If conventional wisdom is our guide, writing that second album can be a real bitch for a band. We hear phrases like "sophomore slump" or "sophomore jinx" all the time, yet I can't help but feel that the emphasis on that phenomenon is a little overblown, perhaps a product of our cultural predilection for focusing on the negative. For today, at least, let's turn our attention to those bands who didn't flounder when faced with the challenge of making LP2, but stepped up the plate and launched one over the fence.
Here, I've selected some noteworthy nothin'-but-net second albums and written some comments for each. I don't intend for this list to be the "best" sophomore albums or even necessarily my very favorites, and it's certainly not all-inclusive. Indeed, there are some notable omissions, both in the realm of AP mainstays (Full Collapse, ...Is a Real Boy) as well as classics from the larger category of "alternative" music (Nevermind, Doolittle). I did attempt to provide a cross-section of releases reflective of the broad spectrum of music discussed on the site. But being Thursday Discussion, this is less about my selections than yours, so be sure to use the replies to let me know how full of suck I am and what albums would have made your honor roll.
Brand New - Deja Entendu
(Razor and Tie / Triple Crown, 2003) Rdio
It's often been said about The Velvet Underground and Nico that, while it sold a scant few copies, everyone who bought it went out and started their own band. I won't comment on Brand New's influence on future bands (I find there are woefully few good bands making music in this style at the moment), but I feel like Deja Entendu has had a similar sort of impact. Pick a random person off the street, and the likelihood they've heard Deja Entendu is pretty slim. Find one who has heard it, though, and they probably know it word for word. I don't think there's a stronger testament to the power of an album than that.
Chamberlain - The Moon My Saddle
(Doghouse, 1998) Rdio
Here's one that was potentially thought of as disappointing upon its release, or otherwise just confounding. A huge departure from Chamberlain's earlier recordings, The Moon My Saddle saw the band transform from Midwestern emo practitioners to something much rootsier. But only a true genre purist could turn their back on an album with songs this earnest and this spectacular, even if they are kind of country-ish. For the uninitiated listener, there's only one band out there today making music this heartfelt, this powerful, this populist and this unappreciated. They're called The Forecast.
Even though I sort of play one online and my listening tastes tend to lean in that direction, I'm not exactly a totally serious guy. Discovery came along at a pretty timely point in my life and still serves as a firm reminder that "because we fucking can" is all the reason we really need to celebrate and have a good time. In the years since it took place, there has been a lot of talk about Daft Punk's set at the 2006 Coachella festival, so much so that it's almost become the stuff of legend. I unfortunately didn't get to witness it, but I definitely understand that sense of mystique. Thousands of fans under the desert stars, enjoying the magic of youth, not wanting the euphoria to end. I can't imagine an act better suited to capture that kind of moment than Daft Punk. The only reason I can think of to hate on Discovery: it's partial responsibility for Breathe Carolina.
Dinosaur Jr. - You're Living All Over Me
(SST, 1987) Rdio
If you're rating albums based on how many awesome trends they birthed, you'd be remiss to leave out You're Living All Over Me. Up until this album, it seemed that the rules of '80s hardcore held fast in the underground. Fortunately, Dino Jr. frontman J Mascis held no obligation to the established norms of the SST scene that ruled the day. Injecting classic rock's melody and guitar solos into his songs, he set the stage for the lo-fi, grunge and alternative rock that would blossom in the years to come. Anyone who appreciates hook-filled rock records that aren't commercial in the traditional sense owes a debt of gratitude to this album.
Foo Fighters - The Colour and the Shape
(Roswell, 1997) Rdio
Thanks to another famous sophomore record-- one Foo Fighters' head honcho Dave Grohl also played on-- the '90s saw a flood of greasy-haired bands from the Pacific Northwest trying to strike up the perfect balance between overdriven guitars and sticky hooks. I can't think of another album from the post-grunge era that accomplished that goal more emphatically than The Colour and the Shape. Chock full of head-bangers, lighter-raisers and sing-alongs, everything about the album is just plain huge. Back in 2008, the Foos played in front of a crowd of 86,000 and Wembley Stadium; one listen to Colour is all it takes to realize they were meant for that stage all along.
