Tonight's blog is about concept albums. It always tends to make my heart sink when I hear the news that a band I have grown fond of announce their latest record is a concept album. It might be considered blasphemy but I consider Dark Side of the Moon downright pompous and it seems for many to be the benchmark for concept albums. However despite this doom laden intro there have actually been some pretty damn fine concept albums. Here are five, with a brief description of the concept and a song to get your teeth into. The format seems to be increasing in popularity with major releases in the last year from Arcade Fire and Janelle Montae offering their own interpretations of the concept album formula. I'd love to know your opinions so it'd be just the ticket if you posted your comments below.
In the Aeroplane over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel
Rightly revered as an Indie classic this is loosely based around the unusual concept of the life of Anne Frank. The beauty of the approach is you could happily enjoy the album without knowing this yet once you do it makes the album far richer and poignant. In fact if I'm honest I could take it or leave it before the idea was explained to me and ever since I have grown to love it.
Songs for the Deaf by Queens of the Stone Age
Like many the involvement of Dave Grohl drew me to this band originally. What I never expected was such an exciting, thrusting, sonic experience based around the simple concept of a drive from Los Angeles to the Mojave Desert. The genius is how each song is supposedly from a different local radio station and there is genuine wit to some of the radio announcements; "We play the songs that sound more like everyone else than anyone else" being my personal favourite.
A Grand don't come for Free by The Streets
I suspect some of you will be reasonably disgusted by this choice as Mike Skinner appears to have divided opinion. This story constructed around the disappearance of a thousand pounds and the consequences is the most linear of the concept albums I'm featuring here. I actually think when you look past the admittedly grating single 'Fit but you know it' you find some gems. It is an ambitious idea and unlike with the albums that followed Skinner succeeds admirably.
The Fitzgerald by Richmond Fontaine
Grizzled, downbeat alt country songwriter holes up in Reno hotel; that isn't the concept it's how the album was written! The result is a stark but deeply moving document of events where the protagonist is trying to avoid being sucked into the dark. In contrast to the bleak sound scape the message of the album is undoubtedly optimistic as it recognises the daily triumphs of good over temptation.
Yoshimi battles the Pink Robots by Flaming Lips
As barking mad as the title suggests this is a special album to me as it became part of the soundtrack to my first year at University. A fantastic flatmate of mine was studying Japanese and we used to spend many an enjoyable afternoon playing Pro Evo whilst listening to the tale of a young woman battling evil pink robots. The undercurrent is actually an intuitive analysis of the fragility of global confidence post 9/11 but I prefer not to dwell on that and immerse myself in the wonder of the glorious world. Coyne himself denies that it is a concept album - pointing out that the 'concept' only really holds for four songs but they are utterly glorious and deserve recognition on here. In an act of moving bromance I gave my copy to my flatmate as he set off on his Japanese adventure and just a few years later he was raking it in as a James Bond lookalike. Dreams really do come true.