Concept albums are a dime a dozen in today’s musical climate. Whether attempted by pseudo-ambitious newcomers looking to spice up their resume or aging veterans fighting a losing battle with relevance, these instances of PR gymnastics generally present either a vague narrative tied together in the loosest manner possible or an overlong, ham-fisted cacophony of pretentious drivel. Yet even in the rare cases when a story is successfully relayed, the truly conceptual nature of the so-called “concept album” often falls by the wayside. A concept album requires a true, finite concept to grasp, a feeling and atmosphere in which to envelop the listener. The highest tier, the records truly worth their salt, don’t simply tell the listener a story – they swoop in, Peter Pan style, and invite him or her to take part in it.
Mr. Spaceman is one such album. It not only permeates loneliness from its very core, but it illustrates itself as a product of that loneliness, the spirit of a moment contained in twelve pieces of music. A record of rises and falls, of triumphs and sorrows, it is not the statement of a concept as much as it is the physical manifestation of it, a 44-minute campaign through the mind of a man stripped of all but his thoughts. It opens, floating weightlessly with “Out of the Dark,” a slow-burner that gleams with a twinge of hope. “Blue Heaven” launches from the darkness, afterburners kicking in, a tale of loss and release that’s equal parts crushing and triumphant. Its stomping arena rock chorus bites with sorrow and regret.
Though each individual track, from the slick, ear-catching, “Burn the Money” to the brooding, atmospheric instrumental “Relativity,” is smartly written and immaculately performed, Mr. Spaceman is exponentially greater than the sum of its parts. The depth of each piece truly shines when paired with its eleven companions, almost to the point that listening to any track as a one-off is something of a disservice to the record as a whole. The progression of hope, regret, and crushing loneliness is one that begs to be experienced in one sitting. Mr. Spaceman is a record of hopeless romanticism and ultimate loss, its wide spectrum of emotions fluttering deftly throughout its course.
Sonically, the record is a dream. Frontman Zach Britt has never sounded better, delivering a charismatic vocal performance that propels the tidal wave of emotion. Each instrument is clear and well-produced; Young Lions are a rock band at heart and Mr. Spaceman sounds like a rock album, its driving percussion and dissonant guitar propelling the compositions forward. Yet the most common pitfalls of modern hard rock prove this record’s greatest strengths. Whereas modern production and shrink-wrapped songwriting have largely stripped the genre of personality, emotion, and artistic integrity, Mr. Spaceman delivers the full force of Young Lions’ ethos in a stunning exhibition of raw, visceral emotion.
Mr. Spaceman is a flawless display of musicianship, songwriting, and atmosphere. It is an artistic endeavor of the highest caliber – a poignant, lightning-in-a-bottle triumph that lives and dies by its crushing projection of loneliness. It is peerless.