The Gaslight Anthem - The '59 Sound
(Side One Dummy, 2008) Rdio
The post-hardcore lifers-- and myself as well-- would have been happy if The Gaslight Anthem had followed up their debut with another Sink or Swim. Jaded Punk Hulk would have even preferred it. But what we got with The '59 Sound was so, so much more, the type of album that feels like a classic from the first listen. Certainly, its aesthetic helps. From the crackling that opens the record to song titles like "Here's Looking at You Kid" to Brian Fallon's lyrics, which romanticize a past far too distant to actually be nostalgia, it seems to aim for "timelessness" in a way so transparent that I'd probably just laugh at it dismissively if it weren't so damn perfect. I doubt we'll ever see another album that so paradoxically achieves that sense of purity and authenticity while engaging in such blatant idol worship.
The Get Up Kids - Something to Write Home About
(Vagrant, 1999) Rdio
Something to Write Home About is one of those albums about which it's probably impossible to say anything that hasn't already been said or that isn't completely trite. Growing up in suburban middle-America poses a unique set of First World problems that are probably incomprehensible to almost anyone else, most of all middle-American parents. But here, The Get Up Kids wrap them all up into twelve three- and four-minute powerpop songs. Equally as infectious as the Kids' debut Four Minute Mile, Something cleaned up the tin-can production in favor of a more polished sound, setting the stage-- for better or worse-- for pretty much everything that's been labeled "emo" over the last decade.
Hieroglyphics - Full Circle
(Hiero Imperium, 2003) Rdio
The second collaboration from the hip-hop Voltron known as Hieroglyphics is an underappreciated classic and my personal favorite rap record. Certainly, there are albums that were more "important," made some significant artistic or ideological statements or maintained some sort of conceptual unity. Full Circle may be lacking in each of those departments and plays much like a mixtape showcasing the collective's members having a good time. But I definitely mean that as a compliment. While other discs might be considered more crucial from a historical context and garner all the critical acclaim, you'll probably have a lot more fun listening to this one.
Minus the Bear - Menos El Oso
(Suicide Squeeze, 2005) "Drilling"
It's one of the newer albums on this list, and yet, it's probably more influential in shaping my listening tastes than any of the others. I essentially have two criteria for passing judgment on records. First, does the album engage me within some pop framework (the reason why Tim Hecker or Oneohtrix Point Never aren't likely to appear on any of my Best Of lists, though I can appreciate them objectively). And second, does the album do anything different, interesting, creative or clever to differentiate it from any other garden variety catchy albums. Menos El Oso is wildly successful on both counts. It's instantly memorable from front to back, and Dave Knudsen's guitar heroics fill each track with multiple "wow" moments as well as pitch-perfect mood-setting. When Jake Snider sings, "Is it possible to put this night to tune and move it to you?" on "Pachuca Sunrise", the question almost sounds rhetorical. The obvious answer is "yes," and few bands have ever done it better than this.
Modest Mouse - The Lonesome Crowded West
(Up, 1997) Rdio
Modest Mouse's debut This Is a Long Drive for Someone With Nothing to Think About was an impressive debut in its own right, but if not for this staggering follow-up, it would probably be just another piece of lo-fi ephemera like albums from Up labelmates 764-Hero. We can thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster this turned out not to be the case. As I sit here writing this, three full decades of life behind me, still living essentially the same life I led as a college student, it's mind-boggling and borderline depressing that Isaac Brock produced this work of mad genius at age twenty-one. "Genius" sounds unapproachable, but as eccentric as The Lonesome Crowded West is, there's nothing remotely stilted about it. The first few seconds of "Teeth Like God's Shoeshine" might be akin to jumping into cool pool water, but once acclimated, you find yourself not wanting to get out. Spend seventy minutes with it, and you're ready to follow these guys anywhere.
