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A concept album is a whole CD made of a bunch of songs that all tell parts of the same story or are united via a common theme. Sometimes this works, while other times the "concept" only exists as the flimsiest of notions and falls flat on its face after 15 seconds.

Plenty of bands are drawn to writing concept albums; they get tired of writing four-minute tributes to sex and decide they want to get involved in something big and important with meaning and purpose. They forget that they're musicians, which means they're uninteresting and dumb and should stick to songs about fucking.

4
Tori Amos: Strange Little Girls

Atlantic Records

What's tougher than a concept album? How about a concept album featuring nothing but covers? Because now you're taking a dozen tunes, written by a dozen people, and attempting to make them work together, even if they don't want to. And guess what? They don't.

So when Tori Amos decided that she wanted to try such an album, called Strange Little Girls, people looked at her like she was crazy.

Epic Records
What, her? Nah.

Luckily, she had herself a vision. These wouldn't just be covers, they would be retellings! She would take songs originally sung by men and perform them from "a woman's perspective." Maybe some misogynistic come-hither song could be rewritten so that now a lady is telling some hot dude to be her bedroom toy. And if anyone could do it, it'd be an uber-creative mind like Amos.

She proceeded to not do it at all. And by "not at all," I mean NOT AT ALL. Not one song was rewritten, edited, or feminized in any way. Musically, they were certainly different, which is to be expected when a breathy girl sings Slayer and Eminem on her piano.

Kevin Winter/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
Slayer sadly never returned the favor, depriving us of a screaming 9,000-decibel take on "Mr. Zebra."

But lyrically and thematically? Amos didn't change one word of anything, killing the concept on arrival. Of course, it didn't help that many of the songs weren't about men OR women, meaning that just about anyone could have sung them. But even the songs that were very much about a man were left unchanged lyrically, making "a woman's perspective" nothing more than "a woman singing the song." And I can get that any night from the drunks at the local karaoke bar, except I don't yet hate myself enough to do so.

Photos.com
Please, stop believing.

It's clear that Amos very much wanted this concept to work, even creating (and dressing up as) fictionalized personae who were supposedly the girls singing these songs. Sadly, this elaborate game of dress-up failed to give these songs any real female point of view. Even Neil Gaiman's valiant attempts to salvage the idea, via short stories that conveniently explain why these women are singing, just fall flat.

How It Could Have Worked:

It's fairly obvious: She should've sat her butt down and rewrote the damn songs! She already did this musically, and a 20-plus-year career has proven that she knows how words work, so why didn't she use them this time?

Atlantic Records
"You're still talking about the concept album? Oh, I've moved on to this new terrible idea now."

If her goal was to really make us believe that these songs are now feminine, then the lyrics 100 percent need to convey that. True, this could get awkward at times, like in Eminem's song where the female was bound, gagged, and dead in the back of his trunk. But then you either rewrite the song from a dead girl's perspective or turn the whole thing into a cover of John Cage's 4'33". See? Two solutions in five seconds. You're welcome.

3
A Flock of Seagulls: Self-Titled

RCA Records

Despite being mainly known for the worst hairstyle in history, A Flock of Seagulls actually is a real band, with albums and instruments and tours and drug problems and everything.

Redferns/Redferns/Getty Images
They also had a bald guy with a comb-over, so make that TWO of the worst hairstyles in history.

For their debut album (also named A Flock of Seagulls, because they didn't want us to forget such a ridiculous name by only hearing it once), the band decided to sing about an alien abduction. That sounds doable, right? Especially since we don't know if aliens exist and what an abduction would be like. That would give the A Flock total creative freedom to draw up any scenario they wished.

So naturally, they chose the worst possible path: not telling the story at all. Because words are hard, the story lasts exactly one song before taking a permanent seat to simply repeating short phrases time and again until the band's producer pressed the fade-out button. Take a gander at the entirety of Chapter 2, "Space Age Love Song":

I saw your eyes
and you made me smile
for a little while
I was falling in love.
I saw your eyes
and you touched my mind
although it took a while
I was falling in love.
I saw your eyes
and you made me cry
and for a little while
I was falling in love.
I was falling in love
falling in love
falling in love
falling in love
falling in love.

Ian Waldie/Getty Images News/Getty Images
"Falling in love, falling in love, SQUAWK *whistle* falling in love."

You know, for a second there, I wasn't sure if he had fallen in love, and if it was for a little while or longer. Thank God he cleared that up. The lack of detail continues throughout the album, with aliens mentioned rarely, random and meaningless sci-fi references thrown around with reckless abandon, refrains repeated ad nauseam, and the actual story wrapped up never. For all we know, they're still stuck on that ship, although hopefully the aliens have given the guy a brush and a copy of Sensible Haircuts Weekly by now.

How It Could Have Worked:

Perhaps Mr. Seagull should have attended a writing workshop or two and read the story out loud in front of a group of shy housewives and college students. Maybe one of them could have helped flesh out the tale, thereby painting a clearer picture of why the couple was abducted, who these aliens were, where they went, how long they were there, whether filthy alien orgies are a thing, how they escaped, if the aliens chased after them and blew up Earth out of revenge, and so on and so forth.

WireImage/WireImage/Getty Images
Like a toned-down version of David Bowie's origin story.

Or they could just repeat the same three words over and over and over again. That works too, apparently.

Continue Reading Below

2
Alice Cooper: Anything With Steven

Atlantic Records

Don't think the Seagulls are the only ones to take the football of decent storytelling and vomit all over it like a group of musical Mark Sanchezes. Turns out Alice Cooper is quite adept at that as well.

