Llamalpaca’s A Waste Of Space Episode Two. The Concept Album.

Styx Give Robots A Bad Name


Mr Roboto. Two words to send a shiver down the spine from Styx’s Kilroy Was Here. Not convinced? Let’s try two more: The Elder. In the dock this week is that hoary old crisis-induced mid-career stop-gap, the concept album.

Pink Floyd. Marillion. The Beatles. Radiohead. The Thin White Duke. Mike Oldfield. Kraftwerk. Rush. The Who. The Art Of Noise. They’ve all done them. So far, so predictable. More intriguing and less likely protagonists include The Streets, Daft Punk, Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, Sufjan Stevens and arguably The Chemical Brothers and The Beastie Boys.

Now you may hold views on the concept album which might be too withering in their honesty for publication over on RR. Here, however, you may choose to pay homage to your favourite concept album, delight in cruelly exposing ambition (or writer’s block) interlaced with a bewildering lack of talent, or diss the concept of the concept album and yes, even a considered meh is fully acceptable.  Any stance should be supported with some form of evidence or justification.

Off you go then.

49 thoughts on “Llamalpaca’s A Waste Of Space Episode Two. The Concept Album.

  1. Um…is gordonimmel about? No? Whoopee! I bags the Eagles’ Desperado. Can’t stand the Eagles but love love love this album, which draws parallels between the life of an outlaw (nasty, brutish, short) and the life of a rock star.

    Favourite song? Title track

  2. Two magnificent follies spring to mind. Both not mere concept albums but trilogies that introduce a whole epic “story” and , in one case, language to the listener.
    First up Gong’s “Radio Gnome” series ( Flying Teapot, Angel’s Egg and You). My fave group ( at the time) could do no wrong in my ears. Some find them “silly” but I’ve always regarded the “humour” as similar to that of the Tao masters of Ancient China. Wise men listen to the words of fools ( and the music). “You” was a touch disappointing at the time, the band was beginning to dissolve and there were too many lengthy instrumental passages for my liking.
    As mad as a bog of mad frogs ( and Aussies and Brits, of course).

    Second, from roundabout the same time period and also tiddling across the channel. Magma with the “Theusz Hamtaahk Trilogy” ( wot ?).
    Christian Vander’s tale of woe expressed in orchestral prog and choral work is a thing of rare beauty. The central album Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh is bindmoggling. Dense “choirs” repeating phrases using the made-y uppy language of Kobaïan this is seriously barmy stuff.

    • Camaembert ( can’t spell – the cheese ) Elictrique was one of Virgin’s 50p for an album series … truly was mad as frogs .. wet fish delerium .. so was probably bought by many at the time .. and possibly put more off than introduced them to the delights of Gong .. i dipped a toe into their other world backwards via Hillage’s Fish Rising .. and a couple of amazing gigs .. need more like them

      • Camenbert Electrique – yes, I had that album … saw Gong a few times notably at Bristol Corn Exchange years ago. My friend had a 2CV with flying teapots on it. And as for Mr Hillage – I modeled my wooly hat on his and still have his autograph on “Leylines to Glasdom”, or somesuch!.

    • you know, I love Gong too, and the children are very fond of the Radio Gnome albums too. Can be enjoyed on many levels I think, they’re still touring you know!

  3. You mentioned Marillion?

    “Brave” came out in the 1990s, several years after Fish left the band. The inspiration behind the story comes from a news report of a girl with amnesia found wandering along on the Severn Bridge. It’s a dark, intense album, possibly the most musically ambitious thing they’ve ever done. The band’s fans love it, and it’s still a firm favourite. EMI hated it because it cost a fortune to record and it contained no hit singles. It eventually led to the band being dropped.

  4. the thing about concept albums is does it count as a concept if no-one knows what it is
    the album covers were grand and grandiose, like Jethro Tull’s spoof newspaper, but rambling word association of wise men, fields and gutters didn’t actually mean much to me
    and deliberately so
    the 70’s bands all loved the Pythons being serious about being silly and put that in their music

    even the guy who wrote it doesn’t know what Tales from Topographic is about, so is it a concept

    do instrumentals like the Snow Goose have a concept if you never read the book

    Favourites of the genre such as Topographic, Six Wives, Thick as a Brick don’t actually have to be about anything, but allow space for the bands to play

