The Art of the Cinematic Album | An Introduction

Much has already been written about the evolution of music in film and its psychological and emotional impact on audiences. Academy Award winning film composer Bernard Hermann is best known for his collaboration with Alfred Hitchcock on films like Psycho, North by Northwest, and Vertigo. Hermann once said:

“I feel that music on the screen can seek out and intensify the inner thoughts of the characters. It can invest a scene with terror, grandeur, gaiety, or misery. It can propel narrative swiftly forward, or slow it down. It often lifts mere dialogue into the realm of poetry. Finally, it is the communicating link between the screen and the audience, reaching out and enveloping all into one single experience.”

Often a film’s music is imperative to its success with an audience. It builds suspense, conveys emotion or inner thought, and creates a tone. But how can an album craft its own intriguing characters, thoughts, ideas, emotions and imagery?

Since the late 1960s, the “rock opera” has emerged across genres and styles. The common trend of the “rock opera” being lyrics which relate to a unified story. Though not scripted for acting, several rock operas have become the subject of musicals. on both stage and screen. The Who’s Tommy, often referred to as the first ever rock opera, has been adapted for film. While Green Day’s American Idiot has made its way to Broadway and the West End.

Older still is the staple of the concept album. Though not clearly defined, concept albums generally feature songs holding more meaning collectively than individually. This is accomplished in a number of ways. Whether through a singular plot like that of the rock opera, recurring lyrical themes, aesthetics and imagery conveyed lyrically, common compositional tropes, or some mixture of these elements. Sometimes, an album with a certain timelessness or uniform excellence establishes itself as a concept album.

Regardless of format or style, some of the most critically acclaimed albums in music have a certain cinematic quality. Some, like Pink Floyd’s The Wall or Kendrick Lamar’s Section.80, follow a clear, linear narrative or deliberate concept. Others, like Radiohead’s work from OK Computer onward obtain this quality through overlapping lyrical themes, intentionally or not, or because they project film-like imagery through lyrical and musical interplay. In addition, song arrangement and the flow of the record as a whole can determine this quality. External to the album itself, the suitability of individual songs as background music in a film or television show, along with the emotional impact on the listener, can factor in.

In light of this, and referring back to Hermann’s statement, it’s fair to say that throughout the modern age there has been a recurring trend in popular music. Artists try to craft an cohesive idea, vision, story and universe through any and all means at their disposal. Music, lyrics, artwork, high-concept music videos. We at HeadStuff seek to explore the art of the cinematic album so we can reach a newfound understanding of releases, new and old, that try to achieve this goal. In doing so we will dissect albums the way a film critic would a movie. Through the lens of how they would apply their reading of a film to a particular genre – drama, comedy, horror, etc.

Stay tuned for our first instalment – coming soon.


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