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Counterpoint. by jason

Jayson, you ignorant slut!

But seriously, it is no secret that I love me some concept albums. Probably too much, and probably more in theory than in practice, but I love them.

See here’s the thing…I enjoy music on a sonic level, but I also listen closely to the lyrics. It’s the English major in me. I love to know what the songs mean. It’s almost as important to me as what the songs sound like.

I also appreciate “the album” as much as “the song.” When and album can be enjoyed as a multiple-movement work, it’s a beautiful thing. It’s why, though Radiohead’s Amnesiac has some rocking songs, Kid A was a better album. The former was merely a collection of songs.

Which brings us to the concept album. When creating a concept album, a band must consider how each song will play a part in the bigger picture while writing it. The album is, then, destined to be an “album” before it is even written.

A second reason I like concept albums, and narrative ones specifically, is that I am a writer. I write fiction…or rather, I used to before Facebook. So I like a good, or at least an interesting, story. The idea of telling a story though multiple songs is fascinating to me. I can appreciate an album that I wouldn’t otherwise care about if it’s telling me a story. Like, I love Pink Floyd’s The Wall, but Dark Side of the Moon bores me. And YES, I know that DSotM is a concept album, but it’s not narrative, and I find it to be too pretentious for its own good. More on that in a second.

Another concept thing I can get into is the “concept band.” By this, I mean bands like Gorillaz or Dethklok…bands that are essentially fictional in themselves, yet create real music. Hell, I was even slightly interested in that Chris Gaines thing that Garth Brooks did. See, these bands encourage the listener to suspend disbelief and enter the fictional worlds of these bands. These projects turn the listener into an active participant, playing a part in this fictional world by interacting with real artifacts from it.

Jayson and I are on the same side on one thing here…the “thematic” concept album. The thematic concept album is not necessarily a bad thing. Look at Murder by Death’s In Bocca al Lupo. All the songs are about people committing crimes or sins, and about the punishment, whether legal, karmic, or self-inflicted, these characters receive. It’s a GREAT album.

Where things go wrong is, as Jayson says, when bands start talking politics or religion, or start pushing their bullshit Nietzsche-lite dogma. I don’t want to hear a band’s politics or religious views; I want to be entertained. That’s what it’s all about, really.

So a concept can, and often does, goes bad. Even so, if it’s a concept album, even if the concept looks bad on paper, I’ll give it a try, usually. The band is trying something slightly more ambitious than writing verse-chorus-verse, and I would like to see the results.

In conclusion, then: I am interested in concept albums, and especially narrative concept albums, in a way that goes beyond their value as music. When musicians try to make something that is more than just music, I can appreciate their ambition, even if I’m not so into that music. In fact, I might just go out and buy Styx’s Kilroy was Here. I still think I’ll pass on the ICP nonsense, though.

-jason

If you would like to learn more about great concept albums, check out the following from your local library or music store:
The Mountain Goats-Tallahassee
The Mountain Goats-All Hail West Texas
David Bowie-The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
David Bowie-Outside (I’m still waiting on The Diary of Nathan Adler 2-5, David!)
Neutral Milk Hotel-The Aeroplane Over the Sea
Weezer-Pinkerton
Pulp-This is Hardcore
Murder by Death-Who Will Survive, and What Will be Left of Them?
Murder by Death-Red of Tooth and Claw
Magnetic Fields-69 Love Songs.

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[…] my defense of concept albums, particularly the part about concept bands. I’m not sold on this, but I’ll eventually […]

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