    But the ones that were coherent stories Tommy, Takus, Lamb Lies Down, the wall, even Sherezade, are my least liked works by those artists .. too much time doing narrative and not enough music

    but concept albums get my vote .. even Rush

  5. More noodling after burning the sausages

    Anyhow back in the 70’s i lived near enough to school to walk home for lunch and then had to have Radio 1 on as a sound check to know when to return
    ( on good days I watched pogles wood and hammy hamster with my very young brother just to keep him company)

    The lunchtime DJ was Johnny Walker, who I liked, except Thursday when we fell out. It was the album chart run down and no matter how good the album was, be it Quo, Lizzy or Free, Walker played their single
    Then in Nov 73 Yes brought forth Topographic and it entered the chart at number 1 .. with no single.
    Walker apologised that he couldn’t actually stand prog and no amount of money who make him listen to find out which bit to play .. yet the program format insisted on 2 minutes for the top album
    So he got an engineer to close his eyes and drop the needle anywhere then lift it two minutes later

    It stayed number 1 all through Dec and was still there in January when the charts resumed post xmas
    all those random two minutes .. all 18 minutes too short .. but otherwise wonderful

    Which is the joy of those long meandering and meaningless concept albums .. they were crammed full of good stuff .. no intro verse chorus middle bit chorus and grand finish for them .. the highlights were all of it

    even bi-tor ( barking but brill. )

    • I went to see Rush on the last two tours and they seem quite happy to chop By Tor and 2112 up into easily digestible chunks for the encore medley, so maybe Johnnie was on to something, but I can’t imagine 2 mins of TfTO would make a whole pile of sense to the non-devotee…

  6. I have little interest in 70s rock or prog which – to make a hideously sweeping generalisation – seem to be responsible for the worst concept album excesses, so no opinion there.

    But I love some of the modern ones you mention – The Streets “A Grand Don’t Come For Free” is a genuinely affecting story, and I think it’s a terrible shame that Sufjan’s fabled 50 States project seems to have come to a halt after just two.

    One I’m less enamoured of is The Decemberists’ “The Hazards of Love”. It has some great tunes, but for me the story (which, for the uninitiated, involves shape-shifting wood nymphs, fawns, forest queens, infanticide etc.) just doesn’t fit comfortably with an indie rock band, even one as unusual and enamoured of the past as The Decemberists.

    I think one problem with it – and many concept albums in general – is that the songs don’t really work out of context. And they’re not things you can just have on in the background. You have to make the effort to sit down and listen to the whole album. Of course, you could argue this is a strength.

    is there a distinction between a concept album and an album with a theme? Is The Village Green Preservation Society a concept album, or just a collection of songs with a similar sort of feel and outlook?

    Luke Haines’ recent “Nine and a Half Psychedelic Meditations on British Wrestling of the 1970s and Early ’80s” (which is exactly what the title suggests) is obviously a concept album, as is his (excellent) Baader Meinhoff Revue – but you could argue that all his albums have a thematic thread running through them (showbiz, class, murder, the 70s, England…).

    Then there are albums which have to be taken as a self-contained whole, with themes and motifs running through them, but where you can’t necessarily identify an overarching concept. I’m thinking particularly of Neutral Milk Hotel’s “In The Aeroplane Over The Sea”.

    This thread is meant to be a space for aimless waffling, right?

    • Aimless Waffling? We aim to please.

      I share your enthusiasm for A Grand Don’t Come For Free and you are spot on that a lot of it makes little sense out of context.

  7. Lamb Lies Down … was my active introduction to the concept album, er, concept. Loved it then; still love it now. Thought Rush’s By-Tor and 2112 were less successful. Never really got into Yes, Hawkwind, Gong, etc., and had well and truly left Kiss behind before The Elder. Though I will admit I am a Wall-era Floyd fan.

    I certainly think there’s a place for the full-on concept album. A DsD fave LP, Mastodon’s Leviathan even temporarily made a HM fan of Dorian!

    DsD fave band Drive-By Truckers came to my attention with an on-release review of Southern Rock Opera, and I’ll also say (because Sourpus isn’t around to disagree with me) that ALL my favourite Richmond Fontaine albums are the ones with so many interconnected songs that they would satisfy a Concept Album Club doorman’s dress code.

    Daren’t log on or listen via laptop as am racing over my broadband limit AGAIN this month, but will lob any other grenades I find in my collection in by phone for anyone else to check for explosives.

    Cheers, MM/llama, nice thread.


  8. The Magnetic Fields – 69 Love Songs

    Not so much an album of love songs as an album about love songs.

