humorous way which is life affirming and never inadequate.

alex in mainhattan, Sunday, 2 December 2001 01:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

Who else has heard Bo Hansson's Lord of the Rings?

mark s, Sunday, 2 December 2001 01:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

Another great "concept artist" was the French songwriter Serge Gainsbourg. "Melody Nelson" and especially "L'Homme à Tête de Chou" (the man with a head of a cabbage, referring to Serge's ears which were sticking out) are masterpieces. Melody Nelson is Gainsbourg's Lolita. "L'Homme..." is a sexually very explicit collection of songs which arrive at being extremely poetic at the same time.

alex in mainhattan, Sunday, 2 December 2001 01:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

I like concept albums that don't advertise themselves as being concept albums. A good example is the first album by the Clash, which Jon Savage once described as being a concept album about West London.

I agree with Simon about narrative. For example, I like some of the music on "S.F. Sorrow" by the Pretty Things, but the narrative weighs down the songs.

Mark Dixon, Sunday, 2 December 2001 01:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

mark s -- I have the Hanson record! Never expected to see is mentioned anywhere, tho I've thought about writing something out it. It does effectively convey the feeling of Middle Earth to me, at least how people saw Middle Earth in the 70s. What are your thoughts on it.

Mark, Sunday, 2 December 2001 01:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

blimey Mark Pitchfork (help too much mark!), I haven't heard it for TWENTYFIVE YEARS!! I mentioned it because even when ConcAlbs weren't considered the Devil's work (eg 1974-ish), this was thought something of a joke: the idea more than the execution. I imagine he's been somewhat rehabilitated, by virtue of having been TOTALLY FORGOTTEN (except by Ancient Mariners like m'self).

It had a dreadful, some pea-brain's painting, as he conceived Middle Earth.

Outside rock, ConcAlbs go back to the dawn for the 33 LP, of course: Sinatra's Songs for Swingin Lovers. Zappa's first LP predates Pepper also, tho FZ = not rock (heh). Charles Mingus made NOTHING BUT, pretty much. And of course the loungecore/Joseph Lanza zone — Quiet Village et al — is conceptual up the wazoo.

mark s, Sunday, 2 December 2001 01:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

The Bo Hansson LOTR stuff I know from the soundtrack to "Together"/"Tilsammans". It's top.

My favourite concept album would have to be "The Chronicles of Narnia" by Chariot.

DV, Sunday, 2 December 2001 01:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

Any albums by Voivod, Bathory, Burzum

dave q, Sunday, 2 December 2001 01:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

Sgt. Pepper is only a concept album in a broad sense. There's nothing thematic happening in the material.

A concept album that I like a lot is Robert Calvert's Captain Lockheed & the Starfighters. I'm a Hawkwind fanboy, though. I believe all of the 1973 line-up of Hawkwind are on the record and they rock out in fine form. Everything I've ever read about the album calls it a cross between a Hawkwind album and, because of the skits interspersed throughout, Monty Python. The concept is that it tells the story of the German air force's failed early 60's attempts to return to their old wartime "glory". They bought a bunch of American-designed planes from Lockheed and then made clumsy modifications and attempted to arm them like bombers. The planes were so poorly designed that no one could control them and a lot of pilots were killed. It's an odd record. Lots of dark humor, vintage space-rock blasts, cool lyrics. It's good.

Oliver Kneale, Sunday, 2 December 2001 01:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

Robert Calvert's Captain Lockheed & the Starfighters

"I FOCUSED...the MAGNIFYING GLASS...that CAUSED the DOWNFALL of ICARUS!"

One of the most deliriously crazed lines in pop history, right there.

Ned Raggett, Sunday, 2 December 2001 01:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway kind of reminds me of C.S. Lewis' Silver Chair in atmosphere - and that's pretty cool.

Mr. Bungle's California was meant to be a non-narrative theme album wasn't it? If so, that approach worked for me.

Kim, Sunday, 2 December 2001 01:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

course pepper's a ConcAlb: concept = all this music is in fact being played by SPLHB

mark s, Sunday, 2 December 2001 01:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

"L'Homme à Tête de Chou" is also a great fave of mine - was playing the amazing "Variations sur Marilou" just this afternoon - it's an album that reminds me of "The Idiot" and similar "modern" 1977 releases. Here the narrative is quite formidable, thanks to Gainsbourg's decidedly immense talent and mastery of language and rythm.

Simon, Sunday, 2 December 2001 01:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

I've heard the Hansson.

sundar subramanian, Sunday, 2 December 2001 01:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

I prefer the phrase "song cycle" myself (no such distancing imagery invoked) and the example that springs to mind quickest is "How I Learned To Love The Bootboys" by The Auteurs.

