For every rock opera as artistically and commercially successful as Pink Floyd‘ s ‘The Wall’ or Green Day‘s ‘American Idiot,’ there are several more that barely earn their classification as a “musical.” Here are 10 concept albums that were notably unclear on the concept.
10. ‘Psychoderelict,’ Pete Townshend
If the Who get two entries on any Top Ten list of best rock operas, resident storyteller Townshend can surely take a mulligan for this wild, loopy swing from 1993. Voice-over dialogue advances a garbled tale of an aging rocker, while the actual aging rocker putters around with half-done riffs and salvaged synth parts from some of the Who’s most recognizable hits. Shanked it!
9. ‘Greendale,’ Neil Young (Buy CD)
Well known for his brilliant flights of fancy and his periodic lapses in judgment, the great Neil Young took a stand against the Bush administration with his 2003 environmental opus, telling the story of the Green family. They’re Green — get it? Young normally shoots sparks when he’s jacking up the electric bill with his sometime compadres in Crazy Horse. Here, they sound almost literally like they’re phoning it in.
8. ‘The Pick of Destiny,’ Tenacious D
Yes, we’re aware this 2006 Tenacious D concept album is a parody. The guest appearance of Meat Loaf, not to mention Dave Grohl as the Devil, makes that apparent. But if a little Jack Black goes a long way, this much goes so far we may never find our way back.
7. ‘Goes to Hell,’ Alice Cooper (Buy CD – LP)
In this one from 1976, the ghoulish rocker serves up a goulash of styles: twangy ballads (‘I Never Cry‘), beatnik jive (‘I’m the Coolest‘), Neil Sedaka-ish piano-pounding (‘Give the Kid a Break‘), even disco rock (‘You Gotta Dance‘). For these transgressions and more, the onetime hellion deserved to be banished forevermore to the golf courses of Arizona.
6. ‘The Beat Goes On,’ Vanilla Fudge (Buy LP)
A true epic of overindulgence, in 1968 the Fudge followed up their breakthrough single, a heavy cover of the Supremes‘ ‘You Keep Me Hangin’ On,’ with an absurdly high-concept symphonic suite based on a recurring motif of Sonny and Cher’s ‘The Beat Goes On.’ There are variations on Beethoven, spoken-word interludes, sitars, even — we kid you not — a Hitler sample. Dig it!
5. ‘… The Life of Chris Gaines,’ Garth Brooks
The country superstar’s weird, grunge-y alter-ego seemed like a momentary excuse to play dress-up in overlong bangs and a soul patch. In 1999, apparently tired of catering to the riding-mower set, Brooks imagined himself an alt-rock heartthrob with a big-scale biopic on the way. No one bought it.
4. ‘Blows Against the Empire,’ Jefferson Starship
The first album released under the new Starship name, in 1970, this was really a Paul Kantner solo project, with help from some members of the Airplane themselves, the Grateful Dead and many others. Predictably, it’s a fuzzy-headed affair, from a folkish ditty that envisions a ‘Baby Tree’ to a ponderous orchestration about “civilized man.”
3. ‘Kilroy Was Here,’ Styx (Buy CD)
Set aside for a moment the fact that Dennis DeYoung’s chintzy 1983 concept album about humankind’s mechanized future gave us the timelessly laughable couplet “Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto.” The rest of the album is pretty much unbearable. Although the show-stopper ‘Don’t Let It End‘ promises to keep rock ‘n’ roll alive, ‘Kilroy’ represented the lethal blow for Styx‘s once-actually-rocking image.
2. ‘Bat Out of Hell,’ Meat Loaf (Buy LP – CD)
Mr. Loaf, the ‘Rocky Horror‘ alum, made his unlikely commercial breakthrough with this 1977 song cycle about teenage lust that was destined to become the fifth-best-selling album of all time, spawning two sequels. His shmaltzy power ballads set the table for a style that has yet to go away, while the oafish baseball metaphor of ‘Paradise by the Dashboard Light‘ wins a Lifetime Achievement trophy from the Campy Awards.
1. ‘Music From the Elder,’ Kiss (Buy LP)
When four grown men in high-heeled boots and comic-book catsuits get all pretentious on our asses, there’s something seriously wrong in the world. It must be, as Kiss suggested, ‘A World Without Heroes.’ We’re thinking the legendary misstep of this leaden zeppelin from 1981 is the main reason this band may never get near the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, no matter how many times they holler, “Hello, Cleveland!”