パッション・フラワー (Passion Flower) - Shigeru Suzuki
Concept Album MiniSeries - Part 1.
Okay, so what exactly constitutes a concept album? I think this is a great question. It's pretty open to interpretation. Let's see if I can provide my interpretation in a very roundabout and loose manner that leaves even more room for interpretation. In the next few posts, I'm going to have a look at some of my favorite albums, both old and new, that fit my bill as a concept album.
The first time I remember the term "concept album" being mentioned was when I was about 19 years old and markedly less well rounded than I currently am. At some point between smoking too much weed on a school night and smoking way too much weed on a school night, I made some stupid observation on how cool it was that all of the songs on Dark Side of the Moon kinda blend together. Very insightful. And some other dumb 20 ish year old guy was like "yea it's a concept album". College.
Frankly, I'm not really even sure that Dark Side is a concept album within my current understanding of that tradition. Just because all the songs are mixed in a manner that makes them seem sonically seamless, doesn't make something a concept album by default. To be clear, there could be some underlying themes within Dark Side that are indicative of a concept album that I'm not aware of and not taking the time to explore or enumerate here. I'm simply using this example of production style to help clarify my definition of a concept album.
To further line out things that do not automatically create a concept album in my book, lemme give another example. One of my favorite contemporary artists, Bahamas, recently put out a "country" album. Not surprisingly, it's amazing. I'm listening to the opening track as write this sentence, and the guitar solo just makes me so happy. The lyrics are hilarious. But it's not necessarily a concept album.
Furthermore, the album name itself can't be grounds for a concept album. Sheryl Crow's Tuesday Night Music Club definitely has some potential for concept qualification, but I'm not shooing it to the bunch just yet on the merits of its title alone. Having given this album an admittedly cursory listen last weekend, I'm not ready to stamp it.
Lastly, and perhaps most nebulously, I don't think that writing songs about personal experiences qualifies as a concept album outright. Artists everywhere draw from personal experience to craft their songs (and some just make shit up like Steely Dan), but I feel like writing from a deeply personal place doesn't quite take us across the conceptual divide.
To provide another example, Brandon Flowers said something to the effect that the songs written for the Killers' second album Sam's Town are basically a collection of songs about major events in his life that led him to be the person in the place that he occupied at the time of that album's release. "I still remember Grandma Dixie's wake", "On the corner of main street", etc. etc. I love this album with all my heart, but I wouldn't be inclined to confidently describe it as a concept album. If Flowers went a step further to say that every song on that album was addressed to a particular friend or family member, then I think I'd call it a concept album. But as far as I know, he's not said that.
Let's get to today's music and my definition of a concept album, or something that you probably already know or could have googled a few hundred words ago. The concept album must explicitly explore a certain idea, a time period, a place, a person, or a group of people, either expressed in the work itself, or as told by the artists themselves in interviews, liner notes (do these exist anymore), etc.
This album comes right out with it in the title. Pacific. Okay, that paints a picture. The songs all sound pretty tropical. The photo on the album cover looks like something out of Flags of Our Fathers. You might be thinking to yourself, "but Greg, you just said all these things don't necessarily qualify for a concept album", in which case I'd say you're right. But then I'd also say that this album does all of those things at the same time, and it was specifically recorded as part of it's own miniseries (miniseries inception!!!) in something called the CBS/Sony Sound Image Series.
This series was commissioned by the record label to celebrate their 10th anniversary. All of the albums in this series explore a particular place. Pacific, the first album in the Sound Image Series, boasts some tight tracks such as "Cosmic Surfin", "Nostalgia Of Island", and many more tropical offerings. The second album in the Sound Image Series is called New York and has tracks called Central Park, Kennedy Airport, etc. It's an album, and it's abundantly clear that it was written about a specific place.
Alright, here is Passion Flower. The bass line goes hard. The outro flute (other obscure tropical wind instrument?) might be my favorite part. I like the backing vocals that sound like little cartoon island creatures having a giggle. Have some fun with it. Not every concept album has to be fueled by Roger Waters' endless pessimism.
Extra Reading / Sources