Robin Carmody, Sunday, 2 December 2001 01:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

"Purple Rain"

Sean, Monday, 3 December 2001 01:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

First three Buzzcocks albums.

No really.

1st album - I want to be in love cos love is great.

2nd album - I'm in love and its painful and hard.

3rd album - I'm not in love anymore and everything is horrible and love doesn't really exist and anyway love is rubbish.

Admittedly there are a few tracks that don't quite fit in (Fast Cars on the first album) and I'm simplifying the theme a bit, but all three of those albums do have and most concept albums seem to have the odd fragment thats shoe-horned in to make up the numbers.

I know this is a wider sence of concept than albums that are concieved as one piece of narrative (say Camel's The Snow Goose for instance) but I bet most of them contain older material re-jigged into the work too.

Alexander Blair, Monday, 3 December 2001 01:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

Who's Next -- as an album rather than an opera, it maintains thematism better than almos anything else The Wh' ever did. Also, of course, The Who Sell Out.

Sterling Clover, Monday, 3 December 2001 01:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

funny i was going to post on buzzcox and punXoR:

all clash = conc albs which makes sense cuz i h8 the clash
pistols bollox = monumental art/anti-art/concept/anti-concept statement/fart = fine by me = scariest most important piece of lazy can't-be-bothered crap evah released = fine by me
buzzcox 3 = hmmmm i have not made my mind up
damned = clash w. a sense of humour = i h8 them too

mark s, Monday, 3 December 2001 01:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

i think for an album to be a concept album there has to be a little more than just all or most of the songs have similar themes. If so, every breakup album would be a concept album, same with surfing or hot rod albums. To be a real concept album there has to be a more preconceived structure and sequencing to the album. Otherwise it is just a thematic album (ex. Jan & Dean's Save for a Rainy Day, most every song is about rain, but not really a concept album). So concept albums are clearly a mixed bag, as stated in the original question. I'm sure most people know about the well known concept records (kinks, bowie, Pet sounds (kind of), Floyd, etc.) but here are a few indierock concept albums you may not have heard of:

The Boy's Star Library - If I Was Born A Girl... - I think it's a concept album, anyway, has an indiepop feel, maybe a bit like a lower fi weezer, a bit of noise and some real inventive arrangements
http://www.bumblebear.com/bands.php3?bbr=library

Winter Vacation - Detectives - sort of twee/lo-fi indiepop, the concept is a detective/love story:
http://www.dutchcouragerecords.com/catalog/wintervacation.ht ml

Then there are the records from Of Montreal, Olivia Tremor Control, Apples in Stereo, etc. Your milage may vary, but all are more or less successful concept albums. anyway, i have nothing to do with any of the bands or labels i mentioned...

g, Monday, 3 December 2001 01:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

Dave225, Monday, 3 December 2001 01:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

Just about everything Dan The Automator has ever done is concept; which isn't to say it's always that good, of course.

Dan I., Tuesday, 4 December 2001 01:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

someone named kim mentioned mr bungles "california" and all i have to say is "ahhhhhh..."

chaki, Tuesday, 4 December 2001 01:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

would Haunted Dancehall count as a concept album? its very loose i guess, but it sort of fits together to evoke a particular atmosphere.

gareth, Tuesday, 4 December 2001 01:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

I think Hall and Oates "Big Bam Boom" was a good concept album. Unfortunately, it's the concept of "evil, evil music" that they succeed uniformally.

Gage-o, Thursday, 6 December 2001 01:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

I liked Cheech & Chong's Big Bamboo better.

Dave225, Thursday, 6 December 2001 01:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

Dr Octagon (2nd mention today) worked in its odd little way. Zen Arcade worked better then Tommy.

Did not work: Sloan's Between The Bridges as the band couldnt decide if it was a concept album about leaving Halifax or not.

Mr Noodles, Thursday, 6 December 2001 01:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

The Quasimoto record by Madlib is a concept album, in the broad sense mentioned before.. the record doesn't play out in a cohesive manner but the idea behind it is purely conceptual.. i.e. performed by a fictional character.. but wouldn't that make most of what Kool Keith has put out concept albums? Either way, "The Unseen" was executed wonderfully.. I think it works because it doesn't dwell on the concept.. the character (Quasimoto) isn't rapping about himself all the time, and he only really takes one track to explain his story.. he's just like another rapper in Madlib's posse.

