A couple of weeks ago, Green Day dropped their new CD, "21st Century Breakdown," an arena-ready record that uses the "concept album" structure to weave a story of social dissatisfaction that echoes the political awareness of "American Idiot," the band's concept album released five years ago.
So before this turns into a review of the Green Day album (although I'll get to that at some point), let me define what a concept album is.
My purpose for this blog and the one on My Space is to hopefully get readers interested enough in the albums I rant about that they may actually go out and buy them. Not download them, but actually buy the physical release (either LP or CD).
Artists spend a lot of time putting together an album. They write twice as many songs as will fit. They agonize over which tracks to leave off. They spend days coming up with a track order. A good album is meant to be listened to as a complete work, and one of the unfortunate side effects of iTunes is that the idea of listening to the album as a complete work is being lost.
I've said often that I am not a fan of a covers album. One of the reasons is that it really does not fit in well with my vision of an album as a complete work-it's a collection of pieces of other artists' work.
A concept album, then, is my opposite end of the spectrum-not only is it a collection of songs that are meant to be listened to as a complete work, the songs themselves either share a theme or tell a story. Listen to "Tommy," or "Operation: Mindcrime," or almost any progressive rock album for that matter and you'll see what I mean.
The concept album usually has a clear plot, and makes use of interwoven and consistent lyrical themes and instrumental motifs that result in some of the best albums of the last four decades.
And that, in a nutshell, is why "21st Century Breakdown" has been in a pretty constant rotation on my CD players since May 15.
Other essential concept albums (in no particular order and certainly not all inclusive):
Pink Floyd "The Dark Side Of The Moon"
The Who "Tommy"
Jethro Tull "Thick As A Brick"
David Bowie "The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars"
David Bowie "Diamond Dogs"
Rush "2112" (with apologies to Stephen T. McCarthy)
Alan Parsons Project "I Robot"
Radiohead "OK Computer"
Dream Theater "Scenes From A Memory"
Saga "Generation 13"
Spock's Beard "Snow"
Queensryche "Operation Mindcrime" and "Operation Mindcrime II"
Alice Cooper "Along Came A Spider"
Marillion "Misplaced Childhood"
Todd Rundgren "Healing" (as if I was going to have a list and not mention Todd)
Go buy one of the above titles on CD or LP...put on some good headphones (not those iPod earbuds) and listen to the music the way it was meant for you to listen to it!