Friday, September 13, 2013

Second Album Syndrome (and 5 Bands that Beat it)

Mind-blowing debuts are all well and good, but it's the second album that shows us what a band is really made of. Countless acts have released stellar first albums, only to let out a thin little fart of a follow-up before fading into obscurity.

This is known as 'second album syndrome'. Most people agree that the most common cause is a lack of time; artists have years to polish and hone their first set of songs, but once that record has topped the charts and the fans are grinding against their mattresses and moaning for more, the band is under pressure to get the creativity flowing again as quickly as possible.

Of course, the other explanation is expectation. The songs that made up your debut are now lodged in the heart of the nation, and everyone is expecting some serious fireworks from album number two. So you write the best stuff you've ever written, the hotly-anticipated album hits the shops, and...everyone is disappointed, because nothing you could have written would ever have fulfilled the hopes they had for it. The first LP had nothing to live up to, and if you make the mistake of releasing a good first album, the second one will have a pretty long shadow to stand in.

Fortunately, not everyone falls prey to SAS. Here are five bands who sidestepped second album syndrome and whether by craftsmanship, inventiveness, or just sheer audacity, proved that second albums could be even better than their predecessors:


First album: All Hour Cymbals, an engaging indie/world offering with intricate sounds and semi-chanted vocals.

Second album: Odd Blodd, a far more poppy affair which spawned such hits as Ambling Alp and O.N.E. (the latter of which was featured in FIFA '12). It was still weird, but far more immediate and quite a bit more enjoyable for it.

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First album: Beautiful Freak, a grunge-tinged debut with plenty of great songs...even though a lot of people seem to remember it solely for their first hit, Novocaine for the Soul.

Second album: Electro-Shock Blues, a deeper, darker set of songs. Where Beautiful Freak was all about being unable to fit in, this album dealt with the death of his sister (by suicide) and his mother (by cancer). Not always a cheery listen, but very, very good nevertheless.

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First album: Attack of the Grey Lantern, which proved that Britpop could be artistically ambitious and still reach the top of the charts. One of my favourite albums ever.

Second album: Six, and while I personally prefer Grey Lantern, there are many who disagree with me. Instead of trying to emulate the success of their debut, Paul Draper 'n' Palz just went bonkers with this album, throwing in all kinds of ideas both musical and thematic. While there are lots of proggy, challenging tracks (Shotgun and Cancer, to name two examples), there are a few classic singles on there as well - try Negative, Legacy, or Being a Girl for a slightly  easier way in.

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First album: Under the Western Freeway, a classic in its own right - any album with Summer Here Kids on it is dandy in my diary - although it did have a few funny loose ends that didn't seem to have any reason for being, e.g. Poisoned at Hartsy Thai Food.

Second album: The Sophtware Slump, which improved on ...Freeway in almost every way. It was more cohesive, there were themes that ran throughout the album, and by and large, the songs were better, too. The Crystal Lake and He's Simple, He's Dumb, He's the Pilot are fairly well-known (that guy from My Name is Earl even named his kid 'Pilot' after the latter song, presumably because he wanted his child to be simple and dumb), but even the less consequential tracks like 'Chartsengrafs' are gold.

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First album: Pablo Honey, actually a pretty good album, but everything except Creep has since been overshadowed by their more recent work.

Second album: The Bends, perhaps the quintessential non-disappointing second album. It still bore a few remnants of Pablo Honey - see Black Star and Sulk - but everything else represented an astounding leap forward. Who could have imagined that the 'I'm a creep/I'm a weirdo/What the hell am I doing here?' guy would be singing the lyrics of Street Spirit only two years later?

Have a great weekend, everyone! If you think of any other second albums that were notably unterrible, leave 'em in the comments.

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