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best concept albums


Over at Dustbury, Charles has listed his favorite concept albums, after seeing Jeffro’s list. Of course, I decided to make my own list.

However.

There is always a “however” with my lists.

If you Google “best concept albums” you generally come away with a whole lot of the same thing. King Crimson, ELP, Alan Parsons, Styx, Bowie…I enjoyed them all during the drug-addled years of my youth, but I just wouldn’t listen to most of that now (save the Bowie, to an extent). There’s no way I could get through even one side of King Crimson disc without the benefit of chemicals.

While my list does have some of the usual suspects, I tried to include lesser known albums, or albums that aren’t the obvious choices.

No particular order, and I didn’t really get into the actual concepts of the albums. It’s 5am. That involves too much thinking.

1. Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon
Let’s get the PF out of the way. Nearly every one of their albums is a concept of sorts, but The Wall and DSotM stand out the most in this category. Over the years, I’ve come to find The Wall to be mostly an exercise in self-indulgence. DSotM has held up through the years, and the simple concept of the experience of living as a human makes for some very complex songs.

Favorite track: Breathe

2. Radiohead, OK Computer
There is some controversy as to whether this a true concept album or not, but as my list is suspect anyhow, I’m going with it. The general theme here seems to be social disconnection and dissatisfaction in a computer run world (I might have just pulled that out of my ass). It’s a stark, bleak sort of album, but incredibly intellectual and musically genius.

Favorite track: No Surprises

3. Nine Inch Nails, The Downward Spiral
It is what it is; a walk through one man’s downward spiral, culminating in his suicide. Normally, an album like this would lose its appeal once you got over that “woe is me, I hate my life” phase you are going through, but the music is so powerful and the lyrics so above what artists in the throes of depression usually write, that you keep coming back to it.

Favorite track: Piggy

4. Life of Agony, River Runs Red
Another walk through someone’s depression, culminating in their suicide. The tracks “Monday”, “Thursday” and “Friday” are snippets of answering machine messages that let you hear the parts of his life that are going to hell; school, job, girlfriend. It’s kind of emo, in a very heavy metal way. The music is hard and relentless, the lyrics are disturbing and powerful, and the ending of the album is one that will stay with you a long time.

Favorite track: Words and Music

5. Frank Zappa, Joe’s Garage
The best diatribe on the music business you will ever listen to. It’s funny, it’s smart, it’s good music, it’s Frank Zappa. There’s nothing more you can say than that.

Favorite track, for purely nostalgic reasons: Catholic Girls

Interesting note from wiki:

Open Fist Theater has been given the full approval and support by the Zappa Family Trust to adapt Joe’s Garage for the stage. The production, adapted by Pat Towne and Michael Franco from Zappa’s original text will be directed by Pat Towne. Musical direction by Ross Wright and choreography by Jennifer Letteleir.

The show will feature a live band playing for a cast of seventeen. Joe’s Garage premieres at the Los Angeles based Open Fist Theater on Friday September 26, 2008 at 8 PM

6. Fear Factory, Obsolete
This band loves the man v. machine theme. They visited it in their first concept album, Demanufacture, and really hammer home the point on Obsolete. Here, the machines have taken over the world and one hero, named Edgecrusher, has set out to destroy the machines and give the world back to man.

The story/lyrics are dark and bleak; the music is mostly pounding and heavy, though there are sweeping melodies on some songs that raise the heavy metal to a more orchestrated sound. The album ends with the hushed Timelessness, a sad and unhappy ending to Edgecrusher’s try at salvation.

Favorite track: Descent

7. My Chemical Romance, The Black Parade
I know what you’re thinking. I’ll wait while you mock me.

Done? Good. If you put aside your pre-conceived disdain for this band and listen to the album, really listen to it, and not just think of MCR as the band who did “I’m Not OK”, then you might see why I think Black Parade is a work of art.

This walk to death is part Queen, part Styx, part Broadway musical. It has to be listened to as a whole in order to appreciate the themes within. As we listen to “the patient’s” story and march with him toward his demise, he shares his memories and walks us through his life. Some of the songs, notably Mama, Teenagers, and the hidden track Blood, definitely sound as if they were written for the stage and you can imagine an army of choreographed dancers acting out the songs.

Despite the mockery I receive from people, I thoroughly enjoy this album. It’s lyrically brilliant and musically divers.

Favorite track: This Is How I Disappear

The rest of the list is going to be quick, no explanations, as I should really be getting ready for work.

8. Coheed and Cambria: Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness
Favorite track: Welcome Home
9. Machine Head, The Burning Red
Favorite track: Silver
10. Fantomas – The Director’s Cut (a collection of reworked movie themes)
Favorite track: Rosemary’s Baby
11. Stabbing Westward – Darkest Days (I seem to favor the depressing concepts, don’t I?)
Favorite track: When I’m Dead
12. Marilyn Manson – Mechanical Animals (which I hated when it first came out, but have come to appreciate as Manson’s best work)
Favorite track – Coma White

Last, but definitely not least:

13. The Who, Tommy
My love for this album is describe here.
Excerpt:

For the next few hours, he sat down with me and went over the whole story, one song at a time. I remember him saying “I can’t believe you get this” about ten times. We talked about wicked Uncle Ernie and Cousin Kevin and how I thought in the end Tommy reminded me a lot of Jesus.

It wasn’t until five years later when we went to see Tommy the movie together that we talked about it again, and on a deeper level. Hey, to a 13 year old, a rock opera is about as deep as it gets.

I know I left off a few choice albums and I might revisit this topic again later, but there you have it. The list of concept albums that are not on most people’s list of concept albums (except for the first and last).

(I will add in youtube links and videos after work)

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