10 Best Double Albums
The decades-old concept of double albums has shifted dramatically over the past quarter century. Up until CDs, and then digital downloads, took over, two-record sets were fairly common. Almost every artist who wanted to be taken seriously released at least one double album during their career. But in the post-vinyl age, double albums are hard to spot. Because CDs can hold almost 80 minutes of music, and digital-album lengths are endless, there aren’t too many double-album sets these days. The records on our list of indie rock’s 10 Best Double Albums had to meet two criteria: If the music was originally released on two vinyl records before CDs became the norm (around 1990), it counts, regardless of how it’s packaged on CD. And if the album was originally released on two CDs after 1990, obviously that counts, too. The list is almost evenly divided between eras.
The Cure’s seventh album features a balanced mix of the two sides of the band: the gloomy moody one and the zippy pop one. There’s really no need for this to be a two-record set, since ‘Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me’ isn’t a concept album or anything like that; Robert Smith was just very prolific at the time. It turned out to be the Cure’s breakthrough album.
New-millennium electronic music isn’t supposed to be this ambitious. Artists are supposed to release a couple of great singles, slap ’em on an album and that’s that. They’re not supposed to put out two-disc epics brimming with ’80s-style synth-pop and super-catchy songs about frogs. These French neo-New Wavers aim big and score a direct hit.
‘Abattoir Blues / The Lyre of Orpheus’ (2004)
For 20-plus years Cave had balanced gutsy punk-inspired rockers with moodier noir numbers. On his 13th album, he plays it both ways, placing the tougher songs on one disc and the slower, more atmospheric ones on the other. And yet it still sounds like a concise piece — two sides to the same doom-drenched story about love and death.
Nine Inch Nails’ follow-up to ‘The Downward Spiral’ is every bit as monumental. Trent Reznor dials down the abrasive industrial noise a bit, settling for a fractured soundscape that hints at post-apocalyptic survivalism. ‘The Fragile’ is a lengthy work — 23 tracks spread over two discs — and it gets complicated. But Reznor has never made such gorgeously broken music.
‘Southern Rock Opera’ (2001)
The whole point of the sprawling ‘Southern Rock Opera’ was to dispel myths about the south, southern music and southern musicians. Lynyrd Skynyrd and Neil Young are jumping-off points for a personal journey that winds through back roads and, more often than not, ends up in a ditch after a long night of drinking. It’s smart and fascinating, and it totally rocks.
Leave it to Billy Corgan to make a weighty two-disc concept album that liberally borrows from the golden era of two-disc concept albums, the ’70s, complete with finger-burning guitar solos, nine-minute songs with titles like ‘Porcelina of the Vast Oceans’ and a story nobody can really figure out. No matter — it’s totally awesome.
After a twangy debut that sounded a lot like his old band Uncle Tupelo, Jeff Tweedy got serious with Wilco. He penned a bunch of songs that play out like a personal history of rock ‘n’ roll — from ’70s AM pop to early-’80s punk to ’90s indie rock. In between there’s everything from art-rock to psych-rock and, yes, even some twang.
Just like the sprawling electronic landscapes found on M83’s ‘Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming’ (see No. 9 on our list of the Top 10 Double Albums), punk isn’t supposed to be this ambitious. But Minneapolis trio Hüsker Dü never really fit all that comfortably in the club. Their mammoth 1984 double-album opus ‘Zen Arcade’ heads in several directions, only a handful of them within punk’s boundaries.
‘Double Nickels on the Dime’ (1984)
What was it with punk trios and double-album masterworks in 1984 (see No. 3 on our list of the Top 10 Double Albums)? Minutemen’s 45-song epic includes songs about Michael Jackson, self-aware scene bashing, junk-culture takedowns and even a Van Halen cover. The following year, the band’s singer and guitarist was killed in a van accident, putting an end to one of indie rock’s most open-minded groups.
A pivotal record that charges from the very first note, the Clash’s third album erased any preconceptions people might have had about them being a “punk” band. From R&B to reggae to pop to ’50s rock, ‘London Calling’ surveys the musical landscape at the end of the ’70s and surfaces with one of the greatest albums, double or otherwise, ever made. But the Clash weren’t satisfied: They followed it up a year later with a three-record set, ‘Sandinista!’