[30 seconds to introduce the show: Hello and welcome you are listening to Into the Groove, I’m your host Aashi Dhaniya and I hope you are having an excellent day]
I was recently listening to the latest Ed Sheeran album and it made me realize how extremely cathartic listening to full length albums can be. In a way it’s a whole journey made up of songs. But sometimes those individual songs form a bigger picture and that’s what we are discussing today. Concept Albums.
Wikipedia defines a concept album as an album in which its tracks hold a larger purpose or meaning collectively than they do individually. And it makes listening to music a whole another experience. Like reading a musical book, if you will. So, let’s take a look at some incredible concept albums to get you started.
- First up we have, Crybaby by Melanie Martinez
The album is about a character, named Cry Baby, which is rumored to be a fantasy version of the singer herself when she was a child. In her own words, Melanie describes the album as “a child who experiences adult things.” And you won’t believe the twisted vibe this record has going on. Each song on the track-list has a childhood-related title like Carousel, Sippy Cup, and Dollhouse and all the songs contain childhood-related metaphors in one form or another but everything is ever so slightly tainted with a sense of foreboding. You know like, everything feels slightly broken and twisted. For example, the song “Cry Baby”which will play shortly afterwards is about someone who is teased for openly displaying their emotions but the music has sounds of these baby toys in the background, and it is so creepy and don’t even get me started on its crazy music video. It’s insane. Much of the story for this record is inspired by Melanie Martinez’s real life experiences, according to her it deals with a more vulnerable and a messed up side of her. And she has successfully conveyed that, believe me. Wait until you hear the song, you’ll understand exactly what I mean. Anway, subsequent songs in the album follow the journey of crybaby in a dysfunctional family with her father cheating on her alcoholic mother and her brother dealing with substance abuse all of which she witnesses with her own eyes. How’s that for experiencing adult things. All things considered, though, it’s one hell of a record!
Here take a look, this is cry baby by Melanie Martinez from her debut concept album Crybaby…
[Crybaby: Melanie Martinez 4:00]
2) The next concept album is by a band that took this game to a whole another level. They’re called The Dear Hunter, and no, not like the animal. D E A R. The Dear Hunter are on their way to producing six full length albums named Act 1 through 6 each of which follow the story of our main character, The Dear Hunter himself. The story begins in Act I with his birth to a mother who wants to raise him away from her cruel reality. What’s her cruel reality you ask? She works in a Brothel. And the song we’re about to hear is about the owner of the said Brothel, who just so happens to be the antagonist of our story, but it gets more interesting because not only is this antagonist a pimp in the Brothel, but he is also a priest of the church. Boy, that’s twisted. Amiright? If one goes by the lyrics of the songs, the establishment that The Dear Hunter’s mother works in, who fan fact is actually called Ms. Terri (as in Mystery, brilliant wordplay), Anyway, so the establishment Ms Terri and our antagonist work in is a church in the day and a brothel at night. Now if that doesn’t instantly get you hooked, don’t worry. The sheer range of vocals, instruments, and styles of music on this record alone makes it an absolute delight to listen to. It is a whole experience, one of a kind. With characters such as Ms. Leading (you get what I mean by wordplay!) Ms. Leading is the girl our protagonist falls in love with in Act II, who spoiler alert, also works in a Brothel. It’s a classic tragedy set against the backdrop of early twentieth century and it is totally breathtaking to listen to. It has some Jazz vibes, a little bit of funk, choirs here and there. trust me when I say this band can be turned into a broadway musical. Some real good stuff here, give it a go!
This is The Pimp and the Priest by The Dear Hunter from their album Act I: The Lake South, The River North…
[The Pimp and the Priest: The Dear Hunter 6:02]
That track is a masterpiece!
3) Moving on, the next one should come as no surprise to rock fans. American Idiot everybody by Green Day. American Idiot is the very definition of what concept albums are capable of. Actually, American Idiot is the definition of what albums are capable of. Period. Getting you invested so much that you lose track of time and bob your head to songs that are literally about political agendas? Green day is awesome. Now onto the story of American Idiot. This album, like the previous entries, follow a central character called The Jesus of Suburbia, which is also the name of a track on the album, now if you have heard the song, you know that he is more like this adolescent anti-hero who seems to be torn between rage and love! And boy can you hear all the rage and all the love all over this entire album. Solid guitar riffs man. But I wasn’t finished about the concept of this album because there’s simply so much more to talk about. It came out in 2004 and that was the time of great political unrest in the US what with Bush’s presidency and the Iraq war and this record is almost a public service announcement, getting the american population invested in the political affairs of their nation! All the songs are this weird combination of existential dread and being a pawn in the whole 1984 kind of military complex. Difficult combination to pull off I must say, but they did it so well. And the track that I’ve chosen to play is quite an elegant representation of both of those ideas but I chose it because of the nostalgia it hits us with. Brace yourselves and thank your stars.
