Rock and roll hasn’t always been about the days of playing songs just to bang your head to. Ever since people like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones opened up the playing field, countless musicians have come along to push the genre forward in whatever way they know how, trying something that they’ve never heard before or going against the grain of what everyone else is doing. Some may be singing from the heart, and some might want to preach, but these albums have a story to tell.
Structuring the album almost like a movie in your head, every one of these albums seems to have a complete concept running through it from beginning to end, with every song tying back to the exact same thing. Not every story has to be a rock opera though, and some of these albums are at their best when they are playing loosely with their concepts, giving you only the building blocks of the story so that you’ll be able to fill in the gaps for yourself.
When you do enter rock opera territory though, these guys were more than up to the challenge, crafting songs that all seem to blend into one another as they follow a certain character throughout their life and put them through their paces for the better part of an hour. Rock and roll might not be the most intellectual genre around, but you have to do a little deeper digging to get to the meaning behind what these artists wanted to say.
10. The Downward Spiral - Nine Inch Nails
In the aftermath of Pretty Hate Machine, Trent Reznor's view of stardom wasn't exactly what he thought it would be. After making it big with tracks like Head Like a Hole, Trent found himself even more isolated than before, trying to let out his demons onstage and coming back with the exact same problems once the show ended. He needed some sort of outlet for those primal tendencies, and The Downward Spiral was the equivalent of throwing your fans' brains into a woodchipper.
Documenting the tale of someone named Mr. Self Destruct, this entire project consists of Trent trying to actively nullify his life, moving further down the spiral on every single track. Though he already sounds like he's on the brink of insanity on the first track, every song is another layer into the darkest corners of the human psyche, from talking about wanting to fulfill your sexual desires in the most unflattering way possible on Closer to the title track, which practically simulates a man contemplating suicide and eventually pulling the trigger at the end of the song.
This isn't just music to peel skin from bone to either, with thrashers like March of the Pigs getting balanced by A Warm Place, which reflects on the simpler times in the man's life, as well as ending with Hurt, where he takes into account all that he's done and tries to think of what he could have done better. This isn't necessarily a happy ending, but it's a good case of what could happen when you give into pure nihilism.