Concept albums run the gamut from the truly suck-ass (such as Styx's Kilroy Was Here and Kiss' The Elder), to the fairly decent (like The Who Sell Out), to the hilarious (Frank Zappa's Joe's Garage and The Coolies' Doug, for example), to the great (like ... OK, there's never really been a great concept album).
But, at least, now there is a really, really good one out there: VNV Nation's Automatic.
If you're not familiar with British/Irish electro/synth band VNV Nation, that's most likely because you're overly familiar with fixed-wheel bikes, ironic thick-rimmed glasses, and LCD Soundsystem (on vinyl). If this is indeed the case, maybe it would be a good idea if you stepped into the other room and quietly fucked yourself to death while the grown-ups discuss music.
The concept behind Automatic is that of "future-retro," an explanation that doesn't help one bit, so let's try this: Imagine if Fritz Lang built a time machine, traveled to the future, and asked VNV Nation to contribute to the soundtrack to Metropolis.
Now imagine a nude, reanimated Mother Theresa fighting off cybernetic bears with laser cannon. As with VNV's last release, Of Faith, Power and Glory, not every song on Automatic clicks, but the ones that do — "Space & Time," "Control," "Resolution" and "Radio" — get the job done.
Verdict: It ain't perfect, but these are guys who gave us "Chrome," "Nemesis," "Art of Conflict" and, of course, "Illusion" — the only song that can make the eyes of every Rivethead within 20 miles misty; the least we can do is to cut 'em a tiny fuckin' break.