    Eels – Electro-Shock Blues

    Moving and ultimately uplifting meditations on death, suicide and mental illness

    Having said above that songs from concept albums don’t really work out of context, I think these two albums more zedded songs on RR than any others – though I guess that’s down to focused writing about a particular theme.

    Lou Reed – New York (about New York) and – even better I think – Lou Reed and John Cale – Songs for Drella (their tribute to Andy Warhol).

    • I love Electro Shock Blues barbryn and it certainly includes quite a few songs that stand up on their own. But the impact of something like PS You Rock My World is heightened by what has gone before. New Eels LP will be out in February – something to look forward to.

  9. ‘Course, Richard Thompson’s concept album Cabaret Of Souls is now out, finally, and by the way, RT, what’s happened to my copy? It’s set in the waiting-room where you go after you die, and the staff, to alleviate their boredom, get the souls to sing about their lives and what sort of people they were. Kind of like Britain’s Got Talent where the prize is heaven or hell.

  10. kate bush – she likes a theme.
    side two of ‘hounds of love’ is probably my favourite?

    now for the target audience: Bleachin’ – Amos and Jeremy Healy. The Limited Edition Double CD Set Comes in a Mirror Box with a rolled up bank note in the spine – it pretty much goes on a progressive house ‘night out’ from excessive drug intake all through the night to ambulance ambience.


    • Oh wow! Sounds perfect. I just checked and “Peakin'” was the one that used Fleetwood Mac’s “Big Love and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Must investigate more. The album is “Everyone Loves You, Everything’s Free”. Just listening to listened to a few tracks; I like it. Oh wow a concept album I like. I’d never have thought that. Time to put on some Siinai and then a little Neon Neon.

      What do you mean?

      They’re concept albums!?


      And Eleanoora Rosenholm? A fictional story featuring a serial murderess, the apocalypse, different dimensions and different worlds. OMG I’ll have to say it loud and proud: I like concept albums.

  11. I love a good concept album and Willy Vlautin of Richmond Fontaine makes a speciality of them. The first one I heard was Post to Wire and it is probably still my favourite although his latest, The High Country, bids fair to equal it. I know DsD is also a fan.

    I also love, almost beyond measure, Lift To Experience’s double album on the second coming of Christ to Texas, The Texas Jerusalem Crossroads.

    Serious donds for Magnetic Fields and Sufjan Stevens.

  12. Someone has to stand up for that rarest of beasts the “Punk concept album”, I suppose. So let’s here it for Sham69 and That’s life.
    A record that proves some “ideas” are best left on the shelf.
    Many moons past the Ramones claimed in an NME intereview that they’d written a rock opera. The result, if I remember correctly, was Swallow My Pride.

    Ziggy ! Of course. What a truly wonderful album.

  13. Stranglers – The Gospel According To The Meninblack: Full album about the alien visitors first introduced in The Raven. La Folie too, but that was more of a themed album about aspects of love.

    Mountain Goats – Tallahassee: The Alpha Couple try to save their crumbling marriage. We Shall All Be Healed: tales of tweakers & meth addicts. Get Lonely – life after divorce. The Sunset Tree: Growing up with an abusive Step – Father. Moon Colony Bloodbath – human cloning on the moon.

    Antlers – Hospice: The toxic relationship of a dying patient & a hospice worker.

    Pedro The Lion – Winners Never Quit: Corrupt politician fixes election & murders his wife.

    Anais Mitchell – Hadestown: Orpheus & Eurydice revisited.

    When done well these things may save the album format. When not, it’s just a case of indulgent crap.

  14. Always though a bit of chemical ingestion helped me enjoy 70s concept jobbies.

    A particular favourite were the The Moody Blues albums. One fo the best, ‘In Search of the Lost Chord’, is described thus in Wikipedia:

    ‘In Search of the Lost Chord is a concept album around a broad theme of quest and discovery, including world exploration (Dr. Livingstone, I Presume), music and philosophy through the ages (House of Four Doors), lost love (The Actor), spiritual development (Voices in the Sky), knowledge in a changing world (Ride My See-Saw), higher consciousness (Legend of a Mind), imagination (The Best Way to Travel), and space exploration (Departure). Space exploration would go on to become the theme of the Moodies’ 1969 album To Our Children’s Children’s Children, inspired by and dedicated to the Apollo 11 mission. The mysterious “lost chord” of the title is revealed to be the mantra “Om” (in the last stanza of Graeme Edge’s poem “The Word”).’

