By: Sam Kayuha, In The Record Store staff writer.
There is hardly a term in music that has had highs and lows like “concept album.” The phrase conjures up memories of both the bloated results of overly ambitious projects and brilliant outings, and there’s a little less of the latter.
But the albums that find their way to acclaim tend to become essential.
Columbus legends Earwig was promoting its new record “Pause for the Jets,” its take on the rock opera genre, involving a conflict with inter-dimensional demons, when they joined In The Record Store last month. The album was released last fall.
“(Lead singer Lizard McGee) developed this theory of an alternate version of Columbus where Earwig is a band who fights demons,” said vocalist James McGee-Moore on the podcast. The record is available for streaming and for physical purchase — I would get on that (buy here).
Also, get on the classics of the concept album genre — here are five to know.
“The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust” by David Bowie: Bowie’s biggest breakthrough came in 1972, on the back of an album that told the story of an androgynous alien rock star who comes to earth five years before it is destroyed. In the 4-plus decades since its release, the album stands as one of rock’s greatest, its theatricality epitomizing the glam era of the early 70's.
Bowie would follow Ziggy with a career of reinvention, and the character is one of many by which people remember him. But Stardust remains his first, and maybe biggest, impact on music and culture.
“The Wall” by Pink Floyd: A double-album rock opera is a daunting one-two punch, and Pink Floyd remains perhaps the only band it pull it off flawlessly.
Isolation, capitalism, drug abuse and Norman Bates-ian maternal relationships all factor into a story that starts in childhood and comes a climax with the building of a metaphorical wall and abandonment of the outside world. Every note sounds written in pen, bricks in the wall that makes up the work. This is the definitive rock opera.
“American Idiot” by Green Day: Green Day was a snotty punk band for a long time. It was the band that named their first major-label album after crap, until they put out “American Idiot.” The record is a reaction to president George W. Bush’s first team, putting a generation’s rage and confusion into 13 tracks.
“The Black Parade” by My Chemical Romance: The emo revival is alive and well, right on time for young millennial identity crises. The high point of that era in music, the mid-2000s (an embarrassing time to recall, at least for me and my memories of adolescence), was “The Black Parade.” A story about death and dying, it remains somehow an uplifting album.
“Good Kid, maad City,” by Kendrick Lamar: Kendrick Lamar might be the best rapper ever. His two widely circulated albums have been two of the best of the decade, combining genius songwriting and production with the rare lyricism in this, the age of Lil Yachty.
The album follows a good kid, Kendrick, or a character based on his experiences, in a mad city, Compton, California. It listens like a movie, all with enough hooks and melody to matter as much as the story. From searching for Sherane to running from the police, this is an eloquent autobiography.