Sanguine Hum's Guide To Concept Albums

With its weighty theme, film-like narrative and musical through-lines, the British proggers’ superior third album Now We Have Light is a concept album in every sense of the word.

You can read much more about it in the current issue of Prog and as a taster of where they’re coming from, Hum songwriters Joff Winks and Matt Baber offer up their five favourite concept albums:

Frank Zappa - Joe’s Garage (1979)

Joff: “It’s one of my favourite records. If I could have gotten away with it I’d have put a Central-Scrutinizer type narration on ours! I just love the whole feel of it, it’s so cinematic. And I completely relate to Frank’s whole idea of conceptual continuity, where melodies influence the next song, or will propagate across songs over different albums. We’ve tried to do that too.

Matt: It proves that you can still have an emotional and musically brilliant storytelling album, no matter how absurd that story is. It’s one of the best sounding albums Frank ever made too. And then there’s [drummer] Vinnie Colaiuta!

David Bowie - Outside (1995)

Joff: I became mildly obsessed by this record. I vividly remember putting it on and opening the booklet for the first time, reading and listening was such a rush! Bowie playing all the characters, including the incredibly scary Ramona A. Stone with that eerie LFO [low frequency oscillation] effect on her voice. Sci-fi, neo-noir – just brilliant!

**Matt: **This was his reunion with Brian Eno, and it blew us away with the futuristic-sounding world it created, a world you could immerse yourself in. Joff used to have a clip from it as the startup music to his Mac, so this always reminds me of the old days. It was going to be a full story cycle over several albums but Bowie dropped it – it’s a real shame he lost his bottle…

Genesis - The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway (1974)

Joff: It’s simply a classic album, a masterclass in the form.

Matt: Lots of people miss the point with this story and get hung up on the nonsensical aspects of it. But for me it’s that very dream-like, unconscious quality that makes it work. These days, after having heard it a ridiculous amount of times, it’s all of those small instrumental vignettes that really jump out for me: Silent Sorrow In Empty Boats, Ravine, The Arrival, The Waiting Room… more along the lines of what Eno or Cluster were doing.

Pink Floyd - The Wall (1979)

Joff: I grew up listening to this record after inheriting a vinyl copy from my parents. I loved looking at the sleeve artwork, the illustrations are amazing and the stage show blew my mind when I first watched it on VHS. Roger Waters smashing the window during One Of My Turns is etched onto my consciousness!!

Matt: Like lots of great albums, conceptual or not, it’s the dramaturgy of the record that really works. You’re pulled in completely to the flow of the music by the segues and sound effects. This worked for me even when not knowing what the story was about, and I didn’t really figure that out until a few years after first hearing it. There’s a musical drama and logic to everything.

Pat Metheny Group - The Way Up (2005)

Joff: Now this is a truly amazing piece of composition! The detail is incredible. Matt and I were lucky enough to see the entire album performed live, and it ranks as one of the very best shows I’ve ever seen. Staggering musicianship and simply wonderful writing.

Matt: It’s a single, 68-minute instrumental piece conceived as a protest against the dumbing down of art and culture, and society in general. If ever we think we’re playing and writing really well, you put this record on and have to think again. We saw it at the the Hammersmith Apollo in 2005 – hands down the most mind-blowing live performance I’ve ever seen.

Grant Moon is the News Editor for Prog and has been a contributor to the magazine since its launch in 2009. A music journalist for over 20 years, Grant writes regularly for titles including Classic Rock and Total Guitar, and his CV also includes stints as a radio producer/presenter and podcast host. His first book, 'Big Big Train - Between The Lines', is out now through Kingmaker Publishing.