• 05-18-2007, 05:47 AM
    ForeverAutumn
    Is The Concept Album Making a Comeback?
    An interesting article that I picked up off of Yahoo Canada this morning. For those who don't know it, the Rock Plaza Central CD mentioned in the article is very good. It's discussed here.

    Revenge of the concept album? As the single rules, old-school format is back

    Tue May 15, 12:54 PM EST
    Cassandra Szklarski


    TORONTO (CP) - Call it revenge of the album, old-school style.

    Hammered in sales by the digital single, the beleaguered album is fighting for its survival.

    And of all things, it's turning to its past for unlikely salvation. Brace yourselves, the concept album is back. At least that's what a glance at recent releases would suggest, with acts including Halifax's Joel Plaskett, Toronto's Rock Plaza Central and U.S. rockers Nine Inch Nails, My Chemical Romance and the Decemberists among those crafting overarching themes for their latest discs.

    Once the epitome of '70s self-indulgent prog rock, the concept album suffered a severe backlash with the stripped-down sound of the '80s and '90s but has emerged as a whole new animal in the last few years, notes music watcher Alan Cross.

    "It used to be, for a very long time, that the concept album was very, very uncool - it was considered to be something that was a holdover of the dinosaur rock bands of the '60s and '70s," says Cross, Toronto host of the syndicated radio show, "The Ongoing History of New Music".

    "However, that attitude toward the concept album has changed dramatically and we've seen a number of acts actually think that this is a pretty cool idea."

    Green Day's blockbuster disc "American Idiot" led the charge when it emerged in 2004, its political rants racing up the charts while transforming notions of the maligned genre, made famous by bands including Pink Floyd, the Who, Rush, Yes, and Genesis.

    Since then, the concept album has gained more devotees, perhaps in spite of a technological revolution in the industry, says Cross.

    Chris Eaton of Rock Plaza Central argues that concept discs may actually represent one of the few ways a band can defy the increasingly disjointed ways people listen to, distribute and create music.

    "The single is becoming more and more the thing for people," notes Eaton.

    "People will download one song and put it on their iPod and they'll just listen to it like that."

    Although Eaton didn't set out to create a concept album with his disc, "Are We Not Horses," a bizarre theme nevertheless emerged and he ran with it, to critical and audience acclaim.

    "We wanted people to listen to the whole (album) together and this was sort of one possible ploy to have people do that," he explains. "It's kind of a last-ditch effort, and quite possibly why other people might be doing it too, that last ditch effort to try to save the album."

    There's no doubt that sales of physical CDs are plummeting.

    Figures released last month by the Canadian Record Industry Association revealed that CD and music DVD sales dropped 35 per cent - to $68.7 million from $105.6 million in the same period in 2006 - in the first quarter of this year.

    Meanwhile, digital downloads continue to be immensely popular. CRIA estimates there are 1.3 billion unauthorized digital downloads in Canada each year and 20 million legitimate downloads in 2006.

    Singles undoubtedly rule among today's music fans, at the expense of the album, concurs Cross.

    "We have moved very, very definitely in the direction of a la carte music tastes - we're buying singles again or we're looking for specific songs again, and we're not necessarily interested in taking an entire album," he notes.

    "What some of these artists are trying to do is recreate the album experience by creating a story, a narrative that will take you through, 35, 40, 50 minutes worth of music."

    Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson, whose catalogue of concept discs include "2112", "Hemispheres" and "Caress of Steel," says the Canadian trio has always been partial to large-scale thematic works.

    But physical limitations of the vinyl LP restricted the way that vision could be realized.

    "The format has changed so much," Lifeson says of today's digital world.

    "Being able to play as long as you want to play now makes it a little easier to get into an idea, I suppose. On LPs you only had less than 20 minutes per side and you were sort of fixed with how far you could go with it."

    Despite his disc's critical success, Eaton admits he was at first hesitant to indulge his peculiar predilections.

    After all, jumping into such an ambitious work is not done without risk of spectacular failure.

    "There was a lot of fear that people were just going to think ...it was some sort of elaborate joke or something," Eaton says.

    "When you embark on a project to write an album about robotic horses who think they're real horses you kind of expect that lot of people are just going to laugh at it. And certainly, in the early days when we were playing the songs live and trying to tell the stories, that sentence would usually make most of the audience start giggling and then you're like, 'No, no, no - really!' "

    Cross says the influx of thematic works can more simply be explained as a creative exercise for maturing bands that are looking for something a little more challenging.

    "You can only be young and angry and confused for so long," he says.

    "At some point, as a musician and as a songwriter and as an artist, you're going to develop much more sophisticated approaches to expressing yourself and one of the things that we've seen is loose librettos forming the basis of entire albums."
  • 05-18-2007, 06:28 AM
    3-LockBox
    They're still going to treat it like a revival. They (the media) won't acknowledge that many acts have continued to make concept albums throughout the '80s, '90s, and the '00s. Even if some pop artists start making concept albums, I'll still listen to the same music as before. I've never heard Green Day's American Idiot, and I'm not about to give it a whirl now that I know its a concept album.