    I’ve got a feeling that Ray Manzarak’s ‘The Golden Scarab’ was meant to be a concept jobbie.

    And how about Paul Kantner’s ‘Blows Against the Empire’?

    Love ’em all.

    Will also throw full weight behind Richmond Fontaine.

  15. A mention for “London Town” by The Magic Theatre (ex-Ooberman) – a beguiling time-travel love story set in London in the 19th century and the swinging 60s.

    Accompanied by videos on their website: http://www.themagictheatre.net

    I wonder if we’ll be seeing more web-based concept albums like this?

    Janelle Monae’s Metropolis deserves a mention too.

  16. I rather liked Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” album. It was just some old jazz standards and two of her own old songs performed with an orchestra but the order of the songs made it tell the story of a relationship from beginning to end.

    Of course, in some ways, Sinatra’s two Nelson Riddle albums (Songs for Swinging Lovers and In the Wee Small Hours) were concepts of a kind and they were both pretty nifty.

    Again, looking at “themed” albums rather than elaborate story-telling ones, I’d put in a shout for Randy Newman’s “Good Old Boys” – his “celebration” of the deep south in all its glory.

    • Hi severin. You know I never thought of Songs For Swinging Lovers as a thematic album, or any of them for that matter (showing my ignorance now eh?). It was an album that was in the family collection when I was a kid, as my Dad was a big fan. I used to love playing that album, and have always loved Frankie from then on in. I’ve never listened to his actual albums since being a nipper, only tracks and compilations. Thanks for pointing this out. May have to go on a shopping spree now!

      • I never thought of Songs For Swinging Lovers as a thematic album

        and I realise how thick I appear with that comment, as it’s pretty obvious that’s what it is, but what I meant was that I wasn’t aware that a lot of his albums were concept albums blah blah aahh!! ya know waat I mean innit!!

  17. Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake might qualify as half a concept album, or the psychedelic pioneer of the essentially prog genre. Stanley Unwin joins The Small Faces on Side 2, for the story of Happiness Stan trying not to worry about the waning of the moon. On Side 1, Lazy Sunday has a lyrical reference to the moon too.

  18. According to Wiki, a concept album is one that is “Unified by a theme”. And in that respect, not only do I find these type of albums acceptable, but in many cases far superior to others that are no more than a string of disjointed, unconnected and random pieces. These are often only put together to honour contractual arrangements with production companies or because the artist needs the money or wants to stay in the publics eye. I would rather spend an hour listening to something that flows, links together and tells a story than to have to listen to 16 different tracks that add up to nothing other than 3 hit singles and 13 other bits of “filling”.
    And if we accept unification of a theme as the basis for the idea of a concept are we then to diss many “classical” pieces that rely on themes for their being.
    Opera is totally dependant on story lines, and, although it’s not my favourite genre, I would never dismiss it as irrelevant.

    I also believe that the process of writing, recording and performing such music is a sign of superior musicianship [ is that a proper word ? Ed.]. Most of the writers of stage musicals and film scores – people who have been writing music for years – use themes to carry their story.

    I can’t say that all concept albums are superior to an album of standard pieces, say. For instance I would say that the Emerson Lake and Plalmer version of “Pictures at an Exhibition” is far inferior to an early Beatles album such as “With the Beatles”. But I will say that Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”, for example, beats anything that Queen ever did.

    All in all I think the “waste of space” tag belongs to artists who don’t have many ideas in their heads and are quite happy to put out albums containing a string of mediocre songs just for the money.

  19. I like quite a few of the proggie ones, because that was my era really; wouldn’t rule out others, just not familiar with them. Camel – The Snow Goose – springs to mind. And Mike Nesmith, of all people, with The Prison – very weird and wonderful though not for the faint hearted. “Dance between the raindrops” is probably the only track I actually like, but the idea is interesting.

  20. Well, although mentioned in the title, I do think Diamond Dogs by Bowie should get a shout out and I wonder if I could argue a case fro Floodland by the Sisters of Mercy? Quite often a band produce an album of complementary songs, not necessarily with a unified story or message, but when an album feels so much like an entity, does that make it a concept?

    A newer one would be Atlerred’s elctro-cabaret album, Mind-forged Manacles comes with a who conceptual stage show which is kind of a play.

  21. Pingback: DJ Brandy Presents Word Relations Music Playlist | Rear View Mirror The Contemporary Romance Novel

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