Oh, well hello there.
Long time, no see. Over the past few months, MEB has brought on several new and exciting writers, further diversifying the musical realm that we, as a staff, wish to warp into your beautiful minds. This month, our group has decided on bringing you some of the greatest concept albums to grace us with their presence, both musically – and of course, the story it tells. You know the drill.
Jarrod Church‘s #1 Concept Album: Kezia by Protest the Hero
Whenever I am late to realize a band, it makes me feel very sad. So, when 2006 hit and Kezia decidedly popped into my life a year after it’s masterful release – let’s just say that I was instantaneously consumed by it’s majesty (seriously, royal shit guys). First of all, let’s just forget about Protest the Hero‘s sheer, just, absolute dominance over their instrumentation – not to mention Rody Walker’s vocal power. This should recollect solely, the band’s story-telling abilities. In this case, bassist, Arif Mirabdolbaghi designed a stunning four-part story, diving deep into the stories of three main characters (The Prison Priest, The Prison Guard and Kezia). All three stories plunge together into the final track (Track 10, “A Plateful of Our Dead”) which wraps up Kezia perfectly. All-in-all, Kezia remains one of my favorite albums of all-time – and so deciding on top “concept” album, it made all the sense in the world to choose this. I love Canadians!
P.S. If you would like to hear the best concept, within a concept – check out Kezia’s three tracks (Tracks 7-9).
Eli Shively‘s #1 Concept Album: Kid A by Radiohead
Some might not even define Kid A as a “concept album”, in the traditional sense of the term. True, there are a lot of theories surrounding it and its central theme: The first child born in a post-apocolyptic world in which no trace of humanity exists. But, even with this knowledge in mind, the album doesn’t follow a direct, linear path – or even tell much of a story, for that matter. Still, I like to think of Kid A as a “concept album” because of the literal meaning of the phrase. The “concept” it revolves around it clearly defined throughout its runtime, the different experiences and stages of life that Kid A goes through as he deals with human existence completely on his own. There’s a little Kid A in all of us, in that society as a whole really isn’t sure where we’re headed, or what the future holds. Sure, this album proved itself as a more-than-worthy follow up to the excellent Ok Computer, served as the band’s first venture into more experimental and electronically-influenced territory, and solidified Radiohead‘s place as one of the greatest bands of our time, but it also did something that not many albums are capable of – reached deep into the human psyche and came up with something that everyone can relate to in some way.
Connor Feimster‘s #1 Concept Album: Between the Heart and the Synapse by The Receiving End of Sirens
The album that singlehandedly opened my interests to concept records has to be The Receiving End of Sirens’ Between the Heart and the Synapse. While its concept isn’t revolved around a plot structure, there is a very clear pattern within the album’s lyrics throughout, making it its very own type of concept. The use of Shakespearean themes (“Oh Juliet, oh Juliet, deny your name, your father.”) are what caught the ear of this theatre major doubling as a music lover. That, mixed with the haunting beauty of the album’s lyrical backbone of “this is the last night in my body” was enough to win me over with cherishing this record for years to come.
Jeremy Vane-Tempest‘s #1 Concept Album: Lateralus by Tool
I mention this album in every one of my reviews, so let’s fulfill my quota of referencing the metaphysical juggernaut that is Tool’s Lateralus. The greatest concept album is one that’s open to interpretation. In the same way that I have argued with my friends about how Decker is totally a Replicant and Cobb’s totem was actually his wedding ring and not the top, the evil genius teetering on the edge of sanity known as Maynard James Keenan and his three equally drugged-out nutcases concocted a record that I personally believe to be detailing the evolution of humanity to a higher plane of existence; a new Genesis, if you will. Aside from that, it’s just mental from start to finish. For instance, the title track is written in Fibonnaci sequence (‘black/and/white are/all I see/in my infancy/red and yellow then came to be/reaching out to me lets me see’ etc). A concept album is difficult enough as it is, but one that explores ostoscisfibrosis and the notion that humanity may one day evolve beyond the biological functions of breathing and sexual reproduction to live in an harmonious telekinetic singularity where all life is inextricably linked in an immortal existence on a physical and transdimensional plane…you get the idea. The point is, I could be wrong, and that’s why it’s perfect.
Alexandra Brueckner‘s #1 Concept Album: Fear of a Blank Planet by Porcupine Tree
In my head, “best concept album” is basically synonymous with “best Porcupine Tree album,” because the British prog-rock has produced not one, not two, but four concept albums. They’re all worthy of ending up on this list, but in the end, I had to go with Fear of a Blank Planet. For one, this album a musical tour de force. Seriously, drummer Gavin Harrison might as well be renamed “the Human Metronome,” because the time signatures and fills this guy can pull off are truly mind-boggling. That aside, Planet is especially brilliant because of its relevance to the 21st century. Stephen Wilson’s lyrics explore many of the problems plaguing today’s younger generations – ADD, prescription drug abuse, the distance caused by technology, and terminal boredom, to name a few. Take, for example, “Don’t try engaging me / The vaguest of shrugs / The prescription drugs / You’ll never find a person inside” from opener “Fear of a Blank Planet.” They might be about apathy, but never has boredom sounded so arresting. Then there’s “Anesthetize,” the monster seventeen-minute fourth track, which is probably the most beautiful song ever about anti-depressants. Planet is technically broken up into six songs, but it’s the rare concept album that is truly one single uninterrupted, fifty-minute piece of music. Don’t call it an album. Call it a magnum opus.
