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In light of Arctic Monkeys newly released concept album ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino‘ (depicting them as the hotel band on a futuristic moon colony), this week we asked the crew to share with us their favourite concept album of all time and why! Some of these are a real blast from the past.

 

1. Nick Angell
The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway – Genesis (1974)

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Way back in my teens, one of my favourite bands was Genesis. The iconic album, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway was an absolute revelation. A true concept album that centres around a journey of self discovery of Rael, a Puerto Rican youth living in New York City and the bizarre incidents and characters he meets along the way.

I absolutely loved it, although it was released to initial mixed critical reception. It has since received critical acclaim. Two singles were released in the UK, “Counting Out Time” and my personal favourite “The Carpet Crawlers”, while the title track was released as a single in the US.

Peter Gabriel, lyricist and lead singer extraordinaire, left the band after this album and although they went on to release many more albums, I felt the band was never quite the same again.

My lasting memory was having the album on cassette and playing it frequently in my very first car, which was a turquoise blue Hillman Imp. Brilliant times…

 

2. Dave Robinson
The Small Faces – Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake (1968)

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One of my all time favourites, recorded back in the days when vinyl albums were often conceived with two distinct sides, although technically it is only really a half-concept album.

Side 1 is a belting collection of tripped-out, psychedelic, R&B-infused rock songs like the dizzying fuzz of ‘Song Of A Baker’, along with a bit of cockney knees-up in ‘Rene’. The latter being an amusing tale of a certain ‘lady of the night’ who could be found frequenting the docks of Tyneside!

Side 2 is where the concept kicks in. Now bear with me… It centres around the idea of a fairytale about a boy called Happiness Stan and his search to find the missing half of the moon, after seeing only a half-moon in the sky one night. Along the way, Stan meets a fly who he saves from starvation, who in turn grows really really big. Big enough for Stan to hitch a ride into the psychedelic cave of Mad John the Hermit, who explains that Stan needn’t worry because after being on his journey for so long the moon is now full again! The six songs on this side reflect the story and are all linked together with short snippets of narration, voiced by the inimitable Stanley Unwin in his own unique ‘Gobbledygook’ language. Sounds crazy but it works!

I think it’s safe to say that the ingestion of certain substances probably helped shape the development of this album, in turn making it one of the best records to come out of the 60’s. Sublime!

 

3. Tim O’Donoghue
Leviathan – Mastodon (2004)

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Leviathan is Mastodon’s interpretation of Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick.” The constant splashy cymbals, shifting time signatures, rolling kick drums and chugging guitars perfectly evoke the treacherous stormy seas. My favourite part is the guest vocals by Neil Fallon on the track “Blood and Thunder,” roaring out the words of Captain Ahab as he exhorts his men to “Break your backs and crack your oars” in his obsessive hunt for the white whale.

 

4. Tom Lane
Prince – Batman (1989)

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A great concept album and also a personal favourite of mine from Prince’s extensive back catalogue. The album was panned during its release in 1989 but during a Rolling Stone interview, Prince revealed that the project was initially supposed to be a collaboration between himself and Michael Jackson.

“Did you know that the album was supposed to be a duet between Michael Jackson and me? He as Batman, me as the Joker?”

With Prince singing funk songs for the villains while Michael Jackson would have sung ballads for the heroes. What a concept album that could have been!

 

5. Tom Angell
The ArchAndroid (Suites II and III) (2010)

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The concept: A love-lorn android travels back in time to free the future. This sticks out in my mind for various reasons, not least because there are some great songs on there (which is always important) but because the album marked the emergence of Janella Monae as a creative force. I also saw her perform it live at a festival in Sweden and the spectacle of the live show was incredible.

 

6. Vikesh Tailor
Michael Jackson – Thriller

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The sole purpose of this album was to literally save the music business as record producer Quincy Jones quite literally stated in a small circle to the A team – before production of the album began “Alright guys, lets save the music business”. As you could probably imagine at the time, legendary song writer – Rod Temperton was absolutely stunned for words.

At the time, iconic sound engineer Bruce Swedien went above and beyond boundaries to make Thriller a technical sonic masterpiece. Thriller is not only famous for its timeless hit wonders – but for its sonic fidelity. Released in 1982, and 33 years later, “Thriller” still stands as the best selling studio album in the United States, according to the RIAA which has certified a jaw dropping 33-times platinum. Inspiring entirely new generations. It has been estimated that more than 50 million copies have been sold internationally.

 

7. Alex Clark
Pink Floyd – The Piper At The Gates (1967)

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Syd Barrett’s rise and fall in the art rock genre can directly be compared to that of Icarus – in my opinion, I believe that his creative zenith was that of The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn album which then led to later musical marvels such as The Dark Side Of The Moon and The Wall,

With spacey echoes and dreamy chatters running through the first side, the album quickly descends into a black hole towards the end of that side – morphing into the Sci-fi Dystopia of Supercharged Guitar tones; the second side.

For me, I really enjoy the use of Syd Barretts Binson Echorec delay unit – which was essentially a mechanical unit that recorded audio onto a magnetic drum and played it back with a slight delay, similar to that of a tape delay.

A clear example of Barrett’s versatility to write both poppy and outlandish material encompassed into one successful first debut album.

 

8. Jordan Williams
Jay Z – American Gangster (2007)

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A flawless concept album in my eyes, inspired by the iconic film American Gangster in November 2007, this is a vintage Jay Z album; a timeless classic where he stated that almost every song is based on a specific scene from the film based on Frank Lucas.

Jay Z accurately describes it as “one of those movies where you champion the bad guy, because the bad guy, you know, he doesn’t seem like a bad guy, and the good guy — I mean the good guys are bad. You know, the complexity of human beings in this thing was amazing to me.”

For me personally it takes a true piece of art for you to feel endearment towards a character that is so detrimental to society and the album has a big role in setting the tone for this to work so effectively amongst the masses.

 

9. Bessie Norman
Gorrilaz – Demon Days (2005)

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I’ve chosen Demon Days as my favourite concept album as from a very early age I found Gorrilaz as a band incredibly intriguing. Perhaps at 10 years old it was their slightly amusing cooky voices and refreshingly un-romanced spooky lyrics… but this album has stood the test of time for me (unlike a lot of things I would’ve listened to back then).

Damon Alborn and Jamie Hewlett’s brainchild, the most obvious theme running through Gorillaz work is the four gimmicky cartoon personalities replaced the band members (2D, Russel, Murdoc and Noodle), that engulf the groups persona and lead the groups entire image.

However the most prominent concept the album embraces are the apocalyptic themes of destruction and darkness (something Alborn had adopted from the groups outset, but chose to relate directly to the troubles a post 9/11 world faced at the time instead of a fictional one). “It’s what we’re living in basically,” Albarn told MTV News at the time of the album, “the world in a state of night.”.
Somehow I feel this album remains more relevant than ever.