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Top Rock Concept Albums

Updated on January 29, 2015

My Personal Favourite Rock Concept Albums

Concept albums are defined by an album that is unified by a particular theme throughout, whether that be lyrically, instrumentally, or linked through one main narrative. Concept albums could either tell a story through the lyrics, be based around one defining theme, or use a common recurring pattern or composition. This is my lowdown of some of the best, more interesting and varied, rock concept albums. If you're looking for metal concept albums by heavier metal artists, check out my other lens on the subject too!

(Picture source: Created myself using Photoshop brushes)

The Mars Volta - De-Loused In The Comatorium

The Mars Volta were formed from the ashes of Texas post-hardcore band At The Drive-In. 'De-Loused In The Comatorium' was their debut album, released in June 2003. Despite very little promotion from the band's label, it was considered a commercial success, after selling over 500,000 copies.

De-Loused In The Comatorium
De-Loused In The Comatorium

'De-Loused In The Comatorium' is based on a short story written by lead singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala, about a man who emerges from a week-long coma induced by a drug overdose. The album features a range of latin and jazz musical stylings, as well as staying true to their post-hardcore roots.

 

Mars Volta - Inertiatic ESP

Pink Floyd - The Wall

Pink Floyd produced several concept albums in their lifetime, but this is my personal favourite of theirs. 'The Wall' was released in 1979, with a movie based on the album released 3 years later. To date is has sold well over 11 million copies, and for good reason. Its an incredible body of music, spanning over 2 CDs. Featuring a mainly prog-rock influence, but also more aggressive and operatic than many similar artists.

The Wall
The Wall

'The Wall' is the story of Pink, a musician in a rock band. He is struggling with the death of his father in the Second World War, ridicule from his teachers, his over-protective mother, and the break up with his wife, not to mention trying to put on a brave face as the frontman of his band. He builds a mental 'wall' to isolate himself from society, until the wall collapses in an epic conclusion. The album was very personal to the band, being based on previous frontman Syd Barrett's life, as well as situations that bassist Roger Waters had himself been through.

 

Pink Floyd (1971)

Source

The Who - Quadrophenia

The Who's 'Quadrophenia' was released in 1973 to critical acclaim. Its name is based on the linking of 2 words, 'Quadrophonic' (a way of recording music through 4 channels instead of the usual 2) and 'Schizophrenia', a mental disorder. The band chose the name because it signifies the 4 personalities of Jimmy Cooper, the album's lead character, a link to the 4 members of The Who. A cutting-edge and topical album when first reelased, touching on both schizophrenic issues, and those of the dying Mod scene to which Jimmy is a follower of.

Quadrophenia
Quadrophenia

Jimmy Cooper is a member of The Mods, a following popular in the late 1960 rivalled by the Rockers, another pop culture. The album sees his 4 personalities struggle amongst themselves, as well as him cope with the breakdown of his Mod culture, vicious battles against the Rockers, and his own personal difficulties in life. A deep and very involving album, one which Pete Townshend has even considered to be "the best album that I will ever write." (Source: The Times Online)

 

My Chemical Romance - The Black Parade

The third album by New Jersey emo rockers My Chemical Romance, 'The Black Parade' was released in 2006. The album was written with a much more classic vibe than their earlier work, the band were quoted that artists like Queen and Pink Floyd were big influences on them, not only for the sound, but also their stage presence, video direction, and even lead singer Gerard Way's onstage mannerisms! While touring the album, the band performed as an alter-ego, named 'The Black Parade', donning matching uniforms similar to The Beatles' "Sgt Pepper" era.

The Black Parade
The Black Parade

The album tells the story of a man referred to as 'The Patient', who dies of cancer. The lyrical content tells the story of his death, the events that unfold in the afterlife, and his reflection on the life he's led. It is an epic rock opera, musically its the most expansive the band had done to date, taking a big influence from other concept artists like David Bowie and Pink Floyd, and classic rock such as Queen and Alice Cooper.

 

David Bowie - The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars

"The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars", often just referred to as just 'Ziggy Stardust', was British glam-rocker David Bowie's 5th album in as many years. The album is loosely based on a fictional rock star, and is said that Bowie styled him on the musician Vince Taylor, whom he had met after Taylor had suffered from a mental breakdown.

