When we kicked off our Roundtable feature last year, we asked our trusty music writers to name the Best Albums Under 30 Minutes. Because, in our own words at the time, “sometimes it can be difficult to sit yourself down and pore over all six hours that the deluxe edition of Melloncollie And The Infinite Sadness clocks up”, and we stand by that.
However, sometimes that’s exactly what you want to do.
With this in mind, we’re turning the tables this month and entering the void to lose ourselves in the monolithic chasms below as we name the Best Double Albums – according to us anyway.
So pull up a comfy chair and settle down as we appreciate the most lavish and lengthy works in music history.
Kendrick Lamar – Mr Morale & The Big Steppers
Recency bias perhaps, but I’m going to say Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers by Kendrick Lamar. Much like his previous record DAMN, Kendrick again has an internal battle going on, but this time we find him wrestling with the pressures of his star status, his obligations to his community and the dark parts of his very own human nature.
Depicted on the cover of the album is Kendrick and his family, with him wearing a crown of thorns and a gun tucked into his trousers, as the seemingly perfectly painted brown walls surrounding them are stained with white marks.
Amazingly the contents found within MM&TBS are all there, captured in that one striking image: family, relationships and generational trauma.
The confines of gender and racial divide. Kendrick’s fame, the responsibility that comes with it and the toll it has painstakingly taken on his mental health. Most importantly though, humanity and the sheer complexity of it all.
The Clash – London Calling
Seeing as I’m currently wearing a t shirt with the album cover on it as I write, it has to be The Clash’s London Calling!
19 excellent tracks on the London punk band’s iconic third record speak about a variety of themes from youthful alienation, heartache to social commentary. That classic album cover, the influence of reggae and Strummer’s top notch lyricism ensure it’s a timeless classic.
‘Guns of Brixton’ is one of my favourite songs of all time and we have classics like ‘Clampdown’, ‘Brand New Cadillac’, ‘Rudie Can’t Fail and so many others!
Still sounding outstanding 43 years on.
Bright Eyes – Digital Ash In A Digital Urn / I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning
I think I’m running on a technicality when I say Digital Ashes in a Digital Urn / I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning, two Bright Eyes albums released on the same day in 2005.
They’re twins rather than a double album I guess.
I was so in love with I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning and didn’t discover until much later that Digital Ash existed.
The duality of the warm country-inspired songwriting versus the cold and electronic composing really tickles some gimmick-loving endorphin centre in my brain.
Pink Floyd – The Wall
I should really say Nine Inch Nails’ The Fragile because it’s still such a modern-sounding record that is intriguing difficult to define or categorise – but if I’m being honest – it has to be Pink Floyd’s The Wall.
Perfectly flawed, it defines the double album with straight narrative and extreme shifts of mood. It’s Roger Water’s gestalt therapy headfuck that manages to also revisit Syd Barret’s drug-induced psychosis and breakdown.
Musically it makes great use of Rick Wright’s thoughtful and considered keyboard parts and Gilmour’s epic guitar solos. There are not many other albums that fit so neatly with their artwork aesthetic and The Wall movie expands the perspective of the songs into another medium into a continued music video.
What could be better than a brilliantly accomplished rock album that also gives a deep critique of rock star culture!
The Weeknd – Trilogy
Can I push this and say The Weeknd’s Trilogy?
Yes, it is literally three albums by name, but spiritually, I would like to make the argument that it is two. It is very much three, but let’s just talk about it for a minute. Someone please talk to me about Trilogy!
The man hasn’t done anything to match it since, and not because everything he’s done is utter shite, but Trilogy is just that bloody good.
The Who – Quadrophenia
Ever since I was an angsty teen myself, I’ve been a huge advocate of Quadrophenia.
It’s the peak of Pete Townshend’s rock opera experimentation, with a story that is simultaneously more coherent and more fractured than Tommy, while also showcasing The Who at the apex of their stadium rock powers – ‘Love Reign O’er Me,’ ‘5.15,’ ‘The Punk and the Godfather.’
Bonus points for using the break between discs to mark a climactic point (and change in setting) in the story, similar to an act break.
The Clash – London Calling
London Calling by the Clash. I don’t think there’s a bum track on there and it brought a new sense of musicality to punk rock.
I also love that it was a huge fuck you to their label.
CBS didn’t want them to put out a double album but made the concession that allowed the band to put out a free single with the album – which they frontloaded with an album’s worth of material, which CBS were forced to release for the price of a regular album due to the deal they had negotiated with the band!
Smashing Pumpkins – Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness
I was somewhat familiar with Smashing Pumpkins from their Siamese Dream singles on the radio. Still, I’ll never forget being on a family vacation in San Diego and seeing this two-story poster for Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness in the window of a Virgin Megastore.
The antique collage of the woman in the star floating through space was unlike anything I’d ever seen.
My dad bought me the CD set for my birthday, which changed everything I knew about music. I was way into Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and even Bush (bleh), but Mellon Collie is much grander than anything from those bands.
“Muzzle” is my favorite song of all time on some days, and everything on the record meant the world to my teenage self.
Bob Dylan – Blonde On Blonde
I was very tempted to agree with Kiley on Mellon Collie as it was probably my first exposure to the concept of a double album, and it remains one of the most epic pieces of music you could ever listen to start to finish, so not a bad choice sir.
Yet while Mellon Collie might have been the first time I ever heard a double album, Blonde On Blonde was the first time I ever heard Bob Dylan, and that’s something you never forget.
I was probably too young back then to truly comprehend the genius of what I was hearing when ‘I Want You’, ‘Leopard-Skin Pil-Box Hat’ and ‘Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands’ first graced my ears, but then again I’m not sure I’m any better equipped twenty years later to say anything that hasn’t already been said about what is arguably Dylan’s masterpiece.
The crowning achievement of one of the finest album trilogies in music history (following Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited), Blonde On Blonde may be the most complete expression of Dylan’s artistry front to back, and the great man’s recent 82nd birthday seems as good a time to celebrate it as any.
In addition to all of the epic tombs above, there’s no shortage of seismic classics to get stuck into so we’ve compiled a list of honourable mentions below to keep you ticking along if you’re still hungry for more after delving through our list:
Arcade Fire – Reflektor
The Beatles – The Beatles
Bruce Springsteen – The River
Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Lift Yr Skinny Little Fists Like Antennas To Heaven
Husker Du – Zen Arcade
Jimi Hendrix – Electric Ladyland
Joanna Newsom – Have One On Me
M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
Minutemen – Double Nickels On The Dime
Nine Inch Nails – The Fragile
The Notorious B.I.G – Life After Death
Outkast – Speakerboxxx/The Love Below
Prince – Sign O’ The Times
The Rolling Stones – Exile On Main St.
Stevie Wonder – Songs In The Key Of Life
Wilco – Being There
Wu Tang Clan – Wu Tang Forever
Next Time: If were a little miffed not to see The White Album make the cut as one of our writer’s selections above, next time out we’re dedicating a whole feature to the Fab Four when we take a look at the Best Beatles Albums!