    At any rate it could be good for albums in general, in that artists are starting to reconsider the album as an artistic statement, rather than just a necessary evil for releasing singles.
  • 05-18-2007, 07:43 AM
    ForeverAutumn
    I agree. My thread title was tongue in cheek. I realized afterwards that I should have put quotations around "comeback" to emphasize that. But you can't go back and edit a thread title.

    I also take offense to her comment of ''70s self-indulgent prog rock". I don't know the author of this article, but I'm willing to bet that she wasn't even born yet in the 70's.

    I've been listening to Alan Cross's show for years and I think that we'd be safe to assume that wasn't exactly how he planned on being paraphrased.
  • 05-18-2007, 08:13 AM
    GMichael
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by ForeverAutumn

    I also take offense to her comment of ''70s self-indulgent prog rock". I don't know the author of this article, but I'm willing to bet that she wasn't even born yet in the 70's.

    .

    Ditto. Maybe by self-indulgent she means they made music that they would like themselves, instead of compromising their integrity and making "music" to appeal to a wider audience.
    But I doubt it.
  • 05-18-2007, 08:22 AM
    Mr MidFi
    It's as though the author had never even heard of Husker Du...let alone recall their classic Zen Arcade album. But the point is a somewhat valid one, I guess. In today's MP3-saturated world, the album form is a great way to differentiate your sound (and your vision, so to speak).

    3LB: I think you should give American Idiot a whirl, just to see what the stink is about. It's an awesome disc, man. Play it loud and proud.
  • 05-18-2007, 08:24 AM
    GMichael
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Mr MidFi
    I guess. In today's MP3-saturated world, the album form is a great way to differentiate your sound (and your vision, so to speak).

    .

    Or at least get you listen to the whole CD.
  • 05-18-2007, 08:49 AM
    Resident Loser
    Well...
    ...from my snot-nosed POV, just like everything else in the world these days, a large chunk of the current crop of cretins seem able only to absorb the sound-bite and are thus incapable of digesting anything beyond fast-food music.

    Is it any wonder classical music sales are down...$h!t, it's something you might actually have to think about and savor to appreciate...

    jimHJJ(...no instantaneous gratification? Screw it!...)
  • 05-18-2007, 09:09 AM
    ForeverAutumn
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Resident Loser
    ...from my snot-nosed POV, just like everything else in the world these days, a large chunk of the current crop of cretins seem able only to absorb the sound-bite and are thus incapable of digesting anything beyond fast-food music.

    Is it any wonder classical music sales are down...$h!t, it's something you might actually have to think about and savor to appreciate...

    jimHJJ(...no instantaneous gratification? Screw it!...)

    I agree with you Jim. Most people are looking for instant gratification in almost every facet. But I think that technology and accessibility has spoiled us. My mom used to spend an hour or more making dinner. Now I can walk into the freezer section of the supermarket, buy the same dinner already cooked and thaw it in the microwave in 5 minutes.

    Is the MP3 download really any different than our old 45's? When I was a kid I had a whole stack of 45's. It was easy to buy the single that you liked instead of the whole album which (a) was more expensive and (b) might've had a bunch of songs that I didn't want. When I switched from vinyl to CDs, the single, as I knew it, was harder to come by. It just kinda disappeared with the old technology. Now that the technology has changed again, it's easier than ever to get just the song(s) you want. I've never really thought about it before, but as I think about it now, it seems to me like things have come full circle.

    It's just too bad that we've had to sacrifice quality along the way.
  • 05-18-2007, 09:57 AM
    3-LockBox
    I'll be shocked if the album format is still around five years from now in most popular music. Why waste studio time with a bunch of songs no one will want to pirate anyway, much less buy. How many of us just listen to three or four songs from a CD? Who knows? Maybe pop music will be an internet only thing, since that seems to be where the music industry's demographic has gone. My daughter has already caught onto the convenience aspect of downloading. Even when I try to dissway her from spending up to $1.29 per track, she points out that its still way cheaper than buying an entire CD, not to mention the cost of gas to get to a store. (she could care less about sound quality)

    I think public interest in concept albums could spurr some revival of albums as stand alone artistic statements, but it could also bring on a rash of poorly concieved concept albums as well, and we still see a glut of those in the prog market. Many double albums of the past were better off being pared down to just one disc. How many 70 minute-plus CDs do you own that you think are over long? Country music has pretty much stayed the course and they still put out 35 and 40 minute albums, spaced about 8 or 9 months apart, expecting to release one to two singles from them (although a few have ventured past the 45-50 minute mark recently). I think music labels and artists should re-examine shorter time durations, rather than feeling compelled to fill up an 80 minute disc capacity. There have been only a few artists (ever-in any genre) who could really put out albums worthy of more than 60 minutes of listening in one sitting.