American Idiot gave us a gem and it’s called Boulevard of Broken Dreams…
[Boulevard of Broken Dreams: Green Day 4:25]
That guitar solo though! Brilliant.
4) The next entry is a rather unique one. In both its music style and its concept album style. Unlike the rest of the albums on the list, this one is not a narrative of a central character, neither does it have recurring themes. But what makes it a concept album then you might be wondering. The answer is in the name of the title itself, it’s called Twelve four. Twelvefour is the second studio album of the upcoming australian indie folk band The Paper Kites. People, they have a genre defying sound is all I can say about The Paper Kites and some of the most magnificent lyrics you will ever hear. Onto the concept of Twelve four though. Get this, the album was written entirely between the hours of midnight and 4am. 12–4. Pretty nifty huh! Now I do believe those are the hours of most creative genius and I’m glad this album is a living proof to that theory. But there’s more. The 3 singles from the album, Electric Indigo, revelator eyes, and renegade all have music videos with a digital clock in them that shows some time between 12 and 4. That’s a nice little detail. But most importantly what makes twelve four a concept album is the entire vibe of the record. It is submerged in this post midnight/pre twilight bliss. It’s definitely one for those who enjoy the nocturnal lifestyle. It’s so atmospheric. It’s almost like a lucid dream, you know that weird phase when you’re not really sleeping and not really awake. This album has that effect, it definitely puts you under but you’re not really asleep. I’ll just let the music speak for itself.
This is Electric Indigo by The Paper Kites from their album twelvefour…
[Electric Indigo: The Paper Kites 3:43]
God, so dreamy! You should definitely check out the rest of the album.
5) Next up we have the very Queen of pop music. This list would not be complete without talking about Beyonce’s Lemonade. This 2016 sensation that broke the internet the day it was released and by the way it was released. Most artists, those as phenomenal as Beyonce anyway, have a formal press release when their album comes out, they start promoting it on social media well before the release date and they make a note of talking about it everywhere they go months before the album release. But nuh uh none of that for the Queen, guys. Beyonce literally dropped the album with a casual tweet and then made it available for streaming for free on her co-owned music streaming service called Tidal. And that one hit everyone hard, alright. The album title was inspired by Jay Z’s grandmother, who in her speech about her life struggles as a black woman said, “I was served lemons, but I made lemonade.” And the album kind of has that vibe of shrugging it off and making the best of things. But it is very obvious that Lemonade is actually pretty feminist, it’s about every woman’s journey of knowing herself. Tracks like Pretty Hurts and Sorry, I ain’t sorry make it very clear that it’s about empowering women to take the lead and not let the patriarchal society get them down. Go Beyonce, standing up for the ladies! Take a look at this brilliant brilliant song.
This is Daddy Lessons by Beyonce from her album Lemonade…
[Daddy Lessons: Beyonce 6:26]
6) Following in the footsteps of the Queen herself, this next artist has changed pop music for good. She has a reputation for turning breakups into Billboard hits and coming up with tunes so catchy that you can thank your guardian angel if they don’t give you a bad case of getting stuck in your head and I’m sure you know who I mean by now. It’s none other than Taylor Swift with her fourth studio album Red. Inspired by her semi-toxic relationships, Red is all about love and heartbreak with tracks like I knew you were trouble, We are never ever getting back together, and Red. While there is no storyline that can be traced through the length of the album, the entire record is like a shoutout to love, heartbreak and emotions. So many emotions. As described by Taylor herself, Red is all about emotions — from intense love, intense frustration, jealousy, confusion, all of that stuff — To Taylor, all those emotions are red. As she said herself there’s nothing in between. She says and I quote “There’s nothing beige about any of those feelings.” Succinctly put I would say. In all of the singles from the record, Taylor Swift can be seen wearing her signature Red lipstick giving the concept album that final touch of perfection. And honestly after listening to this album, I don’t know about you but I’m feeling 22. Check this out.
