some of my favorite musical artists have relied on the concept album. many of these albums follow a pretty clear narrative structure and for one reason or another i have gravitated to them. plenty of bowies albums fall into this cateogry (ziggy stardust, perhaps hunky dory). but i think a few of the best examples are from a lesser known singer/ksongwriter, david bazan formerly the front man for pedro the lion, now producing work under his own name. i have been a supporter of this guy since the early aughts (i have a gigantic bias in favor of this guy) and he has gotten away from the concept album in his recent releases, but for a number of years that was a large part of his appeal. the albums “winners never quit” and “control” in particular follow a very specific narrative thread (though an argument could be made for all his albums as narratives). to be specific, “control,” an album that followed the dissolution of a marriage to a violent end and beyond struck me as particularly cinematic. but some people find concept albums tiresome and out of place.
thoughts? do you think music can tell a narrative as well or perhaps better or worse then film or literature? or any other form of art for that matter?
“thoughts? do you think music can tell a narrative as well or perhaps better or worse then film or literature? or any other form of art for that matter?”
I’m dating myself with this reference, but:
i was thinking in particular about opera, classically, of course. to refine my question a bit, i was thinking more in the realm of current manifestations. sure, opera is still being made today (saw jake hagies recent adaptation of moby dick at the new dallas opera house which was pretty good) but by and large, most of the younger generation does not connect with opera, which makes me wonder what the future of storytelling through music is. there is always the possibility that opera may find a new way of bringing a younger audience in, but i have noticed that some albums, indie or otherwise, are connecting with audiences in the same way that opera may have in previous times with the artistic culture. has the tide changed? are we getting more of our stories from pop or indie music? more examples are welcome.
btw, i would recommend taking a listen to the albums i mentioned. the effect is greatest, of course, if you listen to it all the way through, but i realize we dont all have the time to devote to that.
I doubt that the popular forms of music will see very many narrative projects. For one, people are less committed to albums and often play music on shuffle. And two, it is very hard to write good music that is also good narrative. Few people are going to even try to take that on when it is not clear that there will any rewards for doing so.
More likely is that there will be albums built on a theme, like The Big Pink’s A Brief History of Love that do not attempt to create a narrative.
Not contributing anything here…..but…Operation Mindcrime is incredible.
Yeah, Matt always finds the great examples.
Moody Blues- Days of Future Passed is my favorite album and tells the story of day
Styx- Kilroy was here :-)
Each artform has its own unique ways to tell stories. Sometmes, within the same artform the artist can choose a short form or longer method of telling a story. All art is story telling, or conveying a concept to the audience.
I don’t know if one way is better than the other, I think that you really have to look at each individual work and determine how effectively the story was told within the confines of the chosen medium.
At this point in my appreciation of Opera, opera is just music, and I prefer that I don’t understand the lyrics, because I think that, at this point at least, it may detract from my appreciation of the work.
As far as ‘rock operas’ or ‘concept albums’, I’ve always felt that they were over blown, and since rock music or prog music never reaches the heights of Mozart or Wagner; I just consider most concept albums to be pointless exercises that could have been boiled down to one or two songs, and then the artist could have moved on to another topic, even if in the same vein.
Blood on the Tracks, for instance, is not what one would call a ‘concept album’ but all of the works in the album are variations on a theme, and I feel that this method produces more fruitful results than something like “Tommy” or the Willie Nelson concept album, what was it called ‘the preacher’ or something.
Perhaps that is a bit unfair, though, comparing the very best album by the very best songwriter to The Who and Willie Nelson, but I think that the point still stands.
Pop music, for the most part, seems better suited to creating albums that follow a theme rather than a storyline. I say this because pop music – rock, metal, country, whatever – in album format offers the listener a very compartmentalized experience. So an album dedicated to a break-up (Beck’s Sea Change) or Americana (Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska) seems to be more effective than albums that attempt linear (or non-linear) narratives). Another factor is the live performance, which rarely follows an album song for song. Unless you’re Genesis, circa The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, you’re not going to want to play your album straight through night after night, and if you have a narrative album on your hands, you risk fragmenting it.
There are, of course, variables and exceptions to this; Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger, for instance, comes to mind as a stellar example of pop narrative. But too often the rock opera feels bloated, corny, and oppressive in its insistence on moving from point A to point B. Which album will stand the test of time, Who’s Next or Tommy?
Crap, Jason! You beat me to the punch. While I was writing the above response, you posted yours, citing some of the same examples as me.
Great Minds, Kid, Great minds!
I just think that the standard folk or pop song’s format provides an artist with plenty enough canvas to explore the weightier issues of the world in 3-10 minutes worth of song. Somebody once said that brevity is the soul of wit, and that guy was a pretty smart feller. Part of art is allowing the reader/listener/viewer to create his own ideas about a character and their intent. A simple turn of a phrase can be very pregnant with meaning and also furtile ground for the listener; and by contrast a 4 hour film can have umpteen number of scenes featuring a character and still leave us feeling distant from the cardboard constructed humanoid.
Another smart feller(berjuan) once said that from the beginning of time, every work of art was an attempt at creating cinema, and when we hear a great folk/pop song we are participating in the writer’s cinema, piecing together the words and in our minds constructing larger worlds that go beyond the few words on the page and playing out of our speakers.
Nebraska is a great example. Bruce at the height of his powers(The Wild, the innocent, and the E Street Shuffle; Born to Run; Nebraska; and The Ghost of Tom Joad) can make whole movies within the span of a 4-6 minute song.
-I doubt that the popular forms of music will see very many narrative projects. For one, people are less committed to albums and often play music on shuffle.-
Yes, I think one of the things that the digital age has led to is that it’s really easy for people to arrange music into whatever pattern
they want to, and therefore to tell whatever kind of story
they want it to tell, so there’s less point in having a narrative throughline in an album.
I prefer thematic albums. An album should be a cohesive statement but stringing a story through all of the songs is something that few have been successful at without coming off as ridiculous.