It’s not often you hear the term ‘concept album’ being thrown around like other music phrases such as ‘industry plant’, but if you dive into the music side of reddit each and every day like I do, then you’ve probably heard of it. A concept album is an album where every song reflects each other in terms of a chronological storyline or general theme. People are too scared to label their favourite artist’s latest album as a concept album because usually to fit into this obscure category an artists’ work has to be better than just ‘creative’. More often than not the album also has to have been produced at least twenty years ago, because every knows modern music is unoriginal, right?
Let’s take an obvious example that conforms to every expectation of a concept album first – the notorious The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Rome by David Bowie. The title alone sounds like a Sci-Fi book or film. This improvised anecdote of an album follows a fictional androgynous rock star who is sent to earth to warn the population that the world is ending in five years, which is very much reiterated in the opening track of the same name. Through galactic scenes mirroring the instruments and the characteristics of Ziggy Stardust mirroring the vocals, Bowie made sure this album would not age, with music fanatics still singing it’s praises today.
Looking at more modern concept albums, one I see significantly mentioned is Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid MAADcity. This 2012 album follows Lamar’s teenage years living in Compton, featuring him as the protagonist and his friend Dave and love interest Sherane as deuteragonists. Via dialogue interludes and a sample of Janet Jackson’s Any Time, Any Place’ on Poetic Justice, multiple incidents linger surrounding the likes of summer parties, staging a robbery and unanswered phone calls.
You’ll notice that the albums I’ve mentioned have been made by men, and you may or may not be surprised that male albums dominate the online discussions of concept albums. However, after searching for female concept albums on the internet, there are plenty of under appreciated projects out there created by women. The Fame Monster by Lady Gaga, The Ninth Wave by Kate Bush, Lemonade by Beyonce and Vulnicura by Bjork are just a few.
Out of all of these highly influential albums, I am going to focus on The Fame Monster by Lady Gaga. Each track represents at least one monster containing negative and/or positive aspects of fame, which are softly anticipated in Gaga’s previous album of a similar name The Fame. She made it clear that she wanted to explore fame itself, saying in an interview that “Pop culture is art. It doesn’t make you cool to hate pop culture, so I embraced it and you hear it all over The Fame.” This clearly goes for The Fame Monster too, where she takes emotions and personifies them, all while providing us with a smooth arrangement of hits.
All in all I guess we’ve established that anyone can make a concept album, but it’s also important to note that you are not obligate to like a concept album. You might think the music is insufferable, or the storyline is boring, but it’s not hard to recognise a strong theme in an album.