This is Red by Taylor Swift from her album Red…
[Red: Taylor Swift 4:01]
Yeah that was totally on the emotion heavy side of the spectrum.
7) Coming up next, this album and this song will hit you with major rock vibes. It is the fifth studio album of our very beloved Arctic Monkeys and it’s called AM. Well short for arctic monkeys and it came out in 2013 which is surprisingly not too long ago. Now this entry is admittedly the least concept album-y out of the bunch but it honestly is a perfect metaphor for what concept albums do. Play with uniformity and run into similar themes and AM definitely has some of those with songs like Do I Wanna know, Why’d you only call me when you’re high, and R U Mine? Dare I say more. It’s pretty self explanatory. Like that aimless head hunting for a soulmate. Although there is an amazing reddit post actually putting the album into a coherent narrative following a central character, which is worth checking out. Even without that detail the record is definitely a concept album. If one knows where to look. I mean No 1 Party Anthem, Mad Sounds, and I want it all sure do sound like they belong to the same album, it may very well be the iconic sound that this record has going on. In any case, it can be a fun little experiment to draw your own meaning out of this one.
This is Do I Wanna Know by Arctic Monkeys from their fantastic album AM…
[Do I Wanna Know: Arctic Monkeys 4:26]
Did everyone sing along or was it just me? Do I wanna know, cmon!
8) Delving into some more obscure concept albums, next up is Simple Math by Manchester Orchestra. And no don’t worry, it’s not about calculus at all. Not at all. Not even close. Like Red, it too does not conform to a narrative around a character but is a rather personal project for the lead vocalist of the band, Andy Hull. Who himself called Simple Math a concept album, telling a story from his own perspective; Simple math is a story about a 23 year old who questions everything from marriage to love to religion to sex. He added that everything he had written in the past had been about those things as well but Simple Math is the most realized form of his questioning. And there are some dark themes of epic proportions on this record, for eg. the track apprehension is seemingly about a man blaming his wife for her miscarriage and many songs are about toxic and mentally taxing relationships. You know the ones where people keep arguing back and forth. I think that is the true strength of this album, and this band too. They put these super ordinary things against this glorious music and it is beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time. The overall sound of the album is angsty and rebellious backed up by solid guitar riffs and solos. Manchester Orchestra is definitely one of those bands that it’s hard to not get a kick out of their music but they don’t top the charts. They’re a cult hit and their music is celebrated by the little audience that they do receive but all in all they remain out of the limelight. Which is a real shame once you hear how good they really are! Take a look.
This is Simple Math by Manchester Orchestra…
[Simple Math: Manchester Orchestra 5:05]
Oh the existential dread is insane!
9) Moving onto the next and the final one, it is If you wait by London Grammar, they’re an English indie pop band with a whopping seven singles from the total of eleven songs on their debut album. 7 singles is a lot for a debut album man. The concept for the album as well as the lyrics for most of the songs again were inspired by the lead vocalist, Hannah Reid’s, personal life experiences, in particular her troubled teenage years which interestingly prompted The Guardian to suggest that the album was quote unquote “the first quarter-life-crisis album.” which is pretty neatly summed up by title of one of the songs on the record and it’s called Wasting my young years. I mean, It is a pretty chaotic time in everyone’s life, dealing with peer pressure and most of us at that age had no idea what we were doing or what we wanted to do, so it feels exactly like you’re wasting your young years. It also creates this false sense of a rat race that everyone else is doing better in life when in reality everyone is just as clueless really. This album is a beautiful representation of a very messy experience. But that’s not what uplifts this record to the level of greatness. It’s most definitely the lead vocalist’s voice, she literally turns words into symphonies. Her voice literally beckons to your soul. You’ll understand what I mean, just hear her sing.
This is Strong by London Grammar from their debut album If you wait…
[Strong: London Grammar 4:02]
[Outro] Anyway, that was the last concept album. Some epic stories worth checking out. That’s what they are right? Stories made up of songs. And music is such a visceral medium to share experiences and emotions. Might as well make a story out of it. I for one am grateful that concept albums are a thing and would love to see more artists try them out. Until then hum to these and have a good day. I’m Aashi and this was incredibly fun to do. Goodbye.