One of the strangest phenomenas associated with music and film is the frequent failure of the sequel. It doesn’t even have to be a killer first album for a sequel to fall flat on it’s face, which is what makes the plight of the musician a much more challenging career choice than many would assume. However, there are some sophomore albums out there that have not sucked, either furthering reputations or immortalising bands and their prospective staying power. This list takes a look at some of the best second efforts on offer.
The Strokes – Room On Fire
The Strokes’ 2001 debut Is This It was a ground breaking first record. It was at the forefront of the Post Punk Revival and paved the way for a lot of the PPR bands that followed. Perhaps its quality was unfair in that, unless you were absolutely on point with your first album, it was hard to live up to or not be overshadowed by the instant classic Is This It.
The band’s 2003 follow up Room On Fire was the perfect sequel to their deservedly successful Is This It. The fanfare and interest generated by the first album always meant that the follow up was going to receive a huge amount of interest from fans and critics alike, who were keen to see if the band could maintain their phenomenally strong start to their musical lives. The beauty of Room on Fire was that it felt like a continuation of the first album, which upon reflection, knowing how their sound has changed, was the perfect tact when laying down this record.
Produced again by Gordon Raphael, Room On Fire is slightly less accessible than Is This It with tracks like What Ever Happened, Reptilia, and perhaps their two best tracks in Under Control and the classic Meet Me In The Bathroom definitely tackling some darker themes, reflected in their slightly more serious tone.
The three singles off the album were arguably stronger than the three from Is This It. Reptilia, You Talk Way Too Much and 12:51 could easily be the three strongest singles from a Strokes record. 12:51 in particular is a charming, infectious little track and perhaps one of the most recognisable Strokes tunes. The album was duly lauded upon it’s much awaited release and confirmed the band’s status as the pre-eminent post punk revival group. It is sad that Room On Fire oftemtimes lives in the shadow of Is This It because as a stand alone record it is a damn fine collection of songs that sometimes does not receive the recognition it deserves.
Yeah Yeah Yeah’s – Show Your Bones
A personal favourite and another from the post punk revival in its heyday, Yeah Yeah Yeah’s second album Show Your Bones is playful, lovely, affirming and passionately sincere all in one. Following the hugely successful Fever To Tell, Show Your Bones saw YYY’s move away from some of the more edgy and bombastic material in pursuit of some more traditional compositions. Despite receiving a, sometimes, mixed reception, if you were really in to Show Your Bones it truly became an album that lived under your skin.
Such was the strength of Maps, the signature track off the first album, it felt like anything that the YYY’s released could never reach the heights and mastery that is Maps. However, it feels like the colossal single was the blueprint for the YYY’s songwriting in Show Your Bones and, unfortunately, some of the more beautiful tracks from the record live in its shadow. Cheated Hearts is a track that lives with me forever.
It is a clear progression from Fever To Tell and wonderful signature track that was accompanied by a fantastic and thoroughly uplifting video clip. The simplicity of the lyrics (“Cheated by the opposite of love, held on high from up above, kept my high from the second one, kept my eye on the first one”) and their staying power are perhaps not as appreciated as they should be and this is the same for many of the tracks from Show Your Bones.
The other great thing about Show Your Bones is the balance between head boppers and more thought provoking tracks. Karen O is a great storyteller and this was clearly evident in Dudley and the incredible The Sweets, who’s darker tones added a new dimension to the YYY’s sound. The building of the two tracks in terms of their compositions and eventual, seemingly cathartic, climaxes are indicative of a band at the peak of their creative prowess.
The sincerity and emotive power of each track allows them to nestle themselves really close to your heart. This is best captured in the climax of Dudley where Karen sort of wails “My dear you’ve been used, I’m breaking the news, love nearly beat us, I’m thinking like you. I’m thinking of you, love follows near us, can love really steer us? Oh can it be true, oh can it be true” and you feel as though she is staring straight in to your soul. A truly moving moment of music.
Show Your Bones is not underrated as such but, like Room On Fire, perhaps lives too much in the shadow of the album before it.
Real Estate – Days
Real Estate’s 2011 sophomore record Days is a record that can be talked about and listened to for days on end. After generating quite a buzz following the release the eponymous debut record, the Jersey natives had set a platform for what is one of the most complete records released in the last decade.
There is not a single wasted note on this album. Martin Courtney and Matt Mondanile literally throw a perfect game. The guitar interplay on Days may not be bettered this decade and is one of the main among many reasons it is so revered. Whether Matt’s riffs are giving the candid youthful exuberance to tracks like Easy or the instrumental Kinder Blumen, or putting the icing in the cake to the chorus of Municipality or the outro to All The Same, it feels like, if god had created a record of perfect timing and note selection then Days would be it.
Another defining feature of Days is its ability to teleport you to the green pastures of New Jersey. Few albums reflect the sound of a landscape like it. The lush green forests and fields of New Jersey are not only referenced in the lyrics but also captured in the tonal qualities of the album. Municipality and Green Aisles are nearly as visual experiences as they are auditory. The pleasure drawn from listening to these tracks among others for their teleporting powers alone makes this album a truly special listening experience.
The album builds like story, drawing you in to Real Estate’s world. It is just so well put together that you cannot help but listen to the next song and that is mark of a truly great album. The instrumental outro of All The Same is the perfect way to end an album that truly speaks. The instrumental’s contemplative tones awake you from the daze that is Real Estate’s marvellous LP, one of the best sophomore albums ever.
Happy Mondays – Bummed
Few albums define a movement and few movements define a generation yet, Happy Monday’s Bummed does both. This sophomore album rivals the best of all time.
