A Modern Take on the Concept Album – Twenty-One Pilots’ ‘Clancy’

A Modern Take on the Concept Album – Twenty-One Pilots’ ‘Clancy’

Concept albums have long been a staple of rock music, characterized by their thematic cohesion and narrative complexity. Albums like Pink Floyd’s The Wall, Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, or Dream Theater’s Scenes From A Memory are among those albums that are celebrated for taking listeners on a surreal journey, blending progressive rock with theatrical storytelling. These albums not only defined their eras but also expanded the boundaries of what rock music could be. While prog artists like Neal Morse have championed the concept album over the last 25 years, it is not attempted as often outside the prog landscape.

There have been a few modern takes on the concept album including My Chemical Romance’s The Black Parade which combines punk rock with operatic grandeur, or The Dear Hunter’s ‘Act Series,’ which followed the character over five eclectic and ambitious albums. Enter alt/rock duo Twenty-One Pilots with their latest concept album, Clancy, an album that concludes a multi-album narrative that incorporates many genres to tell the story or a character’s journey through struggles and insecurities.

Known for their Grammy award-winning pop hits like “Stressed Out” and “Heathens”, the duo made up of frontman/multi-instrumentalist Tyler Joseph, and drummer Josh Dun, are hugely popular in the mainstream with hundreds of millions of streams and video views. Their music blends genres seamlessly, incorporating elements of rock, hip-hop, pop, and electronic music. This genre-fluid approach reflects the diverse musical tastes of today’s listeners, breaking down the barriers between genres to create something truly original. The last few albums the band has worked with Paul Meany from Mutemath, an alternative rock band that released albums from 2006-1017. This has resulted in a more experimental and mature sound, especially noticeable on this new album Clancy.

Twenty-One Pilots’ approach to the concept album is unique in that it spans multiple records, creating an extended narrative arc. The series which kicked off with 2015’s multi-platinum album Blurryface introduced us to the character of Blurryface, representing frontman Tyler Joseph’s insecurities and inner struggles. The follow-up, Trench, released in 2018, expanded on the concept by introducing the fictional world of Dema, a city ruled by nine bishops led by the character Nico. In Trench, the new character Clancy is introduced, and with the help of the “Banditos,” tries to “Leave the City” of Dema.

In Clancy, the narrative reaches its climax as Clancy symbolizes the next step in the journey towards self-acceptance and freedom, with Clancy finding ways to break free from the oppressive influence of Blurryface. The music and lyrics reflect this transformation, with tracks that capture the tension and release of overcoming personal obstacles. The story of Clancy concludes with a sense of hope and empowerment, as the character finds a path to self-discovery and peace.

The songs are immensely diverse from the powerful electronic-based “Overcompensate” to the punk-rock of “Next Semester” to the 80’s new-wave sound of “Navigating” to the atmospheric prog epic ending of “Paladine Strait.” The band take a stab at every style and largely succeed.

While this might not be the music that traditional prog fans will easily embrace, it is worth appreciating the world the band has created with these albums, which ultimately leads to a satisfying conclusion with Clancy. The album’s genre-blending approach reflects the eclectic musical landscape of the 21st century, offering a fresh take on the concept album format.

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