Concept Albums – Don't Be A Bloody Idiot
Thinking of basing your new album around the story of an eagle flying over The Andes and death?
You’d be a fool not to (see *). Concept albums, much like bow ties – are cool and with ‘wicc(a)’ Sheffield supergroup The Eccentronic Research Council bringing their potions and startling stories of The Pendle Witch Trials to Queens Social Club later this month – plus a great heritage of concept albums in Sheffield (examples below) – we thought we’d run through a few of our favourites.
The Wall? Ziggy Stardust? Not in here. Ver Flody and Der Bowie are the masters but we’ve tried to find a few lesser spotted (but equally amazing) examples with the emphasis on the recent second wave of concept albums of the last couple of years for this unordered top ten. Let’s gatefold!
LUKE HAINES – 9 ½ PSYCHEDELIC MEDITATIONS ON BRITISH WRESTLING OF THE 1970s AND EARLY 80s
Rasslin’! This is our online ed’s favourite. Haines did Lenny Valentino when he was The Auteurs and since then he’s been following a path less travelled we’d describe as 'Red Riding meets Brotherhood of Man’s Angelo'…
‘9 ½ Psychedelic Meditations on British Wrestling of the 1970s and Early 80s’ is a concept album about the likes of Kendo Nagasagi, Jackie Pallo and (Sheffielder Alert!) Leon Arras and it manages to pull a strange kind of glamour from the granny-catnip demi-sport. Here’s an ad.
CUD – WHEN IN ROME, KILL ME
Nineties indie skuttlers Cud hail from Leeds but remain beloved in Sheffield. Their debut is Exposed Magazine Graphic Designer Overlord Marc’s tip. Why? “Because it’s the most ridiculous concept album ever with nothing pretentious or up its own *rse,” Offers Exposed's expert typosetter. “It’s about a girl who needs a pair of glasses with slight Scooby Doo elements.” You know what? Sold. Here’s the band performing ‘Push and Shove’ from the album on their visit to the Leadmill last year…
NEUTRAL MILK HOTEL – IN THE AEROPLANE OVER THE SEA
Over to Robert from Sheffield's Nick-Cave-meets-Stereolab crooners The Purgatory Players for this one. Rob? ”At least three of us Players would name this album as our favourite ever. Heavily inspired by songwriter Jeff Mangum reading Anne Frank's diary, it also narrates the magical-realist myth poems of a whole host of other bizarre characters including an embalmed two-headed foetus that lives in a jar. Sublime, poetic, moving and experimental, every listen opens new doors and shows new worlds. A huge influence on our own album….”
Here’s ‘King of Carrot Flowers’ from the album.
MAROON 5 – SONGS ABOUT JANE
What’s this? Exposed’s Magazine Editor Carl picks an album about girls? Textbook. Why Maroon 5, Carlos 1? “Does exactly what it says on the tin. An album about a girl – the good bits, the bad bits and everything inbetween. I love it and it soundtracked a great time in my life mostly spent playing acoustic covers in Menzels…” Which is marvellous, but we’ve never been sure about ‘She Will Be Loved’. Is it time for a reappraisal?
GIRLS ALOUD – CHEMISTRY
Dealwithit.gif. A concept album about being a lass in your twenties in London. That’s right. Each song contains an average of five different choruses because it’s produced by Xenomania. Look, Johnny Marr's a fan, alright?
THE DECEMBERISTS – THE CRANE WIFE
We KNEW we could rely on The Payroll Union to pipe up with a suggestion. Their addictive Jeremy Kyle-like takes on Gothic Americana murders and murky goings own feature more tall tales than a giraffes' book club. Here’s Pete David from the band with his shout. “Following up from the magnificent Picaresque, The Crane Wife centres on a Japanese folk tale – from where the title is taken – and Shakespeare's The Tempest. It's an epic tale of bravery, valour and doomed love…"
"The Decemberists' Colin Meloy has for a long time been one of my favourite songwriters but The Crane Wife showcases a wonderful historical curiosity as he brings to life on The Siege of Leningrad during WWII ('When The War Came') and the brutal Shankhill Butchers who were connected to the Ulster Volunteer Force in the 1970s. Rousing, dramatic and then at once playful, the album has been a constant source of inspiration for me as a songwriter…"
Drokk’s described as ‘music inspired by Mega-City One’, stomping ground for sci-fi fascist lawman Judge Dredd from the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic. Initially put together by Geoff Barrow from Portishead and Life of Mammals composer Ben Salisbury to accompany the 2012 movie, the pair subsequently released it separately with 2000AD’s blessing.
Is it a concept album? Well it’s instrumentals so it feels more like a soundtrack than a concept album in some ways. But what’s cool about Drokk’s lack of lyrics (it’s much more interested in John Carpenter-like synth throbs that sound like early Human League stems) is that you wind up making up the stories to go along with titles like ‘Clone Gunman’ and ‘Lawmaster/Pursuit’. And in any case, Inhale is the best thing since sliced perp.
ABC – THE LEXICON OF LOVE
Produced by most of The Art of Noise, who did a concept album about Claude Debussy – which is just typical of them really. The Lexicon of Love has apparently been described as not a concept album by ABC mainman Martin Fry, but its themes of lost love run through it like letters through a stick of broken rock. Crushed underfoot by a heartless beau, no doubt. Here’s Look of Love.
ARCTIC MONKEYS – WHATEVER PEOPLE SAY I AM THAT’S WHAT I’M NOT
The title is a line of dialogue from classic kitchen sink Nottingham-athon Saturday Night, Sunday Morning and like Karel Reiwsz’s film (which stars James Bond’s gamekeeper) the Monkeys’ first album is a gallop through working class nightlife and dead-end days separated by a gap of some fifty years. There’s a nice rundown of its story on the blog This Is Stereo Control and Turner’s stories of dancefloor politics and sidestreet rollocks would make a great movie actually, although Warp Films’ Scummy Man probably stole its thunder. Speaking of which…
THE ECCENTRONIC RESEARCH COUNCIL – 1612 UNDERTURE
You didn’t think we’d leave it out did you? The All Seeing-I’s Dean Honer and Kings Have Long Arms's Adrian Flanagan joining forces was a potent mix for the more discerning electonic brutalist fan to begin with, but stir in actor Maxine Peake, plus an album that tells the story of the Pendle Witch Trials and you've got a delicious, if deadly brew indeed. Here's 'Another Witch is Dead', which combines Flanagan's burr with some quite spectacular Peake…
* As mad and windswept as asking for directions in Manor Top, Chilean band Los Jaivas’s ‘Alturas de Macchu Picchu’ is a concept album about ancient buried sorrows, crucifixions and llamas. Based on Chilean poet Pablo Neruda’s work Heights of Machu Picchu there’s a TV special of the whole thing. Enjoy!
And that's our ten! Drop us a line in the comments with your concept album tips. See you on the flip side.
The Eccentronic Research Council play Queens Social Club on Friday January 18th as part of Delia Derbyshire Day. Tickets start from £5.50 and are available here.