How's that for a pretentious title?
I'm not talking about the album with the best song on it, or the album with my favorite song, or the album with the most good songs, or the album that sold best, or the one that's most significant in the history of rock, or anything like that. I'm talking the album that is best at being an album, period.
Obviously I'm not qualified to really put the "of all time" bit on there because there's plenty of albums I've never heard. There's whole swathes of rock albums I'm not familiar with. There's a period of about six years I barely heard anything new, and then all the time since those six years, I've been still fairly out of touch.
But hey, this is my blog, so who cares about that? I'm going to post my answer and let everyone else post theirs in the comments.
And the winner is:
Meat Loaf - Bat Out Of Hell
The individual songs are each strong, without a single one that feels like filler or doesn't live up to the standard of the album. They fit together with one another, with a good sense of pacing and balance, allowing each track to lead into the next. As an album as a whole, I find this to be essentially without flaw. It's that rare creation where a large number of strong talents came together, but the result didn't feel like a hodgepodge, but like a single cohesive creative vision. Listening to this album, I cannot think of a single thing I could imagine changing that would make it stronger as an album, not even the tiniest of changes. And that's what makes it win: every other contender has some tiny thing I can imagine could have been done better.
Of course there are runners-up that are very, very close. Ask me on another day and I might choose a different winner, they're that close. Here are some:
Pink Floyd - Dark Side Of The Moon
Probably the first choice to leap to most people's minds, and for very good reason. Holds together as an album even better than Bat does, providing an experience that is second to none. The only reason I am not picking it first is because I think that some of the songs don't stand as strongly on their own as each other, giving the album a sort of unevenness. It's a very slight unevenness, mind you, but it's enough in this cut-throat competition.
Led Zeppelin IV
Every song is a gem, and this album contains a few of the best hard rock songs ever written. And they hold together pretty well, too. But they don't hold together perfectly; there's some uneven pacing.
Never was there a better example of the freshman band that blew all its best work on their first album. Almost every song could have carried an entire album, and some of the instrumental work is spectacular. The pacing is good too. In the end, though, it's just a bit too shallow to win.
Fleetwood Mac - Rumours
An inevitable inclusion if only because of its hit-generating, chart-lurking staying power. The breadth of the music on this album is remarkable, and almost every song feels solid, but it also feels a bit of a mismatched hodgepodge. While that has its virtues, it's not what I was going for with this ranking.
Beatles - Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
I'm including this mostly so I won't get lynched. I don't deny for a minute that this is a seminal piece of work, a breathtaking breakthrough. But I really don't think it belongs on this list. Maybe it made all the other things on this list possible, and it was certainly the winner at its time, but it was soon surpassed as an album -- personally I think Abbey Road is the best Beatles scorer in this competition, in fact.
U2 - The Joshua Tree
I've come back to add this one to the list while wondering why I didn't add it before. When the album first came out, I didn't like it that much, but after I came back to it later, it really wore well and became my favorite U2 album by far. The last song is a little weak, though.
Now I'm looking forward to being told how wrong I am. I am sure my #1 choice will not be agreed to by many! Plus I'm sure there are a lot of albums that I've never heard that will be nominated. Have at me!