The 10 Greatest Rock Operas

by Sam Sutherland

June 7, 2011






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You may not have heard, but Fucked Up released a new album today. It’s called David Comes to Life, and the big deal (besides the fact that it’s game-changing-ly brilliant) is that it’s a rock opera. At least, it’s a concept album that, if you squint really hard, plays out like an incredibly demented rock opera, with a tortured protagonist, a meddling, post-modern narrator, and a slew of other characters that all seem to bark and snarl like the guy who hosts The Wedge. It’s also an artistic high water mark for this city’s punk and hardcore community (or maybe entire post-’90s music community), but that’s hardly the point right now.

The point: rock operas. They’re emotionally overwrought, unintentionally hilarious, and categorically awesome. In celebration of the release of David Comes to Life, we’ve slummed our way through the depths of opera rocking and brought you the ten greatest. Enjoy, YES fanatics and pinball wizards. Oh, and Zen Arcade is actually better than every record here, but it seemed unfair to include it since it would occupy all top ten spots with its righteous awesomeness. Like how dudes and ladies who use steroids can’t run against wimps who don’t.

10. Deltron 3030’s Deltron 3030

It’s the thing you have to thank / blame for Gorillaz. A hip hop supergroup featuring Dan the Automator, Kid Koala, and Del tha Funkee Homosapien, Del is the voice of a soldier fighting the New World Order in a dystopian sci-fi future (in the year 3030, natch). Deltron Event II has been promised since 2006, and we’re still waiting to see what Del has to do to defend his (spoiler alert) title as Galactic Rhyme Federation Champion.

9. Styx’s Kilroy Was Here

I bet you think you’re better than Styx. You’re not. Styx rules. While every other bloated rock opera features ninety songs with no hooks that all sort of sound the same and a barely recognizable story that sells the mess to the masses, Styx wrote rock operas with hits. Mr. Roboto was the disguise used by the titular Kilroy, an exiled rock star, to escape imprisonment at the hands of Dr. Righteous, the leader of the Majority for Musical Morality. Then he saves the world from fascism. Awesome. Hits.

8. Burzum’s Dauði Baldrs

Supposedly this record traces the tale of Baldr, Odin’s second son. But seriously, who knows? Listen to this garbage. This is mostly here so Varg Vikernes won’t come and burn down my house or my van or whatever.

7. The Kinks’ Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire)

The beginning of the Davies’ obsession with rock operas (they wold go on to make about thirty thousand, adapting them all for the stage and casting themselves), this is still the best example of their post-Tommy creative burst, like Brian Wilson trying desperately to make an album as good as Revolver.

6. Marilyn Manson’s Antichrist Superstar

The beginning of a trilogy of goofy goth-lite albums that went quickly downhill, Antichrist Superstar is still spooky sounding and surprisingly heavy. The description of this album’s storyline on Wikipedia is too bizarre to try and condense into a single hilarious paragraph (it very seriously uses the term “kratocratic plutarchy”), and I can honestly say that, when I was in middle school, I just thought this guy was trying to freak out everyone’s parents.

5. David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars

Is it a concept album, or is it a rock opera? Well, that title is long as fuck, so I’m leaning rock opera. And it has costumes, so… It’s also the best Bowie album, one of the greatest albums of the ’70s, and probably in the top ten albums of all time (imperially). Kind of depressing that if you do this today, you’re just My Chemical Romance.

4. Queensrÿche’s Operation: Mindcrime

Like all great rock operas, I’m not sure I’ve ever fully understood what the hell is happening in Operation: Mindcrime, but I often pretend that I do. Supposedly this is in development to become both a film, and a Broadway musical, currently helmed by the original Roger from Rent. Metal.

3. Boys Night Out’s Trainwreck

So what if I just snuck a suburban Toronto emo band into this list? Deal with it, haters. Starting life as metal-screamo hybrid project, Boys Night Out connected with their inner prog tendencies when they released Trainwreck, an album whose narrative is actually eerily similar to that of David Comes to Life. In it, a man murders his lover, and spends the next hour dealing with the guilt in some heavy, heady ways. I wrote a cover story about the band and this record six years ago for Exclaim! Magazine. I still back this record, hard.

2. Meatloaf’s Bat out of Hell

This song says it all. Jim Steinman wrote this as a musical, and it turned in to a Meatloaf album. Thanks to the magical production of haircut god Todd Rundgren, it is a majestically overblown affair.

1. The Who’s Tommy

What the hell else would be number one? It doesn’t matter how many times Pete Townshend gets arrested for kind of maybe being a total creep. This is the greatest rock opera of all time, the best Who record ever, and one of the weirdest films of the ’70s. Of course, much of this is owing to director Ken Russel, who is total nut and who, if Fucked Up know what’s good for their career, should be directing a sexually freaky, psychedelic cinematic adaptation of David Comes to Life by the time you’re done reading this list.

Honourable mention: Insane Clown Posse’s The Wraith: Shangri-La

This is where they flipped everyone’s shit by revealing all their heinous, dark weirdness was actually about God the whole time. This still makes no sense to anyone not in facepaint.

Tags: Music, Lists, News, boys night out, David Bowie, Fucked Up, Marilyn Manson, The Kinks, The Who






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