Greatest Difficult Second Albums

The Guardian asked which second albums are better than debuts?

Everyone knows about the sophomore slump, but some artists have managed against all the odds to produce a second album that improves on their debut. What are your suggestions?

The phrase “Sophomore album” needs to be terminated with extreme prejudice. It suggests either a frame of reference defined around American student-indie, or an ignorant writer who doesn’t know what it means.  Kill it with fire!

But the whole thing strikes me as a silly question, which speaks volumes about the music press and the sorts of acts they favour. The vast majority of bands who go on to have lengthy careers make second albums that are better than the first. They usually go on to make third and fourth albums that a better still. Quite often the first album wasn’t a hit, and the breakthrough came later.

The idea that bands decline after their debut reflects the sorts of bands who get all the media hype; often one-trick-ponies with a single unique selling point, who lack the depth of talent to become more than a so-called “firework act”. One big flash and it’s over.

It would be far more interesting to have asked “Which second albums were the best in in the artist’s career?”

What albums would you suggest?

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12 Responses to Greatest Difficult Second Albums

  1. David Meadows says:

    If a band has grown up together, or worked together and gigged a lot before getting their record deal, they’re going to have a lot of material for their first album possibly written and honed over years of gigging. Then they have a record company exec saying, “Now write another one for release in six months’ time.” It’s perfectly understandable that their second effort might therefore be a lesser work, and doesn’t make them one-trick ponies or mean that their third (fourth, etc.) won’t be even better as they get into the groove.

    Off the top of my head, Pink Floyd illustrate this, with A Saucerful of Secrets being a fairly patchy job.

    On the other side of the coin, Trespass is a much better record than From Genesis to Revelation, which I think might be due to Genesis breaking away from Jonathan King and doing what they really wanted to do all along.

  2. Tim Hall says:

    Yes, but Nursery Cryme and Foxtrot were even better than Trespass.

  3. David Meadows says:

    To answer your question directly: I think Rick Wakeman’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth is his best album. But even there, he wanted it to be the *first* album of his career but nobody would fund it until he’d had initial success with Henry VIII. (And technically it wasn’t the second album of his career anyway, just his second *solo* album.)

  4. David Meadows says:

    Yes, agree about Nursery Cryme and Foxtrot. So if we take Trespass as being their real “first album”, their “second” was better!

  5. Andy Ashton says:

    For me, Porcupine Tree’s 2nd proper release “The Sky Moves Sideways” remains the very pinacle of their career, a step up from their debut “Up The Downstair” and infinitely better than the Metal Years material. A “Dark Side of the Moon” for the Ninties with hints of The Orb and Hawkwind. It’s still in my top 10 albums of all time and along with Rainbow’s classic “Rising”, one of the very few albums I can play repeatedly over the years without ever getting bored with.

  6. Tim Hall says:

    Of course, Rainbow Rising is also a second album, and there’s an overwhelming consensus that it was their best.

  7. Ian Almond says:

    Have to agree with Rainbow rising, one of the greatest rock albums ever.

    some other great second albums
    Joy Divisions Closer
    Echo and the Bunnymen. Heaven up here

    Any bands where there last album was the best? Would have to go with The Doors LA Women one of the greatest albums ever

  8. Sam Lewis says:

    Rising – Rainbow
    Images & Words – Dream Theater
    Cherry Pie – Warrant
    Ascendancy – Trivium
    Wheels of Steel – Saxon
    The Last in Line – Dio

    Those are a few awesome second albums off the top of my head :)

  9. Tim Hall says:

    Last in Line better than Holy Diver?

  10. Ben Pugh says:

    Led Zeppelin II. The band was thrown together after the Yardbirds broke up and Page needed a new vehicle, so there wasn’t the years of touring and composing backing up their first album (awesome as it was, many covers and rip-offs). Thus, Led Zeppelin II was the band’s first real co-written album after working together and touring. Many consider it Led Zep’s best album.

    Joe Satriani’s second album was Surfing with the Alien.

    Ride the Lightning (any true Metallica fan’s favorite album)

    Queen II (at least according to Axl Rose)

    Nevermind was Nirvana’s second album. On that subject, The Colour and the Shape was the Foo Fighters’ second album.

    Passion and Warfare was Steve Vai’s second solo album.

    Dream Theater’s second album was Images and Words and spawned their only hit, Pull Me Under.

  11. Synthetase says:

    As has been mentioned: The Sky Moves Sideways is great (if you don’t want to count On the Sunday of Life… as a first). Nevermind still gets regular rotation at my place.

    Others I can think of off the top of my head:
    Quiet Child – Thumper
    Karnivool – Sound Awake
    The Butterfly Effect – Imago
    Airbag – All Rights Removed
    Cog – Sharing Space
    Blackfield – Blackfield II
    Powderfinger – Double Allergic
    Midnight Oil – Head Injuries

    I’m sure there are plenty more!

  12. Tom B says:

    The very first thing I thought of when I saw this question was Queen II. Easily the best thing they’ve ever done in my opinion.

    I have to agree about Rainbow Rising, one of the best albums ever. But I can’t agree about Led Zep II. I’ve always preferred I and III.

    I would also claim
    Fairport Convention – What we Did on Our Holidays
    Stiff Little Fingers – Nobody’s Heroes
    The Clash – Give ‘Em Enough Rope

    And if I’m allowed to discount the formative early death metal days and concentrate on the symphonic era when they found their true forte I’m going to add Therion’s Vovin.