NFL
Billion Dollar Buttfumbles

Cooper's solo debut album after breaking up with his previous band, Alice Cooper (yep), was called Welcome to My Nightmare. It chronicled the tragic tale of a disturbed little boy named Steven who had horrible nightmares about spiders and domestic abuse. Sadly, that's about it. His nights sucked because he had bad dreams. Isn't that kind of a thing everybody has, like, all the time?

Near the end of the album, Steven wakes up (one of the few times they make it clear what happened) and we learn that he had a wife whom he apparently killed. So now he's an adult? Was he dreaming about being a kid? Because then there's a sequel album, Welcome 2 My Nightmare, which very much presents him as a boy dominated by bad dreams again. Sometimes. In the end, he dies and goes to hell, which is one of the few nightmares where they actually reference him. I'm starting to think that Cooper did not outline Steven's life story properly in between lines of coke and speed.

All this is dreadfully confusing enough on its own, but then Steven started popping up on other Cooper albums, and not one appearance makes sense. Sometimes he's a juvenile delinquent, other times he's the voice inside a serial killer's head, other times he's a regular little boy who just can't stop having scary dreams. And none of this comes together in the slightest.

Let's put it this way: Cooper's Steven concept is so convoluted and so botched that my attempt to describe it for your edutainment was one of the most difficult bits of writing I've ever done. I'm still not sure if I pulled it off. I'd write a sentence, then find something else in another song that made something else in another song make even less sense than the zero sense it had already been making, and then I'd have to change it all again. Italics.

Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Italians

Look, ambiguity is fine and happy, but utter confusion is not. This is like when a 4-year-old tries to tell a story but constantly starts over because she just remembered an earlier part that she forgot to tell you. Also, the main character is a bear, then a goat, then a cat, then a bear again, but with a cat head. Am I saying Alice Cooper is a 4-year-old girl? Maybe.

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
"Honey, have you been playing with my makeup again?"

How It Could Have Worked:

Give Steven's story an actual beginning, middle, and end, and then follow through until completion. And when I say beginning, I mean BEGINNING. There is no reason to only mention the main character once or twice an album, usually not until the very end. Cooper's other concept album, Along Came a Spider, shows that he actually can tell a coherent tale, so the whole Steven thing is even less excusable.

Oh, and if all of this is indeed just disjointed dreaming inside the head of a twisted little kid, that might be the flimsiest excuse to write spooky music in history. After a couple decades of golf clubs and jump ropes, Alice probably needs all the excuses he can muster.

Getty Images Sport/Getty Images
Billion-Dollar Bogies

1
Marilyn Manson: The Triptych Trilogy

Interscope Records

Marilyn Manson, who you might remember as the guy who wasn't in The Wonder Years no matter how many email forwards and Facebook posts insist that he totally was, has long been seen as his generation's Alice Cooper. This not only applies to acting all scary and Satan-like, but also to completely mucking up the basic idea of telling a fucking story.

To hear Manson say it, three of his albums -- Antichrist Superstar, Mechanical Animals, and Holy Wood -- are supposed to be one big, long, connected storyline. Called the Triptych Trilogy, the albums chronicle the rise and fall of a cynical, misunderstood rock star martyr. To make it even more intriguing, the story is told in reverse order: Antichrist, which was released first, was the finale, and Holy Wood, the most recent release, provides the opening chapters.

While this was more or less totally unnecessary, it's still a rather innovative concept. Yet there's a problem here, and it isn't your typical Marilyn Manson problem.


Like the local bookstore being sold out of Bibles he could burn onstage.

No, quite simply, Manson's trilogy doesn't even make the tiniest piss stain of sense; the main character in Holy Wood is not mentioned at all in the other albums, even though it's supposedly the same guy the entire time. And the actual city of Holy Wood isn't mentioned even once in the other two albums. Maybe they blew it up? If so, you'd think that would've been worth some song time, instead of blatant controversy bait like rhyming "distortion" with "abortion."

All throughout the three albums, everything Manson sings about remains ridiculously vague -- his metaphors are inconsistent, characters appear and disappear at will, and there doesn't seem to be an actual beginning or an end to his protagonist's tale. Luckily (if that's what you want to call it), Manson has an excuse: This trilogy was never supposed to be a trilogy. I'll pause while you get over that Scanners-level mind-blowing revelation.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
"No. Fuck you. I'm not doing it. Give me a real reason to."

He had originally written Animals as a sequel to Antichrist, but fan backlash over Animals' glammy creepy-David-Bowie-meets-even-creepier-David-Bowie bullshit prompted him to ret-con it as a prequel about the character "selling out." Well, shit, that explains the real-life selling out perfectly! So, something written as a sequel became a prequel after the fact. That's like if Memento only decided to become Memento halfway through the film, expecting you to slam your head against the table a thousand times until you forgot everything you just saw.

Manson then released Holy Wood, which conveniently sounded a lot like Antichrist, satisfying the "you sold out" crowd that people love to cater to for whatever reason. It was sold as a prequel to Animals, before the character "sold out," something Manson never did, nosireebob. Poor Animals was now a betweenquel of a trilogy that had never been laid out, planned, or even considered before then.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
"All right, fine. You've convinced me. I'll do it."

How It Could Have Worked:

All it would take is one stinkin' book, and the previous 500 words would never have existed. Manson promised a novel, also entitled Holy Wood, which would explain everything about this mess of a trilogy. So of course it doesn't exist. It was never completed, and it likely never will be completed, since such a massive amount of ret-conning and backtracking would likely take more years than Manson has left on this planet.


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