You'll find no Spinal Tap-style grandiosity here
Gaby Whitehill

11:12 15th January 2014

"Concept album". Those two words alone make anyone roll their eyes as thoughts of elves, twenty minute songs and two hour guitar solos reminiscent of Spinal Tap fill their minds.

Fear not, however - if the likes of The Who and Pink Floyd aren't for you, there are plenty of albums out there that tell a story without screaming "PRETENTIOUS!".

Here, we've taken a look at some of the best themed, narrative records you can lose yourself completely in, from Kendrick Lamar to Blink 182. It's an eye-roll free zone.

  • Metronomy - The English Riviera: On standout track 'The Look', Metronomy's Joe Mount laments "this town's the oldest friend of mine." This lyric encapsulates the nostalgic yet slightly hostile theme that runs through this fantastic, Mercury Prize-nominated album - the feelings surrounding his return to his hometown of Totnes, Devon after pursuing a music career in London. As Mount himself says, The English Riviera was made "for the people I grew up with."

  • Queens of the Stone Age - Songs For the Deaf: Distorted, fuzzy radio station KLON ("the radio station that sounds more like everybody else than anybody else!") is your narrator throughout Josh Homme and co's third album as you drive from Los Angeles to Joshua Tree. Obviously, what they were setting out to prove here is that THEY don't sound like anyone else - a point they made, and beautifully, with blisteringly brilliant tracks 'No One Knows' and 'First It Giveth'.

  • Kendrick Lamar - good kid, m.A.A.d city: A look at the artwork for Lamar's critically acclaimed debut tells you most of what you need to know about the story behind this record - a young Kendrick is surrounded by his uncles, their eyes blacked out, whilst one of them throws up a gang sign. good kid, m.A.A.d city is the tale of being stuck in a lifestyle of gangs and drugs and its harsh realities. Recordings of Kendrick's parents and friends make the record a truly immersive experience - not to mention Lamar's dense narrative and observant lyrics.

  • Arctic Monkeys - Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not: Alex Turner and co's debut is a tale of kebab shops, indie discos, fights outside the local bar and power-hungry bouncers - and it perfectly encapsulated the life of young people in Northern England. Alex Turner's first person narrative, in which he makes wry and witty observations of nightclubs ['Still Take You Home', 'Dancing Shoes'] as well as the prostitutes of Sheffield and teenage romance make this album a classic.

  • Neutral Milk Hotel - In the Aeroplane Over the Sea: Although the band have never confirmed it, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is thought to be a record about famous World War II diarist Anne Frank, however Neutral Milk Hotel vocalist Jeff Mangum has only said one track - 'Holland, 1945' - is about her. In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is an epic, impenetrable yet enchanting piece of work. Just try to listen to the 8 minute long epic 'Oh Comely' without getting goosebumps.

  • Notorious BIG - Ready To Die: Rap legend Biggie's debut is widely considered one of the best hip hop albums of all time, and it's possible partly due to its simple concept that draws you in right from the intro, which details his birth, then takes you through his childhood, then adolescence, until you're right with him in the present day - when the album was released. Biggie's lyricism is unflinching and not exactly pleasant - drugs, women, violence - but it doesn't feel stale. Closer 'Suicidal Thoughts' is like a sonic punch in the face.

  • Blink 182 - Take Off Your Pants and Jacket: The quintessential album for your teenage years, Blink 182 chronicled the trials and tribulations of adolescence - the first dates, the house parties - with their trademark sense of humour and gross out lyrics your mum would hate. Pop punk gems such as 'The Rock Show' and 'First Date' make this one of the seminal, best albums of the genre.

  • Lauryn Hill - The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill: Birth is a major theme of Hill's classic debut record - the rebirth of herself as a solo artist after her departure from the Fugees, and the birth of her first child; the album was written whilst she was pregnant. Conceptually, the record takes place in a classroom, with skits featuring a teacher speaking to a class full of children about love, which is another primary theme throughout the album. The record went on to earn Hill five Grammy awards.

  • The Streets - A Grand Don't Come For Free: A "rap opera" may sound pretentious, but when it's coming from MC and wordsmith Mike Skinner, it manages not to cross the line into grandiose. The storyline sees Skinner's protagonist lose £1000 [the "grand"] and follows his attempts to recoup the money, via tracks such as the chirpy, lad-culture based 'Fit But You Know It' and trippy, melancholy 'Blinded By The Lights'.

  • Daft Punk - Discovery: The French electronic duo's second album saw their sound shift from house to disco and synth pop. In terms of concept, Guy-Manuel and Thomas Bangalter never officially confirmed a theme but many saw Discovery's gleeful homage to 80s disco-pop as a concept in itself. Tracks 'One More Time' and 'Digital Love' remain absolute classics.

  • Tyler, The Creator - Bastard: OK, so it's not strictly an album, but Odd Future member Tyler, The Creator's debut mixtape is one of the most frank and brilliant concept records out there. Throughout the mixtape, we hear Tyler talking to [but mostly battling with] a therapist about growing up without a father and his insecurities - a rare thing in hip hop. Searing, eye poppingly raw tracks such as 'AssMilk' and the melancholic, piano-laden opener 'Bastard' are just a couple of standouts on the rapper's introduction to the world.

  • The Fugees - The Score: Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean and Pras Michel second and final album has a strong concept running throughout, with Hill even describing it as an "audio film" and a "hip hop version of Tommy". The Score carries a strong socially conscious theme, which served as an antidote to gangsta rap, which dominated music at the time of its release. Samples, skits and sketches give The Score a resolutely cinematic feel, which in turn earned the album massive critical praise and commercial success - which The Fugees never attempted again.

  • Ryan Adams - Orion: Yep, an album of "fully realised sci fi heavy metal" may SOUND pretentious [and awful], but really Orion is simply Adams' unashamed love letter to the genre, and you've got to love him for that. Not to mention Adams confirmed the record is a "thank you" to late Voivod guitarist Denis D'Amour, who died of cancer.