In this post I will be outlining my thoughts on the art of writing an album of songs. I am an avid believer in the fact that an album as an artistic medium can be as significant as a novel or a film and I feel as though this is not commonly thought about, especially in today's music scene, where singles are treated as the new standard.
Concept records are the most obvious example of telling a narrative through an album however the contents of each song don't need to be telling a continuous story for a narrative flow to exist. The beauty of music is that narrative can be displayed through more than just words and stories. Tone, feel, the ebb and flow between the songs can tell it's own narrative that guides you through the emotions that the artist is trying to convey. A couple of good examples I can note are AB3 by Alter Bridge, Ten by Pearl Jam and Audioslave's self titled album, though there are certainly many more.
When it comes to tackling the concept of an album it's best not to start at the beginning until you have established a couple of developed ideas. When I set about writing Sloan and The First Gentlemen's album Axiom I had written 4-5 songs before I even began to put them in order, this was because I wanted the music to start to tell it's own story, which then inspired me to write more music that contextualised the songs I already had. Personally I like album's that have a certain template that goes somewhat like this:
Introductory song that either has an epic quality (like Slip To The Void by Alter Bridge or In Your Honour by Foo Fighters) a prologue that leads into the first song (Like T-Shirt by Foo Fighters or One Life by Alter Bridge) or a hard hitting starter that blows you away (like Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana or Welcome To The Jungle by Guns N' Roses). After this song there should be a couple of songs that ideally would work as singles, frontloading the album with great upbeat music to keep people invested, though it is important not to use all of your more commercially applicable material at the beginning of the album. Then I would put the heaviest song of the album somewhere in the middle, whether this be emotionally heavy or sonically heavy, it is important to show the listener your depth within the first half of the album. Following this you can start to get a bit more experimental with your compositions, fitting your longer tracks towards the end, with maybe one or 2 more of your more single friendly tracks in there. Finally I would take your most experimental work for the last couple of tracks, whether this be due to the length or structure etc. The last song I feel should be something for your true fans to sink their teeth into, an epic of sorts, Alter Bridge are very good at this, listen to Fortress or The Last Hero to see what I mean.
As you can see this creates a narrative flow to the album without necessarily having a run through story. You can mix this up and try different things as those that break the rules a bit usually make the best art but this is the template I personally try to think about when I tackle an album of music. There are some factors that genre may influence, such as typical song length, usual tone of the music associated with that genre etc. but if you can apply this template to your genre of choice, or experiment with multiple genres using this template, then I believe you can create something truly interesting and new. This structure, although regimented to an extent has enough freedom for the experimentation needed to provide you with an album that is rewarding to both create and listen to and as Orson Welles once said "The enemy of art is the absence of limitations".