Ziggy Stardust
Ziggy Stardust

Ziggy Stardust is part human, part alien. He brings his message to Earth, five years before the world is due to end, and hopes to spread hope across the globe. He becomes the ultimate rock star; partaking in copious amounts of drug consumption and sex, yet still wishing to spread a massage of peace and love. Eventually he is destroyed by his own excesses, as well as the fanbase he tried so hard to inspire.

 

Dredg - El Cielo

'El Cielo' was the second album released by the progressive rock band Dredg, the title translating from Spanish as 'the sky' or 'the heavens'. The album itself is mainly influenced by a Salvador Dali painting, Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bumblebee around a Pomegranate One Second Before Awakening. Rumours circulating the Internet around the time of release hinted that the album was made to synchronise with the Michael Gondry movie 'Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind". However, it is believed that this is purely coincidental.

El Cielo
El Cielo

The first album in this listing to be inspired by a piece of art, the song titles and themes take influence from a Salvador Dali painting. The painting itself is made up of many different parts and characters, and each track on the album mentions a different piece of the artwork. The first track, "Brushstroke: dcbtfoabaaposba" actually includes the acronym to the painting, while the stilted elephant in the painting is referenced in the track "Brushstroke: An Elephant in the Delta Waves" .

 

Genesis - The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway

The sixth Genesis album, and the last one to feature singer Peter Gabriel. Recording and writing the album caused a lot of friction between the band members, Gabriel was away for much of the time as his wife was having difficulty with her first pregnancy, and when the band were writing together, there were several 'artistic differences' between the bandmates. The album, was released to a very positive reception, and is still considered as a 'Classic' prog-rock album to this day

The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

The story itself is a complex one, with articles and reviews all over the Internet, of exactly what the album means and the story it follows. However, the majority agree that the album is based on Rael, A Puerto Rican juvenile delinquent. He believes he is trying to save his brother John, so must enter the underworld of New York City to rescue him from nightmarish creatures that live below there. He then discovers that he isn't looking for his brother at all, but in fact has a split personality and is searching for the missing part of himself.

 

Smashing Pumpkins - Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness

When 'Mellon Collie' was written, frontman Billy Corgan believed it could potentially be the band's final album, so they approached it as if it was their last. (He was eventualyl wrong, however, as the band are still going today) They already had a large amount of material left over after their previous album 'Siamese Dream', so 'Mellon Collie' was released as a 28-track, 2CD album. When released in 2005, the album debuted at Number One in the Billboard charts in the USA

Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness

Although frontman Billy Corgan doesn't consider the album to be a 'concept album', he has also mentioned that the album is based on "The human condition of mortal sorrow" (source: "SPFA.org). The 2 discs are considered to represent day and night.

 

Smashing Pumpkins - Tonight, Tonight

Cursive

Cursive are an indie-rock band originating from Omaha in Nebraska. They formed in 1995, and released their debut album "Such Blinding Stars for Starving Eyes" 2 years later. After a year-long hiatus ending in 1999, they began working on their first concept album, 'Domestica'. To date, they have released a total of 7 studio albums, several have them have been based on different concepts.

The Ugly Organ
The Ugly Organ

'The Ugly Organ' tells the story of the Ugly Organist, and the life of love, lust, and empty sex that he lives.

 
Cursive's Domestica
Cursive's Domestica

"Sweety" and "Pretty Baby" are the 2 characters in Cursive album 'Domestica', and discusses their relationship with each other, their differences, and their disagreements. It has been suggested that the album is based on lead singer Tim Kasher's divorce, although he has also reported in interviews that despite their difficulties, the 2 characters stay together at the end of the album.

 

Coheed And Cambria

Coheed and Cambria aren't so much a producer of concept albums, their entire back catalogue is one entire concept, covering one vast story spread over an entire universe. Every album tells the story of 'The Amory Wars', a story written by the band's lead singer Claudio Sanchez.. Coheed and Cambria are husband and wife, living on a darker version of Earth. They have 4 children, although their only surviving son is Claudio Kilgannon. Most of the Kilgammon family is killed in the first album, the rest of the band's back catalogue follows the story of Claudio and how he becomes 'The Crowing' (except for 'Year Of The Black Rainbow', which is a prequel to the series)

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