The last word on concept albums… for now

The last thing I’ll say about concept albums, and I’ll try not to go on for 47 paragraphs this time, is that I think it’s easier (and maybe more necessary) to do a concept album when your music is more abstract and/or experimental.

I think my approach would be a lot different if:

a) I could sing
b) I could adhere to a recognizable song structure
c) I could write lyrics about something other than science and man-made disasters

In other words, if I were a better songwriter, I would probably focus on crafting songs. As it is, my music is more sprawling and chaotic, and the only way I can rein it in at all for the purpose of producing an album is by coming up with an overarching concept.

The art of the concept album

A concept albumI love concept albums. They’re self-indulgent and pompous… two of the best traits a musician can have! (And anyone who thinks punk’s ascension in the late ’70s killed off pomposity in rock music is deluding themselves. Punk is as pompous as it can get!)

Anyway… the topic of concept albums came up in the RPM forums today, and I wrote such a self-indulgent and pompous post on the matter that I just felt I had to cross-post it here. To wit:

I don’t think I’m capable of making an album that’s not a concept album… although the nature of what constitutes a concept album can vary a lot. Let’s see… here’s a complete chronology of my solo albums and EPs since I really got into doing this in 2001.

Concept: All track titles are nicknames a particular friend of mine has had at some point in his life; music on each track corresponds to characteristics of the nickname.

TAI CHI AND CHAI TEA (October 2003)
Concept: Not so much, really, although I did structure the CD as if it were two sides, with a “Tai Chi” side and a “Chai Tea” side, and the track sequence was designed around that. Oh, and there’s a 13-minute, 5-“movement” suite about the Iraq war, to make up for the lack of an overall concept.

Concept: Atari. All of the tracks have Atari 2600 sounds incorporated in them.

Concept: Can it get any more grandiose? The album represents the entire arc of the existence of the universe, from Big Bang to Heat Death. A suite in the middle also represents the entire arc of human existence from cavemen to the present day, in case it wasn’t pretentious enough already. I was so spent by the concept on this album that I went two years without recording anything after it was completed.

Concept: Probably the only thing I’ve ever done without a real concept, but I guess I was trying to capture the essence of all of my musical influences, right down to the second-hand nature of the album’s title.

DIVISION BY ZERO [VOL. I] (EP, August 2007)
Concept: The beginning of an extended autobiographical project. Each track has a year in the title and corresponds to some significant event in my life from that year. This 3-song EP features events from 1973 (my conception), 1976 (not sure, but it involves a new bed, vomit and hospitalization) and 1978 (pizza).

Concept: This was my RPM submission last year. The concept is strange places, or more accurately, places made strange by human activity. Each track is a sonic representation of some of my favorite made-weird-by-people places on earth.

TECHNETIUM (EP, February 2008)
Concept: A one-track, 38-minute “EP”; the characteristics of this minimalist techno track were determined based on properties of the technetium atom. Yeah… I forgot to mention “nerd alert.”

Concept: The Mellotron. Oh, how I love it.

THE BEE LP! (October 2008)
Concept: Bees. All tracks represent something about bees and their behavior.

Concept: This is going to be my RPM submission for this year. Each track title is an anagram of my name. The first letters of each of the 13 tracks, in order, spell out my name. How’s that for establishing some parameters for yourself.

Anyway… my reason for going on at such length here (besides extreme narcissism) is to perhaps give some ideas as to how broad the idea of a “concept album” can be — and how inspiring it can be to dive into a project like this with a specific concept in mind. I find I can be most creative when I have a set of parameters to work within. It gives me a starting point… and a destination.