Concept albums are great in theory, and often times prove to be phenomenal in execution. When an album has a narrative or an overarching story or meaning, it's so easy to get invested in them and engrossed in its message as if you were reading a novel. The best examples in recent times are Dream Theater's The Astonishing, a dystopian tale of love and war, and Muse's Drones, a commentary on the increasingly heartless ways of drone warfare. Sure, we don't have any legendary concept albums like Pink Floyd's The Wall knocking at our doorbells every year, but there are still definitely standouts that show up.
Of course, on the other side of things, there will be flops; and trust me, there are few things worse than a failed concept album. Unfortunately, that's what experimental hip-hop clipping. has achieved with their newest record, Splendor & Misery.
It went for something interesting, and it deserves at least that much credit. It's story follows the sole survivor of a slave rebellion that's traveling through space on his Interstellar cargo ship. In his thoughts of loneliness (besides the ship's computer that has fallen in love with him), he discovers music in the ambience of the ship's creaks and shudders. Unlike the classic representations of anthropocentric insignificance in the face of an endless space, the main character finds comfort in knowing there's an infinite realm of possibility ahead of him, without the pressures of mankind bearing down on him.
While the story may seem fresh, the music that tells it really isn't. In an album of fifteen tracks, it's split almost half and half - eight "proper" tracks and seven interludes. The interludes add up to pretty much nothing more than unneeded ambience. The intro track 'Long Way Around (Intro)' hypes up the record nicely, segues into a confusingly fast verse (not in the line of Eminem, but more in the line of someone reading an instructions manual really fast) that is all of 'The Breach' before the first real track begins, and it's really underwhelming. 'All Black' sounds like somewhat of a mission objective being explained, and at six-minutes long, it just drones on and on.
There are some good moments on the record, but most are ultimately ruined by something in the end. Take 'Break The Glass' for example, it's a pretty solid track with a haunting instrumental (sounds like that's the engine room of the ship) and distorted verses that build up into an almost industrial rap track. Of course, they had to end it with an ear piercing screeching that is pretty painful to listen to, but at least the meat of the song is good. There are some great gospel moments on the record too, but they're used as individual tracks, and I have absolutely no idea how they fit into the album. 'Long Way Away' and 'Story' are the tracks that consist of these. 'Long Way Away' eventually distorts into white noise while 'Story' follows the piercing noise at the end of 'Break The Glass'.
The only track on the album that really doesn't have a problem surrounding it is 'A Better Place'. It's the album's closure and it feels like an appropriate ending to the narrative and the record. It's upbeat with its proud organs and vocals, resonating hope and an challenging disposition to the frontier ahead of the escaped slave. It's a shortlived victory, though, since the album ends right as it gets off onto a good footing.
Perhaps a concept album just wasn't the right move for clipping. It's interesting to see that the group that usually raps about monotonous stories of living in the hood can branch out into this weird, afrofuturistic story about escaping the world. Granted, the music doesn't really support the effort put that narrative. No tracks really do well as a standalone item, and few of them actually do well in the context of things. But hey, they tried, right? Can't fault them there.
Favorite Tracks: A Better Place, Break The Glass, Long Way Home
Least Favorite Tracks: EVERY Interlude.
Rating: 30 / 100