Neutral Milk Hotel - In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
(Merge, 1998) Rdio
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is an album beloved by many and reviled by many others. One of the things I find most interesting is that the reasons the detractors provide for not liking it (Jeff Mangum's nasal delivery, the staticky production quality, the often impenetrable lyrics) are precisely what the diehards find so appealing about it. I fall pretty firmly into the latter camp, though I recognize it might be an acquired taste. The title track and the closer "Two Headed Boy, Pt. Two" are among the most deeply emotional songs I've ever heard. Even when it's not so obvious exactly what Mangum is singing about, it's gut wrenching anyway, because it's abundantly clear just how strongly he means it.
The Psychedelic Furs - Talk Talk Talk
(Columbia, 1981) Rdio
Thanks to a re-recorded version of "Pretty in Pink" gaining popularity from its inclusion in the John Hughes movie of the same name, a lot of folks probably mislabel The Psychedelic Furs as just another cheesy New Wave confection. But Talk Talk Talk is a gritty post-punk album that sounds a whole lot more like Wire than Tears for Fears. Buzzing guitars and Richard Butler's hoarse vocals, which are equal parts David Bowie and John Lydon, anchor the band's sound, but it's the art-rock overtones like Duncan Kilburn's saxophone that push the record's killer cuts "Dumb Waiters" and "Into You Like a Train" to the next level.
Take a glance at any critic's Best Albums of the '90s list, and more than likely, you'll find OK Computer perched in the Number One position. I usually shake my head at this and think, "It's not even Radiohead's best album of the '90s." Yeah, it's awesome and more musically intrepid than The Bends, but it's at times too restrained for its own good. The Bends is the sound of a band that's flat-out going for it, and the results-- which include surging anthems like "Just" and the title track, and one of the most arresting vocal performances ever in "Fake Plastic Trees"-- speak for themselves. I think Radiohead's subsequent albums took such a sharp left turn mainly because the band realized there was simply no way to write a better Britrock album than the one they'd already produced, so they might as well just move on.
While R.E.M.'s first album Murmur gets more critical adoration, one look up and down Reckoning's track listing and it's hard not to think that the latter is the superior of the two albums, and truthfully, the very best in a discography full of solid albums. "7 Chinese Brothers", "So. Central Rain", "Pretty Persuasion" and "(Don't Go Back To) Rockville" are all stone cold classics, led by Bill Berry's lively rhythms, the jangle and chime of Peter Buck's Rickenbacker, and of course the mumbled melodies of the enigmatic Michael Stipe. That formula became the blueprint for indie rock in the years that followed, and yet no one, not even the band themselves, could replicate the magic of Reckoning.
Roxy Music - For Your Pleasure
(Virgin, 1973) Rdio
Morrissey once referred to it in an interview as "the only truly great British album." This is clearly a bit of modesty mixed with hyperbole-- Moz was responsible for a few himself. But For Your Pleasure is one of the more interesting records I've ever heard, especially when taken in historical perspective. Roxy Music took cues from predecessors as disparate as Elvis Presley ("Grey Lagoons") and The Velvet Underground ("In Every Dream Home a Heartache"), and you can also hear that The Clash were only a few short years off. Future uber-producer Brian Eno would leave the group after this album and Bryan Ferry would set his eyes on the charts, taking the band in a decidedly different direction, leaving behind For Your Pleasure as a singular monument, a record unlike any other that was made before it or since.
