A Trilogy of Trilogies: Three of Our Favorite Three-Album Sequences


The Weeknd’s new mixtape Echoes of Silence is out this week, completing the trilogy of releases that started in March with the much-hyped House of Balloons and continued in August with Thursday. You can read our very own Russ Marshalek writing about Echoes of Silence for MTV here, but in the meantime, The Weeknd’s prolific 2011 has got us thinking about other album trilogies that have floated our collective boats over the years. Unlike, say, the world of fantasy, where you’re no one until you’ve turned out a couple of trilogies, coherent three-album sequences aren’t all that common in music, but there have still been some crackers over the years — check out a quick selection of our favorites after the jump, and let us know what yours are.

David Bowie: Low (1977), “Heroes” (1977), Lodger (1979)

Bowie’s “Berlin trilogy” was the product of a pretty astonishingly fertile time for the singer, in which he fled LA and the blizzard of cocaine that had enveloped him there, decamped to the former German capital with Iggy Pop, hooked up with Brian Eno, and made some of the most outlandishly brilliant music that anyone’s ever produced. Low (which was actually mostly recorded in France) remains our personal favorite, a strange and wonderful record that was split into a side of twisted avant-pop songs and a side of atmospheric instrumentals. “Heroes”, recorded entirely in Berlin, follows a similar formula, and of course contains the title track, which remains one of the most desperately romantic and beautiful songs Bowie’s ever written. And Lodger, while remaining to an extent the forgotten member of the trio, was perhaps the most experimental of the lot, encompassing everything from Turkish pop music (“Yassassin”) to “All the Young Dudes” played backwards (“Move On”).

Sonic Youth: EVOL (1986), Sister (1987), Daydream Nation (1988)

Sonic Youth seem to have had a habit of releasing albums in groups of three over the years, and this triptych is one of our all-time favorite three-album sequences. It’s not a formal trilogy as such, but still, these three records make perfect sense if listened to in sequence, tracing the evolution of Sonic Youth’s sound away from the brutal noise of Confusion Is Sex and Bad Moon Rising toward a more refined but no less powerful sound. EVOL took the atmosphere that permeated its predecessors and allied it to more coherent song structures — the highlight is, of course, the epic “Expressway to Yr Skull,” but with tracks like “Tom Violence” and “Marilyn Moore,” Sonic Youth hinted at a budding songwriting aesthetic. The excellent Philip K Dick-themed Sister represented the tipping point between noise rock and plain old noise… And then, of course, there’s the sprawling masterpiece that is Daydream Nation, a record that two decades later still represents the band’s high watermark as far as we’re concerned. C’mon Thurston and Kim, can’t you just get back together?!

Tom Waits: Swordfishtrombones (1983), Rain Dogs (1985), Franks Wild Years (1987)

The Tom Waits we know and love — a man with a voice like tectonic plates shifting and an abiding fondness for headache-inducing sonic experimentation — only truly emerged into the world with Swordfishtrombones. This album established or consolidated many familiar Waits tropes, which he’d go on to build upon with its successors — apart from his instantly recognizable voice and the unusual arrangements, there’s the highly narrative character-based songwriting, the use of spoken word, and the lyrical fascination with the shadowy corners of society and the down-and-outs who inhabited such places. The latter, in particular, would inform Rain Dogs, a loose concept album about the homeless of New York City. And on Franks Wild Years, Waits took the idea of narrative songwriting to its logical conclusion with a suite of songs that accompanied a play of the same name. The trilogy was so perfect that it’d take Waits five years to return to the studio to make another album (1992’s triumphant Bone Machine).