So, Janelle Monae is the next big thing on both sides of the Atlantic. Her album, The ArchAndroid (Suites II and III), has taken the unusual step of being concept driven. Unusual, because this is her debut LP; a brave move in a world fixated with the immediacy and instant gratification of the iPod. The BBC have today picked up on this point, and asked whether the concept album is still a relevant medium. The fact that Monae’s efforts have been so well received critically can only point towards a positive answer.
Many of the world’s most revered acts have contributed a record of this type at some stage during their career. Pink Floyd are the most obvious name here; building a monolithic stage show around their magnum opus The Wall. And while that is the definitive example of a concept album at its most grandiose; this wasn’t a medium exclusive to LP format. Using image to create a character and social landscape was the playground of Prince, and David Bowie before him. Or it. Further evidence of this being alive and (debatably) well today is in the gender bending, anything goes stage garb of Lady Gaga. In her instance many believe it’s more a case of “shocking for shocks sake”. The old moniker of all style and no substance has certainly been knocked about a fair bit with her name in tow. Another example of an artist taking conceptualisation and arguably bastardising it would be Sting, whose recent winter album release had many reviewers curling their toes in anguish. Nevertheless, the medium still exists today in all its forms, for better or worse.
It’d be a pretty boring landscape without it.