Let's get a working definition of a 'concept album' : "In a concept album…all songs contribute to a single overall theme or unified story." "Pet Sounds", Sgt. Pepper, "Dark Side on the Moon", "Double Nickels on the Dime", and "Ok Computer" are just some of the concept albums that people will debate for inclusion into the best of the best list. I'd like to put a new album, available online, into consideration: Denis Marshall's Betrayed. The unified story? The story of how Denis Marshall's ex-girlfriend gave him herpes.
Denis has detailed the story at length on his webpage, but to summarize, he met a girl while playing at a club. The two of them immediately started dating. They got serious even though they were constantly fighting. A few months later, he tested "positive for Herpes Simplex One antibodies." When he approached her about it, she replied "'I don't know where you got it from but you didn't get it from me.'" He continued to date her (!) until, after they had a very bad fight, she left him for a high school crush. Two months later Denis read in the paper that she and the new guy were engaged to be wed. He then wrote this album.
The mp3s are available on his webpage, as are the lyrics. I need to emphasize that almost every song is about how he contracted herpes from his ex-girlfriend. Standout tracks include: Princess, I Can't Hurt You, Do You Tell Him You Love Him Too?, Skank, and my personal favorite, Dogtrack (God I am a Fool).
The songs speak for themselves, but I want to point out a few themes to start discussion. First off, Denis is quite upset that there is no cure for herpes. Fair enough. The way those who can take care of their love bugs with 3 weeks worth of penicillin while Denis has a long life ahead of him no doubt strikes him as unfair. Still, there are probably music fans who also have herpes and could also become groupies – it's not like they'll give each other herpes again! – but will probably be put off by the end-of-the-world imagery of being 'incurable':
I'll spend my life alone because of you
No one will travel with me I'm walking the plank…
I went to the doctor, he pricked my arm until it bled
He said medication won't help you there is no cure
What do I do now maybe shoot myself in the head?
Now I live alone
With an incurable disease
Because the bitch wanted a bone
I got her fleas.
— My Life Story In Under Three Minutes
Every time I think you're gone you turn up in my life again
It's not bad enough you gave me an incurable disease
but you had to be a brat on top of it.
— Dogtrack (God I am a Fool)
It's possible he was a bit of an odd boyfriend for this girl. Everyone knows the guy who gets creepy with gifts. A girl mentions a movie she likes, and the next day it shows up in her mailbox. She mentions wanting to sculpt, and a salt block and chisel are waiting on her doorstep the next time she gets home. It's the weird part where a love-sick romantic comedy characters crosses paths with Boo Radley. Denis may have fallen in this category when you consider the following lines:
You told me you liked the color green so I bought you an Emerald necklace.
Could this guy you're with now buy you gemstones on a whim?
— Dogtrack (God I am a Fool)
Anyone who has been in a fight in a relationship knows the advantage of having concrete proof of some type of transgression to hang over the other person's head. Desdemona's handkerchief, the condom R. Kelly finds in "Trapped in the Closet (Pt. 4)", a secret love letter that was supposed to be hidden – something that you can wave and say "I'm right and you are wrong." For Denis, it's his lab results saying he has tested positive for herpes. One can imagine him standing in front of his girlfriend, waving a sheet of paper at her and yelling. It's equally interesting to picture her sitting there, denying everything.
A princess can't apologize
You'll make up some story.
The lab results were incorrect
The disease you gave me doesn't exist
If I say different she gets pissed
You made me realize Predators do exist. They don't all have fangs.
Sometimes they have pretty smiles…
Sometimes they claim to love you while they slip in an incurable virus that they
lie about and say they don't have even after you test positive for it.
I must've gotten it when I was abducted by Space Aliens; or maybe it was
— Dogtrack (God I am a Fool)
Listening to the album in order gives a different picture than listening to the tracks randomly. For the first half, Denis seems to be a little bitter about his ex but overall can let that go to the past. The last two full songs (minus the instrumental "Lullaby (for the child I'll never have)" and the Rick James-esque "Superbitch") are about as creepy as a song can get. It's that part of the night, after laughing and drinking and having a great time, where suddenly the person across from you has one too many drinks and everything gets very scary.
"Dogtrack (God I am a Fool)" has no music, just a small loop of a dog barking and a slight hiss that sounds like rain. The effect is that the track sounds like Denis is in the rain outside your front door, demanding to talk to you. That bad weather, dogs, and common sense aren't causing him to go away makes a disturbing song scarier. And for those who believe that "I Can't Hurt You" (the last full song, which Denis claims to be the best) refers to his inability to picture himself hurting his ex, you are incorrect. The last lines of the album:
I like to fantasize about what I'd like to see
An overturned car, you lying in the mud.
You look up and recognize that it's me
While I watch you choke on your own blood.
— I Can't Hurt You
The album isn't a journey into the daylight. There is no catharsis, growth, or reconciliation waiting for you at the end. Just 12 tracks of contracting herpes. I have heard the man is very responsive with emails – if he finds this, I invite him to leave a comment, as I have a couple very specific questions I would like to see answered. Also – buy the cd.