The 411 Music Top Five 10.09.13: The Top 5 Concept Albums
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 10.09.2013
From Marilyn Manson's Antichrist Superstar and Queensryche's Operation Mindcrime to The Who's Tommy, Pink Floyd's The Wall and more, the 411 staff counts down their top 5 concept albums!
THE TOP 5 CONCEPT ALBUMS
Criteria: Concept albums. When done right, they can be among the greatest albums ever; when done wrong, they just seem pretentious. There are a lot on both sides, so this week we're going to look at the best of them.
Pink Floyd - The Wall - Many iconic songs to be heard, and it tells a great story, it was a big influence on my musical tastes growing up.
5. Opeth - Still Life
This album is one of my first experiences with the older work of Opeth. Much more tinged in death metal than the more progressive work that they had in their later works. The album talks about a man who is banished from the town for not having the same beliefs as everyone else, but returns after years of exile to Melinda, the woman he loves. She is engaged to another man, but stays with her original lover. Melinda is killed for this (because church?), and in a murderous rage, the exiled man takes the life of numerous townspeople. He is caught and hanged, but feels Melinda's presence about him before his life is extinguished. I'd say that's pretty damn metal. The album has a few softer tracks to lessen the burden of the rather weighty death metal that Opeth employ in this album. "Moonlapse Vertigo" is still one of my most favorite Opeth songs of all time, and this is coming from a huge Opeth fan.
4. Iced Earth - The Dark Saga
I've talked about this album quite a bit already, because as I've mentioned, nothing makes me happier than mixing metal and comic books! It rarely ever goes wrong (I said rarely, because the Marvel edit of Entombed's, 'Wolverine Blues', was really bad), but with that one blemish aside, this album is one that I love quite a bit. It tells the story of Al Simmons, a man who sells his soul to Malebolgia as he dies, so that he can come back and be with his wife. He gets his wish, but he becomes a Hellspawn, and it's many years in the future, and she's married his best friend. Of course, Al is pissed. For those who don't know, this story is the story of Todd MacFarlane's, Spawn, I love the comic, the character, the HBO animated series, and I even don't mind the movie. So anything from the 90s with Spawn on it, I dig. This album included, I would say that vocally, it is one of Matt Barlow's best, and the rest of the band delivers quite well, though I wish it were a tad bit heavier. That one gripe aside, this album is one I adore.
3. Queensryche - Operation: Mindcrime
This is the logical number once choice, because technically, there is no other choice on an impartial list. But this is a partial list, and while this album is amazing, I still have two others to put in front of it. This album has a story fit for the silver screen, and if there ever was an concept album fit for film, it would be this one. It tells a story of forgotten memories, revolution, love, and many other things, like most Final Fantasy games! But that one joke being said, this album is a superb album, and really, if you heard one Queensryche album, it HAS to be this one!
2. Blind Guardian - Nightfall in Middle Earth
I think that if there were to be a category for geekiest concept album, this one would come in first place nine times out of ten. It pretty much tells the story of J.R.R. Tolkien's, "The Silmarillion", and by all accounts that I've heard, manage to make the book much more entertaining in music than it ever was in prose. So many great moments are had on this album, with 22 tracks (though a number of them are minute long dialogue sections that are there to keep the story straight), it was a sprawling, and ambitious album, and I feel like they did a spectacular job with what they offered!
1. Orphaned Land - "Mabool: The Story of the Three Sons of Seven"
I'm surprised that I never saw this album on any of the Top Metal Concept Albums lists I looked at to make sure I didn't forget anything, because as soon as I suggested this topic, I knew that this album would be my number one, no question. This album tells the story of the three sons (the sons (which is angels pretty much) being Islam, Christianity, and Judaism) of seven (that being God). The story of this album goes that God had forbid the angels from reuniting because of fear of their strength. Ignoring the divine order, the angels united into one angel, who immediately got exiled from heaven to earth and was divided into three again, sentenced to fight each other until they can prove themselves and get back into heaven. The angels then try to convince humanity to stop their sins and warn them of a coming flood as punishment if they do not. The album describes the journey of the three, their convincing, and in the end, their failure. While telling such an epic story (I think it is epic), they also manage to fit in so many different instrumental sounds and patterns, it is a very interesting listen, as well as one that is always rewarding, because you pick up new parts in the songs each time. This cemented the band Orphaned Land into my heart for good, this was such a stupendous album, and would be life changing for anyone who has a love for death metal or middle eastern folk music.
5. Motley Crue - Saints of Los Angeles
A lot of people who just gave Saints of Los Angeles a quick listen might not have noticed the concept behind the album. Not only is this the Crue's best album since Dr. Feelgood, but it is also a brilliant concept album tracking the history of the band. When you look at it, this is almost a soundtrack to their biography, The Dirt, which outlines the history of the band. The album starts with a song about a band getting its start, moves into a band in the midst of popularity and then finishes up with an anthem about called "Goin' out Swingin." This album is a self-told history of Motley Crüe.
4. Iron Maiden - Seventh Son of a Seventh Son
If you ask Bruce Dickinson, he does not feel that this is a complete concept album because they just sang about good and evil, which is on most of Iron Maiden's albums. This album follows the folklore and myths of a seventh son of a seventh son having mystical powers. The album starts with the devil speaking to the parents of the seventh son, leads to the birth of the seventh son and his battles with good and evil and his eventual downfall.
