Sunday, March 25, 2007

Concept Album Woes & c.

Okay, so I've never been the biggest Nine Inch Nails fans in the world. I can't claim to have sought out every halo obsessively, I didn't care for The Downward Spiral, and personally I've always felt that NIN's best work was Pretty Hate Machine.

Still, we've seen them twice in the last couple years, and they put on a damn fine show. That's why we were horrified to read about their new album in the last issue of Rolling Stone. (No online source available.)
The album takes place in a dystopian version of the year 2022: The religious right has taken over the U.S. government, there are mind-control drugs in the water supply, and something called the presence--in the form of a giant hand reaching from the sky--keeps showing up.

Jesus Christ. Seriously? A concept album about a totalitarian future? Are there any Japanese freedom-fighter robots to be thanked? This sounds worse than Rush's 2112. I quite seriously cannot wrap my head around why a respected, creative artist would want to come up with such a lame, prog-rock concept album to make a didactic political point. With Teeth was effective enough political music; why go in such a weird, new direction? All I can say it Year Zero (due out April 17) had better be a damn good album; it needs to be to save Reznor's reputation.

That said, you have to appreciate NIN's innovative branding and promotional schemes. Year Zero has what may be one of the coolest advertainment promotional schemes I've ever seen. Check it out through Rolling Stone's blog.

On the other side of the coin, Tori Amos's new political concept album promises to show us how to do them right. American Doll Posse (due out May 1) looks to diverge from Amos' recent work, which has been a little too love-song-y for my taste, and dive back into the troubled waters of gender in America. The eponymous "American doll posse" is a series of five characters--Santa, Clyde, Isabel, Tori and Pip--represent different takes on contemporary American women. In an interview with Paul Tingen, Amos explains that , "“The main message of my new album is: the political is personal...This as opposed to the feminist statement from years ago that the personal is political."

"There’s so much that’s not expressed in a country that should be the land of the free," she told Tingen,
and at the same time there’s so much concern, it’s beyond concern. For me the new album is about representing the American women that I see and meet, but that right now is not the world’s view of American women. And there are those in the American media and right wing that try to shame these women for speaking out. And you know, I’m a minister’s daughter, so if you try to shame me, my mojo grows!

That sounds a hell of a lot more adventurous than sci-fi horror concept albums. Plus, the first promotional photo from American Doll Posse is strikingly graphic: Amos, clutching a Bible in one hand, the word "shame" scrawled across the other, with blood running down her leg from under her dress. Much props to her--too few artists these days try to tell the stories and talk about the people who are denied voices in our society.

These days, political sentiment in music tends to be fairly limited: artists sing didactic songs about how they hate the government or organized religion. The rest of their time they spend singing about how lonely, sad, broken-hearted, or unhappy they are. Day to day experience is reduced to personal reflection, rarely if ever expanded upon and raised to the level of a political statement. So I eagerly await Amos's new album.

Aside from Tori Amos and NIN, there's actually several albums coming out in the next few months that I'm stoked about:

--June (?) Queens of the Stone Age's Josh Homme describes their fifth album, Ars Vulgaris, as "dark, hard and electric--sort of like a construction worker." Plus, anyone disappointed with NIN's new album can check out Trent Reznor (reportedly) contributing to QOTSA. Need I say more?

--July 7, The Smashing Pumpkins release their new album, Zeitgeist. While neither Billy Corgan's nor Jimmy Chamberlin's (the only two original Pumpkins confirmed to have gotten back together) post-Pumpkins work hasn't exactly blown us away, Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness are epochal discs for which much can be forgiven--so long as they tour, I'm cool with it.

--Eagles of Death Metal confirm they're working on a new album, hopefully due out this year.

--Art Brut should have their new album out later this spring. While as yet untitled, the first single, "Nag Nag Nag Nag" has been out for months.

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Blogger Brian said...

Oh Jeremy, EVERY concept album ever is about distopian futures and totalitarian governments. I had to write an article about bad concept albums and I had ended up with a whole separate article about concept albums about evil, government-controlled robots. Also, I'm an even more casual NIN fan than you. I heard a stream of the new album. Sooooo boring. I don't like them anymore. Maybe it's because I'm not 13.

2:11 AM  

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