Bobby D Gray, Thursday, 6 December 2001 01:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

three weeks pass...
Queensryche- Operation: Mindcrime Pink Floyd- 1973-1983

First off, Operation: Mindcrime follows a story line, much like The Wall. The story revolves around a character named Nikki. He joins an underground organization that intends to overthrow the government by assasinating politicians and replacing them. Nikki, seduced by "the needle", finds himself doing this dirty work for them. This itself makes it a concept album, but it also has a theme to it. The album discusses the weak threads in our government.

Then, there is Pink Floyd, who released 5 concept albums in the seventies and early eighties. There is Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals, The Wall, and The Final Cut. While The Wall follows a story line, the rest are songs with a common theme. The Wall is about a fictional character named Pink who builds an emotional wall because of school teachers, absence of father, cheating wife, etc. Dark Side of the Moon discusses how the pressures of life can lead to insanity. Wish You Were Here is about the absense of the founder of Pink Floyd, Syd Barret. It is also about absense in general. Animals is based on the novel, Animal Farm. It clasifies humans in to three groups: Dogs, Pigs, and Sheep. The Final Cut is a Requiem for the Postwar Dream(Britain) (1945). It was dedicated to Roger Waters'(bassist/lyricist)father who died in WWII.

IMFO, these are all true concept albums.

David Wright, Sunday, 30 December 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

three weeks pass...
I'm sure I'll get reamed for this, but my favorite is "Kilroy Was Here" by Styx. It introduced me to the concept album and what a cool concept. Although I'm still not sure what some of the songs mean or how they fit in, the storyline had it all, a futuristic setting, good and evil characters, robots (technology gone awry),the MMM, which was a prelude to the PMRC, and oh yeah, robots! DOMO ARIGATO!

Shawn Smathers, Tuesday, 22 January 2002 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

five years pass...

No mention of Arthur or VGPS? And didn't Bruce Haack make a lot of "concept" albums? Does Venom's Black Metal count?

I eat cannibals, Sunday, 21 October 2007 22:02 (eleven years ago) Permalink

Most concept albums have succeeded. Musically, anyway.

Geir Hongro, Monday, 22 October 2007 11:40 (eleven years ago) Permalink

"Succeeding" isn't the same as being enjoyable, I guess. And who ultimately decides whether or not an actual concept is present: The performer or the critic? And who used the term first, anyways?

Myonga Vön Bontee, Monday, 22 October 2007 15:42 (eleven years ago) Permalink

conceptual albums: http://www.dnp.co.jp/artscape/eng/focus/0708_01.html

jermainetwo, Monday, 22 October 2007 19:33 (eleven years ago) Permalink

Thinking of concept albums I like <i>Tales of Mystery and Imagination</i>, the first album by the Alan Parsons Project comes back to mind. I find it captures the doomed atmosphere ("The House of Usher"), the twisted-mindedness ("The System of Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether") and the surrealism ("A Dream Within a Dream") of Poe's short stories quite well. It would definitely be in the top ten of my fave concept albums.

alex in mainhattan, Monday, 22 October 2007 20:37 (eleven years ago) Permalink

TARKUS

IT IS ALWAYS AND FOREVER ALL ABOUT TARKUS

Telephone thing, Monday, 22 October 2007 20:43 (eleven years ago) Permalink

It has always struck me as weird that the "concept" in "concept album" tends to always mean "narrative". To me, "concept album" ought to imply something far closer to the way that in conceptual art, according to Sol Lewitt, "the concept is a machine that creates the work", i.e. a conceptual commitment is made and then you execute that concept in a manner that largely brackets the specifics of execution. The point is to foreground a certain conceptual rigor that drives everything: sound and form should be determined by a concept that forces the artist to avoid making personal/expressive choices. Conceptual art was conceptual insofar as it was no longer about personal expression and individual feeling and instead was aspiring towards a (pseudo)philosophical stance of dispassionate investigation. But in the wake of prog rock and 70s rock culture generally, "concept album" means something closer to rock LP as light opera, with lyrics as librettos expressing the feelings of characters. This seems like a pretty limited notion of what the phrase "concept album" *could* mean, if its parameters were set wide enough to take in an expanded field.

Drew Daniel, Monday, 22 October 2007 20:45 (eleven years ago) Permalink

one year passes...

Early concept album that never gets mentioned: Beach Boys Party!

Just listening to it for the first time- it's actually a pretty fun, good time kinda record. Really sounds like dudes sittin' around playing off-the-cuff versions of some of their favorite tunes. Definitely better than I expected. Short but sweet.

ColinO, Friday, 13 March 2009 14:38 (nine years ago) Permalink

Most concept albums have succeeded. Musically, anyway.

