Concept albums are risky business for any artist. Viewed by some as masterful and others as pretentious, the concept album is one of rock’s more polarizing landmarks. Luckily, local indie rock favorite Glasgow manages to mostly avoid self-importance on its third release, On Earth.
On Earth is set up thematically to loosely follow the history of our planet, most obviously in the opening four tracks: “Blackhole,” “Volcano,” “Dinosaur,” and “Monkey.” Striving to musically match such a vast concept pushes Glasgow to expand its scope, straddling Queen-sized epic rock and the Talking Heads meets Pixies indie quirkiness that is the band’s trademark. While the new sounds sometimes stretch the vocals a bit too thin, the musicianship of the band sells the stylistic variety of On Earth.
Glasgow takes the storytelling opportunity to the songs themselves, often throwing out traditional song structure to dart off in unpredictable directions. The gamble pays off on “Liar,” a blazing rocker that runs through thrashing indie rock, swing, an electric fiddle solo and a bridge reminiscent of Sgt. Pepper-era Beatles before triumphantly banging back the main riff. On the other hand, “Robot,” a futuristic tale of a mail order android bride, ends on a bridge to nowhere that just putters out as if the band simply ran out of ideas for the song.
On Earth’s track listing proves to be its main drawback. The song order makes thematic sense, and vocalist Sam Craft’s lighthearted, off-the-wall lyrics convey the story of the record but keep each song self-contained. However, the strict adherence to the chronological history concept shapes the dynamics of the album like a musical bell curve; the spacey, mid-tempo tracks serve as bookends with the upbeat songs crammed in the middle. While a different sequencing may have helped the musical presentation, ultimately, On Earth plays out a lot like human history: sometimes great, a bit imperfect, and worth the effort.