By John Verburg
There is an old adage in rock music…bands have their whole life to make their first record. Well, at least their whole life up until the point of their initial record release. The point of the adage being, the debut record that a band puts out is a labor of love, with no set timetable. Once that initial record is put out, the pressure to produce a second record of equal or greater quality begins. Unfortunately, many bands don’t live up to that standard, and many second full length albums fall flat, both in sales, and in the minds of the fans, who fell in love with the bands initial output.
The sophomore jinx is real people. Part of it is because bands feel they need to move in a different direction to spark their own creativity. Part of it is because bands try to recapture the same sound from their debut album, and it sounds less convincing. The second album is a struggle that many bands face. One example is the tragic case of MGMT. Their debut ‘Oracular Spectacular’ was applauded by both critics and fans alike, leading to some of the most memorable tunes of 2007. Their second album ‘Congratulations’ flopped comparatively, and even if the band itself was proud of it and their hardcore fans liked it, the album was a big reason that MGMT isn’t in the stream of consciousness when we are talking about some of the great bands today.
Not all bands fall victim to the sophomore jinx however, so I wanted to pay homage to five in recent history (2000 or later) that have flipped their collective middle fingers at the jinx.
This list isn’t in a particular order, just rather five sophomore albums that I found to be fantastic in quality. Sign in below, and let us know some of yours…
I really don’t know how many people actually have this album, or even know that it exists. However, ‘Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers’ is the launching point for one of the most prominent indie rock bands in the world today. Fans of The National surely know some of the songs from ‘Sad Songs’. ‘Murder Me Rachel’ still stands as one of their best songs today, and I’ve been lucky enough to see it live a few times. ‘Available’ is another track that recalls the best days of U2, when the Edge lit up the sky with his guitar work, and is another song The National played on their last tour.
‘Sad Songs’ isn’t so much a great album as it stands on it’s own, but it is good, and it is an album that foreshadows what the band could and would become. There are some great moments here, and the genre skipping that goes on in the album works. Matt Berninger’s melancholic baritone is featured prominently on ‘Sad Songs’, backed up by acoustic guitars as often as not, and with The National, that is never a bad thing.
Okay, I’m cheating on this one. Blitzen Trapper has actually been around since 2000, and ‘Furr’ is technically their fourth studio album. However, the first three were independently released, and ‘Wild Mountain Nation’ is wildly considered their debut of sorts, because it’s when Sub Pop picked them up. This could’ve been the classic example of the sophomore jinx, as ‘Wild’ was critically acclaimed and well received by fans as well. However, ‘Furr’ didn’t disappoint in the least, and is one of the best albums of the decade in it’s genre (indie folk).
‘Furr’ expertly combined elements of folk, classic rock, and even a little bit of a hip hop theme on ‘Black River Killer’, one of the strongest tracks on the album. The song ‘Furr’ is an excellent sing-a-long, while ‘Not Your Lover’ explores the bands quieter side in expert fashion. From start to finish ‘Furr’ takes you on a lazy ride through a band that knows how to tell a story through their music. A story that one wants to re-read over and over again.
The Thermals came out strong on their debut ‘More Parts Per Million’, even though they didn’t have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of. So lead man Hutch Harris recorded most of the debut in his kitchen. It was a nice lo-fi treasure that put the band on the map, but raised the bar for their next release. So what happened when they went into a studio?
Well, ‘Fuckin A’ happened. The album is essential for fans of the band, and is easily their most aggressive. I don’t know about you, but that’s how I love my Thermals. From the first song, ‘Our Trip’, to the last track, ‘Top of the Earth’, Hutch and company come out guns and guitars blazing. Just for the fact that ‘Fuckin A’ produced live favorite ‘How We Know’, I had to put this on this quality sophomore album list. Don’t be fooled though, there are a ton of songs on this album you cant help pump your fist or tap your toes to.
Okay, so this isn’t a case where the 2nd album is better than the first. It’s just a case where the sophomore album was still really good, and maintained a level of quality that began with Band of Horses’ debut ‘Everything All The Time’. ‘Cease To Begin’ was released in 2007, and is both as beautiful and as anthemic as the debut. Band of Horses didn’t really try anything new on ‘Cease’, but it is still enjoyable, and the fact they did that while staying within their comfort zone almost makes it more enjoyable.
‘Is There A Ghost’ is a concert opener if I’ve ever heard one, starting with those shimmering guitars, and eventually turning into a chugging monster of a rock song. But while Band of Horses have the ability to fill a stadium, it’s their quietist moments that often send chills down your spine. ‘No One’s Gonna Love You’ is one of the more beautiful songs written in the past decade. ‘Marry Song’ is delightfully depressing with it’s excellent harmonies, and the ‘General Specific’ is a fun romp of acoustic guitars and eclectic instruments.
Love em’ or hate em’, one can’t argue that Muse has turned into one of, if not the most successful live acts in music today. There isn’t a band out there today that puts as much into their performances as they do. A long time ago, before 2000, I came across their debut album, ‘Showbiz’, and felt that they had some talent with songs like ‘Sunburn’ and ‘Muscle Musuem’. They didn’t receive much if any acclaim in the United States, and released their sophomore album, ‘Origin of Symmetry’, only in England originally.
‘Origin’ eventually made it’s way to the U.S. and I was glad it did. Muse’s second album reaffirmed my belief that this was a band going places. The beautiful piano led ‘New Born’ is still one of my favorite tracks of theirs to date, as well as the bombastic ‘Plug In Baby’. ‘Citizen Erased’ takes you on a roller coaster ride that rivals Cedar Point, and the remake of ‘Feeling Good’ is one of the better covers I’ve heard on an album. Like the track name, this album was ‘Bliss’.