Rebecca Kravetz‘s #1 Concept Album: American Idiot by Green Day
Green Day’s American Idiot surpasses the label of “concept album” and falls more into the category of “rock opera”. It was ambitious and surprisingly substantial for a pop punk album. But what makes it so unique for me is the year of its release, 2004. I was only in 4th grade when American Idiot hit the CD shelves. It served as a major comeback album for the band, but for me, an introduction into modern rock. I did not at the time understand its aggressively forward political statements about “subliminal mind-fuck America” under the George W. Bush administration, but I could follow the story and plot of its main character Jesus of Suburbia, aka St. Jimmy. The anti-hero, Jesus of Suburbia, decides to leave the small town he despises for the big city where he meets punk rock freedom fighter St. Jimmy and rebellious love interest, Whatsername. These two influences in his life contrast each other creating the album’s main theme, rage versus love. As a child, I understood the concept of defiance and the questioning of authority. And as a teenager, when the Broadway production of American Idiot swept New York , I watched and related to the character’s discovery of love and the concept of self-destruction.
Nick Niedzielski‘s #1 Concept Album: Trainwreck by Boys Night Out
Concept albums are fairly hit or miss with me. I often find that they try too hard and end up being convoluted, caving in on themselves. But if there was ever a record that fully encapsulates how to make a concept album the right way, it’s Trainwreck. Boys Night Out’s second full-length has a very tight knit story that chronicles a man’s crumbling sanity after he kills his wife in his sleep. It is a highly emotional concept, and the music ebbs and flows seamlessly as it follows along with the story. For example, “Waking” uses its fluctuating synths and bouncy percussion to portray his disbelief upon waking from his dream and seeing his deed, while “Medicating” finds him attempting to convince the doctor to release him from the hospital amid the most straight forward pop rock cut on the record. And as his sanity continues to decompose, with him cutting off his hands on “Purging” and plotting to kill his doctor on “Disintegrating”, the music becomes increasingly chaotic and aggressive, expertly mirroring the story. Trainwreck beautifully illustrates a horrific tale without collapsing under its own premise, and stands as picture perfect example of how to craft a concept album.
Tim Dodderidge‘s #1 Concept Album: The Black Parade by My Chemical Romance
In 2006, The Black Parade made its way through every street in the world. If My Chemical Romance’s incredible popularity growth spurt hadn’t brought them high enough after their second full-length, then their follow-up concept record was enough to blast them into the mainstream. And who would’ve guessed an album written about a guy with cancer would accomplish such a task? Yet, jet-black hair, makeup, and catchy punk-influenced rock anthems were enough to make any teenager/pre-teen jump for joy. This set of songs has it all, too. “Dead!” is a straight-up rocker ruled by energetic guitars. “Welcome To The Black Parade” is the epic power ballad and title track. “Teenagers,” the angsty rebel rouser. Taking from Green Day’s opera-esque approach and cohesive songwriting on American Idiot, My Chemical Romance uses a narrative focusing on a cancer-ridden character to stress its themes of death, reflection, and the afterlife. The Black Parade is a culmination of this band’s creative and musical abilities, prospering from memorable songwriting abilities, punk rock undertones, and, of course, a ghastly – and, more or less, interesting – central idea to hold everything together.
Jason Gardner‘s #1 Concept Album: Joe’s Garage by Frank Zappa
We’re going to go back in time. Okay, maybe not. But back in high school when I was first exposed to Frank Zappa, Joe’s Garage was something weird and amazing at the same time. It’s part concept album, part rock opera (I guess?) and part orchestra arrangement. Between the subtle and not-so-subtle humor, Zappa’s twist on the story of stardom put a twist on the idea of being funny and being musically inclined not exactly being mutually exclusive ideas. If you’re any sort of fan of instrumental arrangements (read: mallet percussion) or you simply like hearing something a bit more exciting than straightforward guitars, drums and vocals – Joe’s Garage has plenty of hilariousness to make up for being pretty ridiculous in the process. But even more importantly, it opened me up to the work of one of the finest composers rock music has had in a long, long time.
Johnny Frazier‘s #1 Concept Album: Zombie EP by The Devil Wears Prada
This Halloween I got the chance to see TDWP play at Mr. Smalls in Pittsburgh. They went through much of the Zombie EP which reinforced in my mind that it’s one of the genres best concept albums. The evil tone they went for makes it arguably their heaviest work to date, which makes for one hell of a live show. The moments of news reports and people exclaiming that “They’re everywhere!” tells a story and reinforces the concept like few EPs can.
Alexa Rahmanparast‘s #1 Concept Album: The Emptiness by Alesana
As a huge Edgar Allan Poe fan I was immediately drawn to Alesana’s album The Emptiness. Alesana does an excellent job of finding beauty in the darkest of things, matching up to the master of macabre. This album takes a unique spin on Poe’s work “Annabel Lee” as it describes the murder of a young woman and how her lover, “The Artist”, deals with her death, at first believing that he was the one responsible and later discovering that another has committed the crime, “The Thespian.” Had this album been any darker I would have easily believed that my favorite writer had been brought back to life to write it. The Emptiness leaves listeners with a dark, open ending which brilliantly channels Poe’s writing style, stating the following: “The final piece reveals the climax to our story of revenge, love, lust, murder and insanity, but you must read the story to discover the conclusion. The emptiness will haunt you.”