    Of course, all this rhetoric could be a tad short sighted, since lack of interest in this country hasn't killed concept albums, or prog for that matter, in Europe. There is enough passion for album oriented rock in this country amongst our youth that many aspiring rock bands are setting their sites on European markets, and not just starting or stopping with the US. Take for example, acts like Mastadon and Iced Earth, both of which put out concept albums with the last two years. They're only fringe or niche acts in this country, but they can't walk down the street in most European cities. Iced Earth albums have sold 'gold' in the country of Greece with every release! Starting your tour in Greece would not suck. Porcupine Tree might play dives and ballrooms in the US, but they sell out arenas in Europe and that includes multi-night sell-outs in one city. So the term 'revival', whereas concept albums are concerned, only applies to the US. Europe has kept prog and concept albums alive and kicking for the last 30 years, even though a lot of music writers in this country think it was just a '70s thing. Maybe Europe will start to drive the music market in the US somewhere down the road.
  • 05-18-2007, 10:25 AM
    ForeverAutumn
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by 3-LockBox
    Maybe pop music will be an internet only thing, since that seems to be where the music industry's demographic has gone.

    If you get the opportunity, you should see the stage musical We Will Rock You, this is, in part, the premise of the story. It takes place in the future, in a time where all music is computer generated by one company and the only way to access it is to download it.
  • 05-18-2007, 10:38 AM
    kexodusc
    I never thought the "concept" album went away.
    Queensryche, Dream Theater, Nine Inch Nails, Coheed & Cambria, Tori Amos, and Mastadon have all put out concepts in the last few years, I'm sure there's plenty more, those are just the ones I can name off the top of my head really fast.

    Meatloaf?

    I like 3-LockBox suggestion that concepts help increase the demand or focus on entire albums. That's certainly how I feel. A killer song or two doesn't impress me nearly as much as a solid album, I hope the industry will someday share my sentiments.
  • 05-18-2007, 10:59 AM
    3-LockBox
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by kexodusc
    I never thought the "concept" album went away.

    Not really, just mainstream media's recognition of them did. Music writers are always so surprised when trends move away from where they would steer us...you'd think they take the hint.
  • 05-18-2007, 07:40 PM
    SlumpBuster
    IMNSHO the concept album is a bit of a test or a crucible. If a band attempt to do one, and does it well, then they enter a club filled with the likes of Green Day, the Who, Rush, and Meatloaf. But for every 2112, there is a Kilroy Was Here. For every Quadrophenia, there is an Operation: Mindcrime. And for every Bat Out of Hell, there is a Bat Out of Hell Two. There is original and inspired, and then there is juvinile and indulgent.
  • 05-19-2007, 02:44 AM
    kexodusc
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by SlumpBuster
    IMNSHO the concept album is a bit of a test or a crucible. If a band attempt to do one, and does it well, then they enter a club filled with the likes of Green Day, the Who, Rush, and Meatloaf. But for every 2112, there is a Kilroy Was Here. For every Quadrophenia, there is an Operation: Mindcrime. And for every Bat Out of Hell, there is a Bat Out of Hell Two. There is original and inspired, and then there is juvinile and indulgent.

    Meh, I give marks for trying. The music's either good or it's not, the concept is a bonus. Most of the time it turns filler into something relevant.

    Most concepts would do well to be half as good as Operation: Mindcrime, a how-to-do-a-concept if ever there was one. Mindcrime II, well that's a different story...
  • 05-19-2007, 06:31 AM
    Swish
    Sorry FA, but you CAN edit a thread title.
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by ForeverAutumn
    I agree. My thread title was tongue in cheek. I realized afterwards that I should have put quotations around "comeback" to emphasize that. But you can't go back and edit a thread title.

    When you go into the edit feature, hit "Go Advanced" and you can then change the thread title any way you like. I've done it several times in the recent past, so I know it works.

    Grandpa Swish
  • 05-19-2007, 06:37 AM
    ForeverAutumn
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Swish
    When you go into the edit feature, hit "Go Advanced" and you can then change the thread title any way you like. I've done it several times in the recent past, so I know it works.

    Grandpa Swish

    Really? 'Cause I don't even have an option to edit that POST. I can edit posts further into the thread, but I don't have an edit button for the opening post. I went into other Threads that I've started and it's the same. I can edit posts deeper into the thread, but not the one that started the thread. :confused5:
  • 05-20-2007, 09:23 AM
    Swish
    Hmmmm. I'm not sure why that is...
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by ForeverAutumn
    Really? 'Cause I don't even have an option to edit that POST. I can edit posts further into the thread, but I don't have an edit button for the opening post. I went into other Threads that I've started and it's the same. I can edit posts deeper into the thread, but not the one that started the thread. :confused5:

    ...and I just tried to edit one of mine and can't do so. Could it be that you can only edit your post for a limited time? I absolutely was able to change a couple of mine, and recently no less, so I know it can be done. Maybe one of our resident geeks can explain this to us???

    Grandpa Swish