5 Most Subtle Concept Albums

Everyone knows “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and “The Wall” are concept albums, but what about those records that…

Michael Perone



Everyone knows “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and “The Wall” are concept albums, but what about those records that don’t jump right out at you with an overriding, pretentious idea that ties all the songs together?

At times, I’ve found it enjoyable to assign a particular concept to albums that were really never meant to have one. These albums may not have characters or even an overarching story per se, but I think you’ll agree that they benefit from attributing a concept to their songs. It actually makes them better.

Here they are, in no order:

5. “Let Your Dim Light Shine” – Soul Asylum

Themes: Frustration/Feeling out of place/Hopelessness

Dim Light

Most people prefer “Grave Dancers Union,” the album before this one that featured the huge hits “Runaway Train” and “Black Gold,” but for my money, “Let Your Dim Light Shine” is Soul Asylum’s magnum opus, if for no other reason than all the songs seem to be streamlined together in harmony, or, rather, disharmony; they’re all peans to our shared hopelessness. In other words, all the songs are lonely, lost souls clinging to the hope of a better tomorrow, whether it’s commiserating by chanting the anthem “Frustrated incorporated!” in the first song (and only major hit) “Misery” or wanting to be “Just Like Anyone,” the video of which featured Claire Danes, my favorite actress at the time. (What can I say? I was a huge “My So-Called Life” fan.)

Though I’m not a big Soul Asylum fan, I was able to relate to this album in high school more than any other. (I even had the words “Frustrated Incorporated” written in Wite-Out on my schoolbag.) I too felt the “Misery” and was afraid of being left “To My Own Devices.” I hated it when people purposefully got my “Hopes Up,” just to let me down again, which segued nicely into the next track, “Promises Broken.” I also saw (and still see) the world through the “Eyes of a Child” and was waiting for life to begin in “Tell Me When.” I feared that when I finally went away to college, I’d have “Nothing to Write Home About,” though in the end, I could look back and say, “I Did My Best.”

But despite all these great tunes that hit home time and again, the song “Shut Down” probably described my mental, and sometimes physical, state the best: being so completely confused and “oblivious to the obvious” (a refrain that is repeated throughout) that I could at times literally break down. You can skip the song about the “Caged Rat,” though.