…And The Imaginative Stories That Each Of Them Tell
Is there any better demonstration of an artist’s creativity, talent and songwriting prowess than the concept album?
Since the idea of using an album’s run-time to tell a deeper, often fictional story was popularised by The Beatles with the 1967 release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, there has been no shortage of artists following suit, taking a break from their signature songwriting styles and entering the world of musical storytelling.
Concept albums show no sign of slowing down in their popularity any time soon, with several iconic story albums having been released since the turn of the 21st century – and we can’t wait to see what this often enthralling, often exciting and sometimes bizarre subcategory of music brings us next!
In the meantime, why not take some time to enjoy five of the most iconic concept albums of the 21st century so far?
The ArchAndroid – Janelle Monae (2010)
Standout Tracks: Suite II Overture, Faster, Mushrooms & Roses
In a futuristic tale that could impress even the pickiest of science-fiction fans, The ArchAndroid is Janelle Monae’s first full album – with a bold one-hour-and-eight-minute run-time. It marks the conclusion to her Metropolis concept album series, having introduced listeners to the saga with her ambitious debut EP, Metropolis: The Chase Suite, in 2007 – though the story itself is set in the year 2719!
Including both the second and third parts of the Metropolis story – with the separate ‘chapters’ of the album marked by two dramatic orchestral suites – The ArchAndroid focuses on the unlikely romance between an AI and a human billionaire, and the trials and tribulations which result from it. Incorporating a mix of several genres (The ArchAndroid can be tied to everything from neo-soul, to R&B, to psychedelic pop) and eighteen incredible tracks, this is arguably one of the most courageous debuts of the 21st century, and one which Monae carries off with immense talent, class and imagination.
The Defamation Of Strickland Banks – Plan B (2010)
Standout Tracks: Love Goes Down, She Said, Prayin’
Having made his name originally as a grime artist in 2005, fans of Plan B were shocked at the turn of the last decade when he made the unexpected decision to side-step into an entirely new genre with his soulful second album, The Defamation Of Strickland Banks – a move that would ultimately prove very successful.
The Defamation Of Strickland Banks isn’t just bold in the sense that it was breaking new ground for Plan B, however. The album itself positions the rap artist as the titular character, Strickland Banks, a fictitious soul singer who finds himself wrongfully convicted of a violent crime after a one-night stand with an obsessive fan of his music. Listeners will surely be familiar with the album’s breakout hit She Said, a song which, out of context, is simply an infectious, doo-wop-inspired track. When listening to the album as a whole, however, She Said takes on a much clearer, darker meaning – a central turning-point in the cautionary tale of fallen titan Strickland Banks.
IGOR – Tyler, The Creator (2019)
Standout Tracks: EARFQUAKE, I THINK, A BOY IS A GUN*
This Grammy award-winning, genre-bending album combines retro beats and unnerving synth melodies with Tyler, The Creator’s signature style to tell the story of titular character Igor, who finds himself caught in an emotional tug-of-war with the former girlfriend of a man that he has fallen in love with.
While the story itself is presented as entirely fictitious, Igor is largely considered to be an extension of Tyler himself, who has famously used his music to express his feelings regarding the struggle to come to terms with his sexuality over the years. In this sense, IGOR is Tyler’s most honest work yet – and certainly the one which presents him at his most emotionally vulnerable.
A natural follow-up to 2016’s Flower Boy, IGOR is yet another sign that Tyler, The Creator knows exactly how to bring any story to life in his own uniquely compelling way.
After Hours – The Weeknd (2020)
Standout Tracks: Heartless, Blinding Lights, In Your Eyes
Briefly covered recently during our look into his musical evolution, After Hours is the ambitious fifth album by The Weeknd – and it’s his most ambitious work yet.
Supported by a series of brilliantly directed music videos and carefully constructed live appearances, After Hours tells a story of excess, violence and psychological horror. Listeners who are yet to separate the lyrics from the vibrant 1980s instrumentals could very easily miss that After Hours charts the decline of one man from famous, high-rolling star to a troubled, violent individual, featuring every inciting incident along the way – including being decapitated and ultimately brought back to life!
Bold, brave and often bizarre, After Hours takes the listener on a journey that they certainly won’t forget any time soon.
The Cool – Lupe Fiasco (2007)
Standout Tracks: The Coolest, Streets On Fire, Put You on Game
The Weeknd may be the most recent artist to be reanimated after a brutal killing during one of his tracks, but he certainly isn’t the first!
Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool featured similar scenes over thirteen years ago, in which a drug dealer is given new life as a zombie shortly after his murder. The album focuses on the events leading up to this strange occurrence, including the titular character The Cool falling under the influences of an infamous gangster couple. After an ill-advised affair with the matriarch of the mob, The Cool finds himself suddenly shot dead, before using his new lease of life (or non-death) to head back to the streets to rebuild his drug empire, realising that ‘there’s no Heaven for a gangster’.
If this sounds like it needs to be heard to be believed, we absolutely insist that you give it a listen!