― Geir Hongro, Monday, October 22, 2007 11:40 AM (1 year ago) Bookmark

???

chap, Friday, 13 March 2009 14:41 (nine years ago) Permalink

one year passes...

Thinking of criticisms of the Janelle Monae album made me wonder what narrative concept albums actually make any kind of coherent sense, apart from the obvious Tommy and Quadrophenia. I feel like I'm always reading reviews which make fun of big concepts - normally rightly so - and struggle to think of any which really tell a comprehensible story without the listener having to turn to sleevenotes, interviews, etc for explanation. But I'm sure I'm forgetting some.

Haunted Clocks For Sale (Dorianlynskey), Friday, 4 June 2010 11:50 (eight years ago) Permalink

SF Sorrow?

Vision Creation Mansun (NickB), Friday, 4 June 2010 11:52 (eight years ago) Permalink

Well, there's The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway of course. People say the story is incomprehensible from the lyrics but they forget it's printed on the inner sleeve. Saying that, I'm not sure how comprehensible it would be without the printed story.

anagram, Friday, 4 June 2010 11:54 (eight years ago) Permalink

The Kinks, "Preservation Act II", but why bother, tbh.

None of them make much sense tho, incl. Tommy and Quadrophenia.

Wenlock & Mandelson (Tom D.), Friday, 4 June 2010 11:55 (eight years ago) Permalink

Yeah, I was being generous even with the Who albums.

Actually, I've just remembered Prince Paul's Prince Among Thieves. That makes sense, albeit with the aid of copious skits to move the action on. It's more like a stage musical.

Haunted Clocks For Sale (Dorianlynskey), Friday, 4 June 2010 11:57 (eight years ago) Permalink

Actually the Kinks, "A Soap Opera", tells a comprehensible story too, despite a couple of unrelated diversions

Wenlock & Mandelson (Tom D.), Friday, 4 June 2010 11:58 (eight years ago) Permalink

i'm really anticipating the new diddy/dirty money album!

لوووووووووووووووووووول (lex pretend), Friday, 4 June 2010 12:11 (eight years ago) Permalink

fucking love me a good concept album. no matter how ridiculous. that is all.

Jamie_ATP, Friday, 4 June 2010 15:10 (eight years ago) Permalink

The Jam - Setting Sons is a concept album invoking the fall of the British empire & the UK's attempt to find something to replace the gallantry of war. At least it seems that way to me. In the same area, Pink Floyd - The Final Cut has a similar but even more bleak concept.

ImprovSpirit, Friday, 4 June 2010 15:12 (eight years ago) Permalink

But neither are "narrative concept albums actually make any kind of coherent sense"

Wenlock & Mandelson (Tom D.), Friday, 4 June 2010 15:16 (eight years ago) Permalink

The Orb - U.F.Orb is pretty straightforward if you see Towers of Dub as either an intermission or that the aliens smoke you out w/ Venusian Ganja.

shugazi (herb albert), Friday, 4 June 2010 15:26 (eight years ago) Permalink

Robert Calvert "Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters"

Trip Maker, Friday, 4 June 2010 15:26 (eight years ago) Permalink

I can't stress enough, but if you are a fan of concept albums you can do far worse than check out "Long Live Pere Ubu!" by Pere Ubu. It's a musical version of Ubu Roi by Alfred Jarry based on the hum of 20 decaying apple macs as played down the phoneline from across the atlantic.

village idiot (dog latin), Friday, 4 June 2010 15:41 (eight years ago) Permalink

There's this thing by Chris Judge Smith (ex-Van der Graaf Generator) called Curly's Airships, a narrative concept album about the R101 airship. It's not terribly good, despite a guest vocal appearance by Peter Hammill.

Hammill himself did an adaptation of Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher which retains and amplifies the text of the story very well.

anagram, Friday, 4 June 2010 15:44 (eight years ago) Permalink

I think records with a narrative, plot, or story you can follow [or not, as with The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway's dada lunacy] fall into a sub-set of concept albums often referred to as "rock opera." I still believe that Setting Sons & The Final Cut qualify as concept albums because they were conceived under a thematic umbrella from jump. This would also qualify Jad & David Fair - 26 Monster Songs For Children as a concept album.

ImprovSpirit, Friday, 4 June 2010 15:46 (eight years ago) Permalink

Prob'ly true but thread was revived to talk about albums that "tell a comprehensible story without the listener having to turn to sleevenotes, interviews, etc for explanation"

Wenlock & Mandelson (Tom D.), Friday, 4 June 2010 15:48 (eight years ago) Permalink

I suppose that is rock opera, musical theatre, whateva you wanna call it

Wenlock & Mandelson (Tom D.), Friday, 4 June 2010 15:49 (eight years ago) Permalink

The thing about the "rock opera" tag is, what distinguishes a rock opera from a normal opera? Hammill describes The Fall of the House of Usher as an opera, and I'd be inclined to agree with him since it has a proper libretto, arias, recitative sections &c.

anagram, Friday, 4 June 2010 15:50 (eight years ago) Permalink

Because rock operas usually even shiter than operas?