Saves the Day - Through Being Cool
(Equal Vision, 1999) Rdio
I don't believe too many folks saw it coming when Saves the Day followed their debut Can't Slow Down, an album that sounded like a bunch of Lifetime's throwaways, with Through Being Cool, the best pop-punk album of all time, and one that hasn't lost any of its luster over the last thirteen years. I want to say something like "It's the perfect depiction of being a teenager in the 1990s," but I feel like that's even selling it short. I think maybe Chris Conley's angst and raging hormones give it sort of a timeless relatability that can speak to kids of any generation. And fuck it, probably the heavily medicated grown-ups, too.
Spiderland has received unending praise over the last two decades, but it also seems to have been largely overlooked by those who prefer to listen to music rather than write about it, which is a real shame. Many of Spiderland's prominent qualities-- moody guitar tones, hypnotic interplay between quiet and loud, tension and cathartic release-- are the hallmarks of at least a few AP.net favorites as well. This is no exercise in light listening by any stretch of the imagination, but you'd be hard-pressed to find an album that rewards your patience more handsomely.
Snapcase - Progression Through Unlearning
(Victory, 1997) Rdio
This probably seems like a weird choice coming from me and an odd duck among the other selections. I'm not a hardcore guy and never really have been, but a few such albums have made their mark with me over the years. Progression Through Unlearning is definitely one of them. Modern metalcore cliches like mindless breakdowns and over-the-top pig squeals and devil growls never enter the mix here. The shredding is fierce and vocalist Darryl Taberski sounds this close to coming completely unhinged from start to finish. It's a nearly flawless musical embodiment of sheer primal rage.
The Weakerthans - Left and Leaving
(Sub City, 2000) Rdio
After parting ways with Propagandhi in 1997, bassist John K. Samson formed The Weakerthans as a vehicle for his considerably more melodic songs. Good call. A singular songwriter, Samson's as provocative a lyricist as the punk community has seen. Couple this with his easy way with a subtle hook and his ability to at turns melt the hearts of fans with Americana-tinged indie-rock one second only to get them fired up the next with charged powerpop, and you have the recipe for a pretty bulletproof catalog. Unforgettable cuts like "Everything Must Go", "Pamphleteer", "This Is a Fire Door Never Leave Open" and the title track give Left and Leaving a slight leg up over the rest, but you can hardly go wrong with anything bearing this band's name.
Thanks to the alphabet working the way it does, I got to save the best one for last. We all know the story of Pinkerton's commercial failure and subsequent rise to cult classic status. Where the Blue Album found Rivers Cuomo making fun of himself and encouraging the audience to laugh along with him, any chuckles generated by Pinkerton are sure to be uncomfortable. Cuomo's blatant oversharing failed to make cash registers ring and it seems like he's done everything within his power to distance himself from what is truly his shining moment. Unfortunate, but understandable, I suppose. The record may have been too real for some, but that's what ultimately makes it such an enduring statement and a prime example of just what you can make when life hands you lemons.
1. Deja Entendu - Brand New
2. Lowcountry - Envy on the Coast
3. In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth 3 - Coheed and Cambria
4. As Tall As Lions - As Tall As Lions
5. Riot - Paramore
6. Beautiful Things - Anthony Green
Motion City Soundtrack - Commit This To Memory Something Corporate - Leaving Through The Window
are the first two that come to mind.
Edit: The Wedding - Polarity My Chemical Romance - Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge The Starting Line - Based On A True Story Set Your Goals - This Will Be The Death Of Us A Day To Remember - For Those Who Have Heart
Blink 182 - Dude Ranch
New Found Glory - New Found Glory
Green Day - Kerplunk
Fall Out Boy - Take This to Your Grave
The Wonder Years - The Upsides
Alkaline Trio - Maybe I'll Catch Fire
Killswitch Engage - Alive or Just Breathing
- Bloc Party - A Weekend in the City
- dredg - El Cielo - Envy on the Coast - Lowcountry - Frightened Rabbit - The Midnight Organ Fight - The National - Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers - Noah and the Whale - The First Days of Spring - Our Lady Peace - Clumsy - The Receiving End of Sirens - The Earth Sings Mi Fa Mi