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Are There Any Great Double Albums?

physical graffiti

I can’t think of any, at least not in the loose realms of hard rock and heavy metal.

This question presented itself to me on the bus this morning after watching Anthony Fantano’s review of Metallica’s Hardwired… To Self Destruct at The Needledrop.

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Fantano’s review works as a recap of nearly every conversation about Hardwired that I’ve been a part of. Every exchange boils down to this: It’s too damn long. Usually people don’t out and say that explicitly. Instead, I notice people discussing specific songs they would have left off the album (side note: Fantano’s the only person I’ve seen argue for “Confusion” staying on the track list). Critics agree that Hardwired is good, but also agree that there’s fat to trim. Which makes sense: it’s a double album.

To be clear, there are good double albums. I just can’t think of a double album that I can comfortably listen to from front to back. Those that come close aren’t strictly metal albums. Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti is nearly excellent, but I routinely skip “Black Country Woman” and “Down by the Seaside”. The Who’s Quadrophenia fares better, but mostly because it saves many of its best songs for the end. The stretch from “Dirty Jobs” to “Is it in my Head?” does nothing for me. Blonde on Blonde? 70 minutes is a little too much Bob Dylan for me, even though every song is essential.

Here’s the closest I can come to an exception to the rule: I can’t think of a single song I dislike from Bitches Brew by Miles Davis, but the album’s sheer bulk keeps me from taking it off my shelf. If I’m in the mood for Miles, I tend to grab Tribute to Jack Johnson or On the Corner.

Live albums are an exception. Iron Maiden’s Live After Death captivates from front-to-back, so does Slayer’s Decade of Aggression. Metallica’s Live Shit: Binge and Purge, sports my preferred versions of several key songs from that band’s discography – “Creeping Death” works best with the “motherfucker die” chant, and I prefer Jason Newsted’s vocal take on “Seek & Destroy”. Those albums, though, benefit from track lists cherry-picked from albums worth of great songs, and escape the bloated trap that studio double albums fall into.

Maybe there’s something that I’m missing. Can you readers suggest a double album that fires on all cylinders for its full duration?

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