Wenlock & Mandelson (Tom D.), Friday, 4 June 2010 15:52 (eight years ago) Permalink

The Calvert album features great spoken bits from Viv Stanshall and Jim Capaldi alternating with badass Hawkwind jams.
Everyone should hear it. And it tells a story quite coherently.

Trip Maker, Friday, 4 June 2010 15:53 (eight years ago) Permalink

And "Lucky Leif and the Longships"?

Wenlock & Mandelson (Tom D.), Friday, 4 June 2010 15:54 (eight years ago) Permalink

Yeah, I've never heard that one, actually. Is it good?

Trip Maker, Friday, 4 June 2010 15:56 (eight years ago) Permalink

I was asking you!

Wenlock & Mandelson (Tom D.), Friday, 4 June 2010 15:56 (eight years ago) Permalink

Produced by Eno, of course!

Wenlock & Mandelson (Tom D.), Friday, 4 June 2010 15:58 (eight years ago) Permalink

I've always heard it wasn't as good, but I'm sure it's another coherent story record.
I should check it out.
No Lemmy :(

Trip Maker, Friday, 4 June 2010 15:58 (eight years ago) Permalink

Lemmy's absence could surely be a problem. I once owned & enjoyed Capt. Lockheed, but somehow never heard Lucky Leif. Now I'm wrestling with (CL - Lemmy) + Eno = LL It should be worth a listen at least.

ImprovSpirit, Friday, 4 June 2010 16:11 (eight years ago) Permalink

Eno did Lockheed under an alias or something.

Trip Maker, Friday, 4 June 2010 16:13 (eight years ago) Permalink

Zappa's Joe's Garage and Thing-Fish have very linear storylines, with irritating narrators (the Central Scrutinizer, Thing-Fish) explaining the plots along. PS, Joe's Garage is mostly crap and Thing-Fish is 100% utter shit.

Grisly Addams (WmC), Friday, 4 June 2010 16:19 (eight years ago) Permalink

Surprised no one's mentioned A Grand Don't Come for Free. Definitely has a coherant narrative, definitely not a rock opera.

rhythm fixated member (chap), Friday, 4 June 2010 16:25 (eight years ago) Permalink

*Smacks forehead* Of course, A Grand Don't Come for Free.

I'm intrigued by the stage version of American Idiot because extracting a proper narrative from that record must have been a tall order. Billie Joe Armstrong as good as admits that he sets up his characters and a few themes and then improvises around them without really caring if they add up to anything close to a story.

Haunted Clocks For Sale (Dorianlynskey), Friday, 4 June 2010 16:28 (eight years ago) Permalink

one month passes...

>>>pedant alert<<<<

Sgt. Pepper isn't even close to being the first concept record

Major Lolzer (Shakey Mo Collier), Thursday, 15 July 2010 20:44 (eight years ago) Permalink

That's the worst thing about reviving a thread, no bugger talks about the thing that causes the revival, they just talk about the OG question. :)

pfunkboy (Herman G. Neuname), Thursday, 15 July 2010 20:48 (eight years ago) Permalink

haha sorry

I dunno about that BBC article, concept albums haven't ever gone out of style afaict

Major Lolzer (Shakey Mo Collier), Thursday, 15 July 2010 20:51 (eight years ago) Permalink

eight years pass...

I'd argue Signals -- indeed, every peak Rush record -- is a concept album.

Your sweetie-pie-coo-coo I love ya (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Thursday, 6 December 2018 13:42 (six days ago) Permalink

I think there's a useful distinction one could make between thematic coherence and the concept album proper but I wouldn't argue about what records belong in which box

biliares now living will never buey (Noodle Vague), Thursday, 6 December 2018 15:05 (six days ago) Permalink

good list, some 21st c stuff i'd include:

diddy dirty money - last train to paris
the thermals - the body, the blood, the machine
the microphones - mount eerie
owen pallett - heartland
richard dawson - peasant

devvvine, Thursday, 6 December 2018 15:20 (six days ago) Permalink

occasionally glancing up through the rain, wondering which of the buggers to blame

reggie (qualmsley), Friday, 7 December 2018 18:07 (five days ago) Permalink


You must be logged in to post. Please either login here, or if you are not registered, you may register here.