There is simply no music you will ever hear that sounds quite like The Happy Mondays. Their first album Squirrel and G-Man Twenty Four Hour Party People Plastic Face Can’t Smile (White Out) announced the Mondays as the rising star of Factory Records, with their different take on Northern Soul and their outlandish behaviour birthing the hit 24 Hour Party People and setting a tone for what was to come with the brilliant Bummed. The Mondays, through the Hacienda, were becoming the heart of a new movement in Manchester and the UK with their upbeat party rock driving and consolidating the ecstasy boom that was sweeping the UK and in particular the north west.
Tony Wilson, the greatest promoter/label owner of all time, brought in the legendary and psychotic producer Martin Hannett to work with the Mondays for their second album, seeing potential in their incredibly uncouth approach to music and its potential ability to reinvigorate one of music’s most important cities.
A match made in heaven, Hannett and the Mondays produced Bummed, a dance rock masterpiece that catapulted them to the top of the Manchester tree and kicked in to motion a movement that has been immortalised in music history. Put quite simply, there was nothing out at the time that was like it, and no other band who could do it better.
Opening with Country Song, straight away you get a feel for the madness and energy the Mondays were about. Shaun Ryder is a frontman who deserves a lot more credit than he gets. His voice and lyrics may not be world class, but when combined with the music of the Mondays was the perfect fit. Soon as he opens up with “I’m a simple city boy with simple country tastes, smoking wild-grown mari-jo-anna keeps that smile on my face” you sit up thinking “there is really something about this isn’t there”.
What an album. The rhythm section of the Mondays is heinously underrated. Their image of drug crazed, lazy lunatics were informed by their behaviour, but that should not take away from their ability as musicians. There has not been a band since them that has been to able to play instrument based music that is so easy to dance to.
Ryder’s brother and bass player Paul is one of the most visionary bass players of all time. You only have to listen to a track like Brain Dead to hear the just how good his ear for a dancey bass riff was. The Mondays may not have known much about the music industry or classical training, but together, could produce special music that achieved its and their purpose of helping everyone listening to have a good time.
Bummed is one of the great albums, whether sophomore or not. Its influence and importance is often tarnished by people’s ideas about the band themselves which are generally ridiculous. Sure, a maraca shaking lunatic who dances like an alien with eyes popping out of his head (ABSOLUTE LORD) is a bit how ya goin’ but, isn’t life a bit how ya goin’ anyway? All of us are different and everyone has something unique to contribute and, maybe if the Mondays were afforded that sort of respect Bummed would be on the pedestal it truly deserves to be on.
Oasis – (Whats The Story) Morning Glory?
Many thought after Definitely Maybe was released that there was no way Oasis could produce anything that even touched its popularity and influence. Probably not a wise thing to think when dealing with two blokes who, at the best of times, can become more hell bent on proving people wrong than anyone on the planet. With (Whats The Story) Morning Glory, Oasis confirmed their status as the best band on the face of the earth, not that their esteem needed any further boosting.
The perfect way to follow on from their first album, which is considered to be one of, if not the best, British album of all time, (Whats The Story) Morning Glory made the world take notice of Manchester and, as they would have you believe, Manchester’s finest once more.
Outside the Gallaghers, no one could have predicted just how successful Definitely Maybe was going to be. It was so widely lauded in the British press that it had nearly achieved immortality within a year of its release. Getting back in to the studio relatively quickly, Oasis knew that they had to capitalise on the momentum they had generated after the 1994 release. Noel teamed up with Owen Morris to smash out Morning Glory before 1995 was over.
Despite tensions between the brothers over the vocals for the now infamous Wonderwall, Champagne Supernova and Cast No Shadow, Morris claimed that all of the recording was completed in 15 days and claimed after mastering the record that Morning Glory would “wipe the field with any competition… It’s astonishing. It’s the bollocks for this decade”.
Released on October 2 1995, Morning Glory sold at a phenomenal rate, hitting two sales per minute upon the first week of its release. The 3 pre release singles Some Might Say, Roll With It and Morning Glory had already been critical and commercial successes in the UK and gave the band a strong platform for Morning Glory’s release, which was needed due to the strong competition from other Britpop giants Blur who were also in their heyday at the time.
Despite the strength of the first 3 singles though, Morning Glory was met with mixed reviews from critics, who acknowledged the band’s musical ability, but felt like the album lacked the soul of the previous album and was rushed both musically and lyrically. The album wasn’t planned, but it was met with a lot of premature skepticism that was definitely a product of the success of its predecessor.
Today, Morning Glory is a canonical record. Wonderwall went on to become one of the greatest songs of the decade and perhaps, the last quarter century. The album had 6 hit singles that were all of an incredibly high quality, a rarity for nearly any album. Noel Gallagher’s prowess as a composer also grew greatly after this album. His song writing abilities were on show for Morning Glory, with his simplistic yet, effective guitar playing allowing the band to produce an album full of variation and contrast.
The energy of the title track and tracks like Hey Now are littered among ballads like Don’t Look Back In Anger and softer tunes like Cast No Shadow and Wonderwall. In 2010 it won the BRIT award for the best British album of the last 30 years and also picked up the BRIT award for best “Best Album” ever. Rolling Stone has called it the seminal album of the Britpop era and said of it “the album is a triumph, full of bluster, bravado and surprising tenderness. Morning Glory capped a true golden age for Britpop.”
Many thought that Oasis would never have been able to top the heights of Definitely Maybe and were even reluctant to accept that they had released an album that may have eclipsed it but (Whats The Story) Morning Glory, arguably, bettered their amazing first record. Undeniable as a complete work, this album is not only a great sophomore piece, but could also be one of the greatest pieces of music ever put together by one of the greatest bands of our time.