8 Great Albums With Intermissions: Radiohead, The Who, And More
Just like plays or even particularly long movies have intermissions somewhere in the middle, some albums include songs that could be seen as intermissions, or dramatic breaks between the album's two halves. These album intermissions are usually instrumental and sonically quite different from the rest of the songs. Here are eight examples of albums with intermissions.
1. The Who - Tommy (1969)
Being one of the very first rock operas, the Who's Tommy takes a number of cues from traditional opera by including an overture, repeating musical themes, and even including an intermission of sorts. At the end of side two (out of four sides, making this the middle of the album) comes the 10-minute instrumental "Underture," which represents Tommy's drug trip after meeting with the "Acid Queen."
2. Sonic Youth - Daydream Nation (1988)
Sonic Youth's "Providence" in the middle of its classic 1988 album Daydream Nation isn't quite an instrumental, but it doesn't exactly have lyrics, either. Instead, this lo-fi piano piece is overdubbed with a phone message left to guitarist Thurston Moore by Minutemen bassist Mike Watt. Other than its unusual structure, the song is also notable for being one of the rare Sonic Youth songs without their signature guitars.
3. Blur - Modern Life is Rubbish (1993)
The song that inspired this list was Blur's "Intermission" from their second album Modern Life is Rubbish, the album that arguably started the Britpop movement. Tacked onto the end of mid-album showstopper "Chemical World," "Intermission" gradually builds off of a quirky piano line that sounds like it was ripped straight from a classic silent movie.
4. Sunny Day Real Estate - Diary (1994)
After about 30 minutes of heavy, cathartic guitar rock, it's a little startling to hear a piano fading in at the beginning of "Phuerton Skuerto" on Sunny Day Real Estate's Diary. It's the album's gentlest song, and at 2:33, it's by far its shortest as well, and the fact that it fades in and out makes it seem like it snuck in from another album entirely.
5. The Promise Ring - Nothing Feels Good (1997)
The Promise Ring's "How Nothing Feels" from its classic second album Nothing Feels Good is surprisingly similar to Sonic Youth's "Providence": they're both piano-based pieces filled out with amp/radio hiss that serve as a brief intermission to the energetic punk on the rest of the album.
6. The Flaming Lips - The Soft Bulletin (1999)
There are two instrumentals on the Flaming Lips' The Soft Bulletin, and the first of them is "The Observer," which comes in a little after the album's mid-point and sounds as if it's being broadcast from deep space. It's perhaps the most somber moment on the album's moodier, more reflective second half.
7. Radiohead - Kid A (2000)
Radiohead's most explicit foray into ambient music comes in the middle of their 2000 classic Kid A with "Treefingers," an ethereal instrumental built from heavily processed guitar recordings that serves as a sort of breather after the epic sweep of the previous track, "How To Disappear Completely."
8. Portishead - Third (2008)
No matter how many times I listen to Portishead's Third, I will never get used to hearing "Deep Water," the brief ukulele ballad that sits in the middle of the album, between the hypnotic death march of "We Carry On" and the industrial dread of "Machine Gun." Though it could be seem as a refreshing ray of (relative) sunshine in the middle of the album's doom-laden atmosphere, it actually makes the rest of the album only seem darker by comparison.
What other albums have intermissions? Let us know down in the comments section!