3. Pink Floyd - The Wall
This is arguably the most famous concept album ever created as Pink Floyd traces the rise and fall of a rock star named Pink. The album is from the filmed musical following the lead character as he builds the wall that is supposed to protect him from the world. The entire world of the movie is in a dystopian future and there are many political undertones as well as the reasons that a person can build this wall, from an overbearing mother and strict school master to the war and death. It is brilliant and the perfect party movie.
2. Sixx A.M. - The Heroin Diaries Soundtrack
The Heroin Diaries Soundtrack by Sixx A.M. is not just the No. 2 concept album on my list but is also one of the best albums released in the last decade. Nikki Sixx of Motley Crüe documented his battle with drug dependency in his book The Heroin Diaries and this is the musical version of that amazing book. I'll be honest I couldn't decide which video to include from this album because the entire album is amazing, from beginning to end, as Nikki tracks his drug dependency from addiction to almost dying to eventual recovery.
1. Queensryche - Operation Mindcrime
In 1988, progressive metal band Queensryche released Operation Mindcrime, a concept album following a disenfranchised that joins up with a revolutionary group of political leaders and assassins. The album opens with this man, Nikki, in a hospital and then flashes back to what led to this point. He is hired to assassinate anyone that needs to be removed for his revolutionary group to come into power. This changes when he meets a kind nun named Sister Mary, but when he decides to leave, they group won't let him out.
Honorable Mentions: Green Day - American Idiot, Blind Guardian - Nightfall on Middle-Earth, Pink Floyd - The Wall, Nine Inch Nails - Year Zero
5. Jay-Z - American Gangster
Jay-Z's American Gangster can probably be best described as an unofficial soundtrack to the film of the same name by Ridley Scott. The album was released the week after Gangster hit theaters, the result of a little corporate synergy between Universal Studios and Universal Music Group. Every song on the album is inspired by a scene from the film and ironically, the album was actually better-received than the film. Personally I like the movie more, but that doesn't mean that this isn't a great album. Jay-Z had it removed from iTunes because he didn't want individual tracks purchased, saying "as movies are not sold scene by scene, this collection will not be sold as individual singles." Okay, so that's a little pretentious perhaps, but I actually kind of agree with him as concept albums are better when listened to as a whole rather than individual tracks.
4. Marilyn Manson - Antichrist Superstar
Antichrist Superstar is the culmination of a three-disc conceptual story...except that it's the first album. Manson conceptualized the story of Superstar, Mechanical Animals and Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death) in reverse, making the final track of Superstar, "Man That You Fear," the end of the story. It's sort of an odd way to go about it, but it definitely was the wisest move because Superstar is unquestionably the strongest of the three albums. This is the one that launched Manson into mainstream popularity and it's not difficult to see why. Every single track on the album is worth listening and it's assembled in near-perfect fashion, building all the way up to the frenzied rage of "The Reflecting God" before "Man" provides the denouement. You can dislike Manson's persona or his sound, but you have to respect the skill he displays here.
3. The Who - Tommy
Tommy is one of the first albums whenever anyone thinks of a concept album, and for good reason. In the forty-three years since its release, few albums have even come close to touching how well it does the idea of a concept album. The first album to be overtly billed as a rock opera, it's pretty much the iconic album within its genre (with all due respect to The Wall, which is probably the second-most well-known of them). It's huge, it's bold, it's ambitious and it delivers on all the promise. I know a lot of people who have listened to it after it was hyped up to the ceiling to them, and few have every felt it didn't live up.
2. Marvin Gaye - What's Going On
I tend to believe that Marvin Gaye's 1971 album doesn't get the credit it should for being such a great concept album. Listen, everyone loves Marvin Gaye (and well they should), but most people appreciate the title song and some of his other hits, but leave the album behind. This disc, about a Vietnam war vet who returns to the US to find that the country he's been fighting for has fallen to injustice and hatred, is one of the hallmark albums of the era and of soul itself. Gaye actually had to fight to get it released amidst concerns by Barry Gordy that it was too political to be promoted and too different to sell. Gaye convinced Gordy to relent and the rest is history.
1. The Beatles - Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
Sgt. Pepper is often hailed as one of the greatest albums of all-time. A vocal minority feel that it's overrated. I disagree, with all due respect, to that minority. Just take a look at the track listing for this album. Most concept albums, as I said back at #5, work best when listened to as a whole; individually the songs often lose some in the meaning because they're intended to be fit within a broader spectrum. This album is one of the few where the songs work both individually and as a whole. The album creates fake personas for each of the Beatles who were tired of being constantly on the road. They created the album as a way to double down with an album and concert both. That's a smart way to fix their problem, and the end result was one of the greatest albums every recorded.
The Final Word
As always, the last thoughts come from you, the reader. We're merely unpaid monkeys with typewriters and Wikipedia. Here's what you need to do: List your Top Five for this week's topic on the comment section using the following format:
5. Artist - "Song": Why you chose it
4. Artist - "Song": Why you chose it
3. Artist - "Song": Why you chose it
2. Artist - "Song": Why you chose it
1. Artist - "Song": Why you chose it