Vulture

Skip to content, or skip to search.

stories

Vulture’s Handy Guide to the Nine Types of Concept Albums

Coldplay's Mylo Xyloto, out this week, is the latest in a long, sometimes ill-advised, but always ambitious musical tradition known as the concept album. (Mylo's specific concept is still a little murky, but we know it involves princesses and xylophones.) Chris Martin and friends are not the only band attempting the rock opera: The Roots recently announced plans for their own narrative effort as well. Plots are all the rage, apparently, but how will these new stories compare with the classic rock operas of yore? And are there, perhaps, some common themes to the concept album? To help put these new attempts into broader historical context, Vulture spent many hours weeping to tragic rock operas in order to provide you with a digestible, story-based guide to the nine types of concept albums. Are you in the mood for an unlikely messiah, a magical adventure with a vegetable boy, or a dystopian world in which rock is the answer (it always is)? Pick your protagonist, and enjoy.

1. SEMI-AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL TALES ABOUT THE ROCK LIFE …

… in which stadium tours will make you go crazy: Pink Floyd's The Wall.

… in which too much fan adulation will make you think God is talking to you: The Smashing Pumpkins’ Machina/The Machines of God.

… in which a musician and his writing partner become famous and everything works out great! (drug and alcohol addiction begins after album): Elton John's Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy.

2. AN UNLIKELY MESSIAH …

... is a deaf, dumb, and blind pinball wizard: the Who's Tommy.

... is a time-traveling android: Janelle Monáe, Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase Suite) and The ArchAndroid (Suites II and III).

… is an androgynous rock star alien: David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

3. IS CRIME GLAMOROUS?

It is when you're an outlaw in the old West: Eagles' Desperado.

… full of childlike wonder, until the Feds show up to ruin things: Arcade Fire's The Suburbs.

It isn't when you're a young emcee who gets into drug dealing to raise money to record a demo: Prince Paul's A Prince Among Thieves.

4. IS TECHNOLOGY GOOD?

No! The machines will rise and man will decline!: The Alan Parsons Project's I Robot.

Sure! Computers are awesome, especially in 1981!: Kraftwerk's Computer World.

Yes and no! Advanced nuclear weapons will kill us all, sure, but a wheelchair-bound boy in a vegetative state can warn us of that by communicating through computers!: Roger Waters, Radio K.A.O.S..

5. AMERICA IS …

… bad, because soda and Ritalin are desensitizing today's youth: Green Day's American Idiot.

… bad, because superficiality has taken over the American Dream: Madonna's American Life.

…bad, especially when you come back from Vietnam and see what a mess it is: Marvin Gaye's What's Going On.

… not great, but traveling across it helps keeps your mind off dwelling on the pain of womanhood: Tori Amos, Scarlet's Walk.

6. IN THIS TOWN, LIFE CAN BE …

… full of childlike wonder, until the Feds show up to ruin things: Arcade Fire's The Suburbs.

… perfect, but those traditions are vanishing so booooo (English small town): The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society.

… an endless party filled with pimps, addicts, and skinheads (Brooklyn): The Hold Steady, Separation Sunday.

… filled with racism and fighting (West London housing project): Pete Townshend's White City: A Novel.

… perfectly fine and wrapping up with some white satin (Everytown, U.K.): The Moody Blues, Days of Future Passed.

7. LIFE SUCKS …

… when you're in a doomed relationship: Death Cab for Cutie, We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes.

… when you die: My Chemical Romance, The Black Parade.

... when you run away from an abusive home but things get worse out on the street: Husker Du, Zen Arcade.

... when you lose your kids and slip into drug addiction: Lou Reed, Berlin.

... because of everything: Nine Inch Nails, The Downward Spiral.

8. MAGICAL ADVENTURES …

… underneath the streets of New York City: Genesis, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.

… in a kid's nightmares: Alice Cooper, Welcome to My Nightmare.

… in a Lord of the Rings–style fantasy world of metal: Dio, Magica.

… at the hands of evil magician the Great Milenko: Insane Clown Posse's Dark Carnival Mythology.

... in the 1800s, when a Mexican spell is somehow the actual cause of WWI: Blue Oyster Cult, Imaginos.

9. A DYSTOPIAN WORLD …

... in which a disillusioned man becomes a political assassin: Queensryche, Operation: Mindcrime.

... in which a disillusioned teenage soldier becomes a suicide bomber: Camper Van Beethoven, New Roman Times.

...in which music is outlawed, and a former rock star escapes from prison to bring it back: Styx, Kilroy Was Here

... in which music is outlawed and a man attempts to learn guitar, only to have priests destroy it and drive him to suicide: Rush, 2112.

… in which music is outlawed, and a disillusioned guitarist descends into a journey of Scientology knockoffs, wet T-shirt contests, and prison: Frank Zappa, Joe's Garage.