Christopher Bradley’s 7 of the Best: These Sci-Fi Concept Albums Go To 11
Written by Christopher Bradley
Orion by Ryan Adams (2010)
I will have to admit, I am biased here. I am a huge Ryan Adams fan, but as you may already know, metal isn’t really his style. This album was an homage to the genre and sounds more like a thrash/punk album to me. The album tells the story of a great intergalactic struggle between the forces of good and evil. Pretty standard stuff, obviously. If distilled to a screenplay, it would make a great made for television sci-fi flick, and of course the album itself would be the soundtrack. I would highly recommend listening to it on wax while reading some Philip K. Dick.
De-Loused in the Comatorium by The Mars Volta (2003)
Known for their prolific body of expansive progressive rock, this debut album by one of my favorite bands spins the tale of one Cerpin Taxt, a man who spends a week in a coma after overdosing on rat poison and morphine. What follows is an hour-long romp through space and time, replete with virtuosic guitar riffs and other cosmic sounds. Some of the songs would make great background music for a Starfinder adventure.
2112 by Rush (1976)
No list of sci-fi albums would be complete without this band’s magnum opus. Personally, I am no fan of the inspiration for this album’s content; songwriter Neil Peart credits Objectivist Ayn Rand for much of the content. However, there is no denying that the side one which contains the twenty-minute epic tale of the city of Megadon in the year 2112 is a sprawling masterpiece. The story describes a city where creativity and individualism do not exist and a sect of priests that reside in the Temple of Syrinx who control everything. None of the populace knows music or art. When a man finds a beaten guitar in a cave and rediscovers the feeling of creating music, the priests destroy the guitar and banish him. The tale ends ambiguously with an unknown entity taking control during the start of another intergalactic struggle, and that’s just side one!
Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd (1973)
Another staple to any list describing sci-fi albums, Pink Floyd’s 1973 effort is widely regarded as one of the best concept albums of all time. Each song is a reflection of various stages of human life and experience. “Time” explores anxiety and how fleeting life can be. “Money”, ironically the most known track explores consumerism and the “rat race” of modern society. Finally, my personal favorite track, “Brain Damage” explores mental illness and is regarded as a track discussing founding member Syd Barrett’s mental breakdown.
Amory Wars (7 albums all together) by Coheed & Cambria (2002-2013)
This may be cheating because they could be ranked on their own, but for the purpose of this list, I decided to lump them together. This series of comic books has a 7-album soundtrack to go along with it. The Amory Wars series is about a star system consisting of 78 planets all connected by an energy beam network called the “Keywork.” The key protagonists are Coheed and Cambria Kilgannon (go figure) who are in an epic struggle with the main antagonist, Wilhelm Ryan. Their son Claudio emerges as a Christlike figure who is destined to defeat Ryan in a final battle. Oh yea, the music is pretty good too.
OK Computer by Radiohead (1997)
Like Rush and Pink Floyd, Radiohead’s foray into a sci-fi concept album examined the human experience past, present, and (possible) future. Radiohead chose the title of this album as a nod to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy where the flashy President of the Galaxy, Zaphod Beeblebrox states, “Okay computer, I want full manual control.” The essential picture that Radiohead was trying to paint with this sonic masterpiece is how everything was soon to be automated and run by computers. Imagine if something like Amazon Alexa existed in 1997 when this record was released? Listening to it in 2017, it would seem it was extremely prescient.
Time by Electric Light Orchestra (1981)
Jeff Lynne was and has been on the cutting edge of making music. After ELO’s commercial success of the mid to late 70s, they created a couple of concept albums. Time is one of the most important albums because it was the first concept album dealing exclusively with time travel. A man from 1981 fell sleep in the 80s and woke up to find himself in the year 2095 to a vastly complicated world. Throughout his journey he falls in love with an android woman, and is nostalgic for the 80s when everything was much simpler. He even attempts to send a letter back in time to his girlfriend. Anyone who has seen the first season of Futurama has definitely heard this story before. In the end, the man wonders if it has all been a dream that he will wake up from. Even Jeff Lynne, the creator of the album, doesn’t know the answer to that question.