The Concept Album: How Music Tells a Story
February 20, 2023
When many people think of a concept album, many classics may come to mind- Tommy by The Who, The Wall by Pink Floyd to name a few. A “concept album” can be defined as an album that follows an overarching narrative or theme. Music’s ability to convey these themes and ideas is not only a masterful feat in storytelling, but makes a great listen too.
Below I have compiled a list of a few of my favourite concept albums released in the 21st century. Each of these albums tells a rich and powerful story, which is communicated through expert production, lyricism, and performance.
Twin Fantasy (2018)
Speculated to be an autobiographical take on lead singer/songwriter Will Toledo’s life, Twin Fantasy follows young love from its sweet beginnings to its bitter end. The narrator is so in love and obsessed with their subject that they want to become one with them- twins. This twin motif is introduced immediately within the album with the opening track “My Boy – Twin Fantasy”, and restated again and again throughout the album until the final track “Twin Fantasy – Those Boys”. This album is rich in motifs and symbolism- beaches and dogs will never be the same after your first and even 100th listen. The original version of this record was released in 2011, but was later rerecorded in 2018 under Matador records with a cleaner production and a few lyric changes. As a listener, you’re never too sure about how much of this relationship was real, and how much of it was fictional. Cynical, heartbreaking, humorous, and witty, Twin Fantasy is one of my favourite albums of all time.
Favourite Track: Famous Prophets (Stars)
It would be impossible to talk about 21st century concept albums without discussing Beyonce’s masterpiece Lemonade. Released in 2016, at first glance, this record is about infidelity- a husband cheating on his wife, a possible allusion to rumours of her own husband Jay-Z cheating. Overall, this record is about the experience and celebration of Black women. This record covers topics such as pain, identity, heritage, and Black womanhood. It is a staple within Beyonce’s discography, and accompanied by a film, Lemonade is an incredible example of the past and present coming together to create art.
Favourite Track: Daddy Lessons
Preacher’s Daughter (2022)
Preacher’s Daughter is the debut album of Hayden Anhedönia, who performs under the character of Ethel Cain. Released in May 2022, this record takes listeners back to 1991 where we follow Ethel Cain as she embarks on a journey of doomed romance across state lines. Preacher’s Daughter discusses themes such as American imperialism, religion, and Americana. According to Anhedönia, Ethel Cain is a character that serves as a cautionary tale to all of her listeners. This album is composed of powerful storytelling and production, with two instrumental piercings towards the end of the album that recount Cain’s ascension into the afterlife.
Favourite Track: Strangers
Electra Heart (2012)
Electra Heart is Marina’s (formerly known as Marina and the Diamond) second studio album, released in 2012, and is a quintessential example of satirical pop. This album centres on the titular character Electra Heart and her experiences with love, heartbreak, and the transition from girl to woman. Electra Heart deals with themes of depression, teen angst, ego, gender roles, and critiques pop culture as a whole. Throughout the record, listeners can sense Electra Heart’s confident, over-the-top bubblegum persona cracking as she is faced with her reality, which inevitably consumes her. This record is witty, excellently produced, and an overall great listen.
Favourite Track: Starring Role
Dirty Computer (2018)
Janelle Monae’s 4th studio album Dirty Computer paints a picture of identity, expression, and humanity. This transmedial experience explores what it means to be human in the face of fear. Monae tackles social injustice, and celebrates those who were made to feel as if their existence was dirty by people in positions of power, particularly in the United States. Inspired by Afrofuturism, this record explores desire, dystopia, womanhood, Blackness, and oppression. Dirty Computer is a call to action for all of those who have experienced marginalization.
Favourite Track: Screwed (featuring Zoe Kravitz)