Concept albums are very nearly a dirty word in modern music. Written off as either overtly pretentious tripe with some not-so-hidden agenda or self-indulgent prance through the authors psyche, there’s little room for them on most CD shelves (or, more realistically, iPod playlists). But what of the forgotten gems? That is to say, what of the concept albums that were actually—whisper it—good? I’ve compiled a list of the best ever concept albums—pretension and all.
10. American Idiot – Green Day
The first concept album I ever heard was one I received for my tenth birthday—a raw, ripping tirade riddled with great punk guitar riffs and lyrics that erred on the right side of clever. An album following the metaphorical Jesus of Suburbia through the depleted horrors of modern America, it led thousands of teenagers up in arms. Until 21st Century Breakdown came out, that is.
9. Tommy – The Who
While many might pick Quadrophenia as The Who’s finest foray into conceptual territory, there’s something to be said for Tommy—a loosely tied-together tale of the eponymous deaf, dumb and blind kid (who sure plays a me-e-e-ean pinball). It’s one of those rare albums where every song works equally as well on it’s own as it does as part of a whole, and the whole thing’s just a magnificent slice of uninhibited late-sixties rock.
8. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars – David Bowie
No list of concept albums would ever be complete without this utter masterpiece from Bowie. At it’s core, it’s completely ridiculous. Bowie prances around singing about little men from space in tight trousers. But his ethereal voice and charismatic delivery sear throughout this celestial magnum opus—a salute to ambition and carrying it off.
7. Danger Days: The Life and Times of the Fabulous Killjoys – My Chemical Romance
If we’re discussing actual concept albums, what would turn out to be MCR’s last full album acts as a far more cohesive whole than The Black Parade. A modern glam-rock saga, it follows the Fabulous Killjoys across a dystopian future with guns, cars, sex and a lot of synthy dance numbers. A guilty pleasure that shouldn’t be.
6. The Defamation of Strickland Banks – Plan B
After producing what was essentially a run-of-the-mill hip-hop album, British rapper Ben Drew rose from the ashes to international acclaim for his superb sophomore album. Polished, clever, and passionate, it follows fictional rapper Strickland Bank’s fall from grace, and lays claim to one of the best singles of the year in the form of swing-rap number “She Said.”
5. The ArchAndroid – Janelle Monae
This is, delightfully, not the kind of album you’d expect from a pretty girl with a great voice. Monae took hold of utopian concept with both hands in this two-suite symphony; a mixture of funk, pop, rock, rap and dance, there’s everything to like about this powerful and confident futurist piece. And what’s even more sickening? This was her first album. Too talented for her own good, that woman.
4. Leviathian – Mastodon
An album based on Moby-Dick? Um, yes please. This incredible piece is more than just a slice of slightly clever metal. It’s a rich, intelligent dissection of the themes of the book surrounded by an amazing and cohesive score, displaying the always-interesting Mastodon at the height of their powers. Pretentious? You’re damn right. And all the better for it.
3. Scenes from a Memory – Dream Theater
To describe Dream Theater as a metal band would be to do them somewhat of a disservice, particularly when it comes to this album. Scenes from a Memory is an eclectic mix of instruments, styles and time signatures. At heart, it’s an incredibly ambient album that’s nonetheless one of the most fascinating (and symphonic) collections put to paper in the last twenty years.
2. Resistance – Muse
While some might argue over whether this is Muse’s finest album or not, it’s certainly their most coherent concept album. A scatter shot through genres—rock, swing, lounge, orchestral, electronic, Queen. It blatantly name-checks Orwell’s 1984 in the first song and continues in that vein of the histrionic, the dramatic, and the all-round entertaining that we’ve come to expect from a Muse album.
1. The Wall – Pink Floyd
Yes, we’ve got to have the monarchs of the concept album universe at the top of the list, and The Wall represents their best work as far as I’m concerned. Born from disillusionment and dissatisfaction, it’s a slightly pompous but ultimately brilliant tear through a band having a second wind of the finest kind. The instrumentation is transcendent, the lyrics relatable and the vocals utterly memorable. Simply put, its a little slice of perfection.
Having previously announced a European tour lined up to begin in mid-January, progressive legends Dream Theater have now revealed dates for their North American ‘Along for the Ride Tour’ that begins on March 20th in Toronto.
The North American leg of the tour will see Dream Theater make stops in Boston, Detroit, Chicago, Denver, San Francisco and Los Angeles, among others, before wrapping up proceedings with a trio of Mexican dates running through to April 26th in Guadalajara.
Guitarist John Petrucci says, “We are all really pumped and excited to bring our new live show to North America and to take all of our amazing fans ‘Along For The Ride’! Returning to the ‘An Evening With’ format will enable us to deliver the best DT live experience yet with time for lots of music, and we can’t wait to share it with all of you. With this tour, our goal is for you to be able to step into the world of Dream Theater from the moment you enter the venue.”
He adds, “We hope to create an intense and stimulating night both musically and visually and have prepared some really cool things this time around. We’ll be premiering some songs we’ve never played live before, as well as featured tracks from our latest self-titled release and plenty of classic DT songs for all of our long time and hard-core fans. We are all looking forward to a great night of music and super-psyched to kick it all off!”
The progressive heroes have had a pretty sweet 2013, releasing their latest self-titled (guess what it was called?) studio album earlier this year. They also released the DVD “Live At Luna Park.”
They’re in the process of wrapping up the year in similar style with their second Grammy nomination, garnering a Best Metal Performance nod for “The Enemy Inside.” All hail the half hour keyboard exploration.