I can find a way to work music into literally anything, including Fictional Fridays.
Concept albums. Tons of people make them, not many make them well. The term “concept album” is similar to and occasionally interchangeable with “rock opera”. Except, you know, in genres other than rock I guess. This week, I’m going to list a couple of examples, give a brief overview of the plot, and not really review the music that much. That’s a different series. It should be noted that this isn’t a “Top 5” kind of post. Instead I wanted to pull 5 different concept albums from as many different genres as I could, and talk about them in any order. Let’s do it!
Dream Theater – Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From a Memory
If there is one album that really got me into the whole concept album thing, it’s this one. This band is probably tied with Marillion as my favorite of all time. They write long, technical, “they obviously went to music school” type songs. The whole album blends together to create one piece, and its great.
The story follows a man named Nicholas who keeps having these recurring dreams, so he goes to a hypnotherapist to figure out what they mean. As it turns out, he’s dreaming scenes of himself in a past life as a young woman named Victoria. He through this therapy he is forced to learn about Victoria’s life and (SPOILERS) witness as her untimely death unfolds before him, so that he can be free from the dreams and move on with his present life.
Parts of the album are cut with audio from actors portraying some of the scenes in the story, allowing for a real theatrical effect.
Oh and if you’re wondering, Metropolis Pt. 1 is a song from the band’s earlier Images and Words album.
Childish Gambino – Because the Internet
First of all, yes. The album cover for this album is technically a .gif, which is cool if a little gimmicky. Childish Gambino was really my first hip hop love, having not really indulged in the genre much until I met my college roommate. This album is particular is very experimental and at times, eerily ambient. Dark room music at its finest.
The story follows a nameless 20-something who lives out on the west coast and has never really had to do anything for himself thanks to a very rich family. The story progresses sort of like a typical mumble-core film in that, nothing really happens for much of it. It seems to be very disjointed at times and jumps from event to event. Yet this randomness is sort of given cohesion through the character, who clearly suffers from sever depression. In that way, the randomness is a plot device more than anything. To add to the greatness of this album, Donald Glover wrote, directed, and starred in a short film
based around the same character during the production of the album. He also released a screenplay as a companion to the album, detailing the events that occur. It seems that it has since been taken down from the original site
but can still be found here
The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love
Anyone who is familiar with The Decemberists should not be surprised that they wrote a concept album about a young woman running off to live in the woods with her beloved who is actually a shape-shifter that occasionally turns into a faun and has a woods-witch for a mother who is convinced that the girl is trying to steal her son away from her, right? I mean, that’s just par for the course.
What makes this particular album great is that there are clear musical themes that play throughout its entirety. The songs are all connected musically by their shared theme and the fact that they tend to run in to each other without stopping. There are several guest vocalists that each have their own part in the “script”, giving the illusion of a full musical. I had the good fortune to see this album performed live when it came out and trust me, musical is a pretty good comparison.
Between the Buried and Me – The Parallax II: Future Sequence
(Progressive Death Metal)
Okay, this is where I may lose some of you, but what can I say? I’ve always been a metal head. This album is a follow-up to the band’s previous EP, The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues. The EP served as a prologue for this story and so this is a direct continuation.
The plot is a very strange sci-fi story that can at times be hard to follow. As best as I can put it, it follows a person who is given the powers to create new planets and solar systems and such (somehow), and so leaves his normal life to begin a new existence as what he considers a god. It kind of goes to his head and he goes a bit insane. He keeps dreaming of himself in different places going through daily life that he’s never seen before.
Meanwhile, some other person, going through their daily life, keeps dreaming that he has godlike powers to create planets! See where this is going? Purely by chance, the two meet and hilarity ensues! Except not really. It’s actually quite sad. MOVING ON.
Pink Floyd – The Wall
And of course. The concept album to end all concept albums. The Wall is one of those albums that even now, about ten years after hearing it for the first time, I’m confused on what I think of it. It’s a classic of course, but it gets so abstract at times that its hard for me to form an opinion on. At times it rocks really hard, and at times it totally shifts to an uncomfortably quite and slow musical.
The Wall follows a touring rock star, appropriately named Pink, as he navigates the troubles of touring in America, maintaining a family in England, and still finding time for his blossoming relationship with schizophrenia.
A companion movie was released in ’82, three years after the album. You can just go ahead and watch this clip
and understand that the late ’70s and early ’80s were a very different time.
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