Ah yes, the famous Music Problem, proposed by Sir Thomas Music in 1852.
So I think it’s an interesting question of “What makes a good three album run?” because it is essentially the question of “What makes a good album?” asked three times over. I think there’s this mentality, when we talk about albums as “masterpieces”, that there is supposed to be a cohesion to the album. This could be lyrically, but it’s almost always sonically. Albums rarely span genres from song to song without some form of touchstone among them.
I think about the Aristotelian unities: Aristotle said a good play has a unity of place, unity of time, and unity of plot. The story takes place in one room on one day and is about one thing. In a lot of modern music discussion, we expect a sonic unity between albums and, in fact, artist’s entire careers. I saw people get legitimately angry at Esperanza Spalding for “doing rock stuff” on a recent album. (How often do you hear people say “I liked their old stuff better”?) Albums themselves are expected to have an internal unity. Some groups create concept albums focused on one specific story/idea. While early albums used to be more like a collection of singles, they evolved into cohesive sets of songs.
What’s important to remember is that albums a relatively recent invention in music. Albums do not exist without the advent of technology. Recording technology changes the social place of music drastically. Music was no longer constrained by time and place. It was allowed to be preserved and distributed, instead of living within score sheets and memetic dispersion. Recording technology takes what was once an instantaneous event and makes it last (relevant); in this way, albums are snapshots of a moment in music. An album was a document.
So the idea of the album as a cohesive set, as a meaningful collection of songs, is actually pretty new. Like, think about it: before recording technology, there were no records. Music was an idea, not an object. Further, songs did not exist in these sets outside of maybe sheet music books, or perhaps classical music being put together (Beethoven’s late quartets, Well-Tempered Clavier, etc, and you could argue for pieces having movements). A song was an individual piece of music. But as records became an inseparable part of music, so too did the idea of these albums maintaining a unity become part of it. In ways, albums are still documents, but they are more like a collection of poems: representative of a time in the artist’s life, but through the filter of creation, that is, creating a piece.
So the question of “what is a good three album run?” is essentially asking “what is a good set of sets?” which is kind of buck wild to me. I think it has something to do with unity but like… Is it about sonic unity? Lyrical unity? Social impact? Quality of composition? The consistent ability to innovate? To improve? To subvert? Is it just three good records? I donno man I just like the jams. I don’t even think unity and cohesion are necessary for good art, it’s just something I personally prefer in almost all the art I consume and actively put in the art I myself create.
Again i could be totally full of shit