Concept albums have always been a fascinating journey through the world of music. They take us on sonic adventures, weaving stories and themes that transcend the ordinary. While defining a concept album can be tricky, they are typically characterized by a unified theme or narrative that runs through the entire album. Let’s dive into the world of concept albums and rank the top 10 most out-of-this-world ones:
10. Judas Priest – ‘Nostradamus’ (2008)
Judas Priest decided to tackle the life of the famed French seer Nostradamus in their first concept album. While the concept was intriguing, the execution left something to be desired. Fans were less than thrilled with uninspired ballads and an overemphasis on keyboards and strings.
9. Garth Brooks – ‘The Life of Chris Gaines’ (1999)
Garth Brooks, known for his country prowess, took a bold step into the world of rock with his alter ego, Chris Gaines. The album ‘The Life of Chris Gaines’ introduced a fictional Australian-born rocker. Despite its ambitious concept, the move alienated Brooks’ country fan base and didn’t resonate with the rock world.
8. Billy Idol – ‘Cyberpunk’ (1993)
Billy Idol ventured into the realm of electronic beats and samples with ‘Cyberpunk.’ The album delved into themes of technology and the internet’s dawn, accompanied by spoken-word segments between songs. While it reflected the growing influence of technology, it marked the end of Idol’s hot streak in music.
7. Blue Oyster Cult – ‘Imaginos’ (1988)
‘Imaginos’ attempted to create an alternate history spanning two centuries, incorporating the occult, astrology, and World War I. The album, based on poems and scripts written by Sandy Pearlman, was intended to be a trilogy of double albums but ended up as a single LP.
6. Frank Zappa – ‘Thing-Fish’ (1984)
Frank Zappa was known for his satirical concept albums, but ‘Thing-Fish’ took things to a bizarre level. Intended as a Broadway musical, it delved into controversial themes and stereotypes, making it a challenging project that was never produced during Zappa’s lifetime.
5. Styx – ‘Kilroy Was Here’ (1983)
Styx’s ‘Kilroy Was Here’ centered on paranoia surrounding the impact of rock music on the youth of the world. Singer Dennis DeYoung had a grand vision for a stage production and film to tell the story. However, creative differences during the tour led to guitarist Tommy Shaw’s departure.
4. Stevie Wonder – ‘Journey Through ‘The Secret Life of Plants” (1979)
After a string of groundbreaking albums, Stevie Wonder’s ‘Journey Through ‘The Secret Life of Plants” served as the soundtrack for a documentary. The largely instrumental album featured tracks with lyrics based on the source material, deviating from his previous love songs and social commentary.
3. L. Ron Hubbard – ‘Space Jazz’ (1982)
Science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard created ‘Space Jazz’ as a musical companion to his book ‘Battlefield Earth.’ The album featured legendary musicians like Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke. While it had a definite early ’80s vibe, it came off as a mix of musical theater, children’s show, and disaster film soundtrack.
2. Kiss – ‘Music From The Elder’ (1981)
Kiss embarked on a conceptual journey with ‘Music From The Elder,’ exploring themes of good vs. evil and heroes rising. Co-written by Gene Simmons and featuring Lou Reed, the album marked a departure from their signature sound, challenging fans’ expectations.
1. Lou Reed – ‘Metal Machine Music’ (1975)
Taking the top spot is Lou Reed’s ‘Metal Machine Music,’ a conceptual work in its own right. This two-LP instrumental set featured continuous feedback, guitar noise, and effects. It provoked strong reactions, with some considering it an act of provocation and others recognizing it as a bold artistic statement. Reed’s conceptual “art” still sparks discussions to this day.