Concept albums are fun for people with "long attention span disorder." I haven't met anyone so afflicted. Everyone I know can barely concentrate on driving, never mind following the plot of a movie. That's why there's all that writing on the back of the DVD case and why the local cable guide gives you that synopsis. "House Hunters: A couple looks at three houses and buys one." Doesn't get much more exciting than that!
Neil Young and the Decemberists have both issued new albums that are long on concept. In tribute, I decided to think about some other great conceptual masterpieces. And while 2112 should certainly make this list, I wanted the Rush fans out there to have something to complain about! It makes it more fun for all of us. And don't forget to make fun of that stupid hat I'm wearing! I wore it just for you! And to stop the supernatural glow that occurs when my heads sweats, which my doctor told me not to worry about. After all, he's going on vacation!
These were the 10 that occurred to me off the top of my head. It was more fun that way. Too much thinking and you end up deciding that "an album of 10 consistently terrible songs" is also a concept and opens the floodgates to half my record collection.
10) Fork In The Road--Neil Young: This is Neil's latest and it's about his car! You think his wife is annoyed by this? This LincVolt hybrid--a 1959 Lincoln Continental Convertible that runs on electricity and Neil's farts--is the wave of the future (http://www.lincvolt.com/) and it's here today! So what if Neil looks like your completely insane grandfather on the album's cover? Songs that ask where all the money goes and tells you to fill 'er up are worth their weight in emission-free dreams!
Nebraska--Bruce Springsteen: The concept here was to challenge people to stay awake. No, no. Bruce didn't even know he had a concept album until one day he listened back to his home demos made on what was then the new multi-track home recording technology and he decided it sounded better than when his band played them. He wanted glum. He wanted to pout in the corner. He wanted to write songs about people's dead end jobs and lives that sounded like a dead end. Brilliant, actually.
8) American Doll Posse--Tori Amos: The Doll Posse consists of five different female characters that reflect the different aspects of Amos' own personality, which makes you feel really worried for her significant other. Her previous album Scarlet's Walk was also a concept. But I like this idea better. She one-ups the Who's Quadrophenia with Quinto-phenia! This is like when you look in the phone book for a plumber and discover that there is now "A A A A A A A Expert Plumbers" leading the listings and next year there will someone with another A added on. It's a bit like The Price is Right, where there's always someone who bids one dollar higher than the last bidder. We hate that person and yet they always win.
Operation: Mindcrime--Queensryche: I had a friend in college who swore this was a great concept album. I told him he was wrong. I never even listened to it. I just wanted to argue with him. Not much has changed.
6) The Hazards Of Love--The Decemberists: The Decemberists are turning out to be an interesting band seeing as to how they polarize audiences who either think their concepts are great and far-reaching or think they're full of doo-doo. I liked some of the songs but what I think about a woman named Margaret falling in love with a shape-shifting forest dweller while dealing with a jealous forest queen hasn't been decided on. My brain can't actually process this kind of information. It prefers stuff like "Love Me Do, you know I love you." Now that's poetry!
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band--The Beatles: Speaking of which, the Beatles decided they could do better than "Love Me Do" and they hatched this "concept" album--one of rock's first. Right up there with The Who Sell Out and The Kinks' Village Green Preservation Society. The Beatles see themselves from the outside--as a band of musicians playing the role of musicians and stringing all the songs together as if they all belonged together because they were neighbors destined to live out their lives sharing the same sanitation service. They all grew mustaches for the occasion. The beginning of "Rock Qua Rock" as rock critics would note!
4) Joe's Garage--Frank Zappa: This is way too complicated to get into here. But let's just say there's stuff here about a Central Scrutinizer (which sounds like a fancy dry cleaning service) and songs about appliance fetishism that suggests Frank had been listening to the Talking Heads with a bit of disdain. Originally issued in two parts because people didn't have credit cards back then and needed to pay cash. This was a way of getting them on the installment plan. The first album was only one record, but you needed to buy a two-record set if you wanted to find out how things turned out.
Quadrophenia--The Who: Some will argue for Tommy but I always preferred Quad. The music sounds better. It's louder, more aggressive and I don't have to listen to "Tommy, can you hear me?" Here, you get ocean sounds and some story about a kid losing his mind. Who hasn't done that?
2) Blues From Laurel Canyon--John Mayall: Maybe not your pick but mine! A concept album about John Mayall's three-week vacation in Laurel Canyon, California, which this bizarre Britster mistakes for the outback, wearing loincloths and starting fires in his neighbor's backyards. Absolutely weird!
The Wall--Pink Floyd: A rock star goes insane and so do you if you listen to all four sides at once. Try watching the movie sometime for a real uplifting treat. I like the idea that the band performed this album in its entirety while they had a wall built between them and their audience, meaning that by the third side of the album they could sit down and even let other people play their parts if they wanted to, since nobody would know the difference.