Some years ago, my drum teacher David said something that really got me thinking. He had been making me play along to a Jamiroquai track, and he asked whether or not I was into Jay Kay and Co. I replied that I was familiar with a few songs, but certainly no expert - he recommended that I purchase Emergency on Planet Earth as soon as possible.
I never did buy it (sorry, David!), but there was a reason why he recommended that album instead of, say, Travelling Without Moving. You see, Emergency... was Jamiroquai's debut album, and David was convinced that the first album was always the best, regardless of the artist in question.
Now you've probably already thought up at least pieces of evidence to the contrary. If David's maxim that first = best held true for every artist, that would make Pablo Honey better than OK Computer; it would mean that On Avery Island, rather than In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, was Jeff Mangum's magnum opus; it would mean that The Magnetic Fields hit their peak before Stephin Merritt even started doing the vocals.
But let's not be so dismissive of David's theory. There are certainly plenty of albums that back it up - innumerable acts have released one great album and followed it up with a slew of duffness. I'm not going to start naming them now, put some examples in the comments if you like.
Having made this big assertion, David went on to say that the first album is the purest representation of a band, and each release after that gets further and further removed from what they were. I'm inclined to agree, but I would add that a band leaving behind what they were isn't necessarily a bad thing. If Generation Terrorists is pure, concentrated Manic Street Preachers, that's fine, but I personally prefer the bastardised version of their sound that showed up on The Holy Bible. I like GT too, but if the real Manics are so in thrall to Guns 'N' Roses then give me the diluted version any day.
Speaking of The Holy Bible, I'm pleased to announce that next week will be Depressing Album Week! I'll be taking a look at why depressing music can be so uplifting, and revealing what I consider to be the most depressing album ever. Oh, and I'll be re-assessing Tallahasse, which you'll all be looking forward to I'm sure.
In the meantime, feel free to share evidence from either side of the first = best argument, and enjoy your bank holiday weekend!