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h, the sweet smell of success. But what comes after? Bands have a popular album. They get smitten with their own success, take too many drugs, only had one good idea in the first place, are close to breaking up, release a half-baked effort, are hamstrung by the label—all reasons why the follow-up is terrible or, rather, why the follow-up is not well received by the public.
For our newest installment in the Non-Definitive Guide, Stylus takes a look at the archetypes for “the follow-up.” The album that comes after their hugely successful breakthrough. What follows is the different ways that bands and artists react to the success. And what happens after…
On The Cover Of The Rolling Stone: The One Album Wonders
Bush – Razorblade Suitcase
What Came Before: Sixteen Stone, the post-grunge monster that spawned five of the biggest rock singles of the decade
What Happened: After Sixteen Stone attracted all sorts of Nirvana comparisons (mostly of the “these guys sound like Nirvana, except they suck” variety), lead singer Gavin Rossdale got the slightly misguided idea of making his follow-up the In Utero to Sixteen Stone’s Nevermind. Hiring Steve Albini, Rossdale and co. created a raw, stripped down album that really got to the emotional core of Rossdale’s lyrics. Unfortunately, that could be in no way conceived as a positive thing, as the last thing anyone could want from a Bush record is a de-emphasis on over-production and a greater focus on Rossdale’s lyrics. The album debuted at #1, but spawned a series of unsuccessful singles, accompanied by a series of increasingly preposterous concept videos, all of which generally went nowhere—Sixteen Stone had three top fifty hits, while Razorblade Suitcase couldn’t manage a single top 100 entry. Post-grunge had officially stagnated. Bizarrely, this was also the album that finally broke the band in their native UK.
The Verdict: Sixteen Stone is really all the Bush anyone could possibly need—next to an album like Razorblade Suitcase, it pretty much sounds like a sort of greatest hits collection. Suitcase isn’t totally without merit—“Swallowed” has a nifty ending, “Cold Contagious” has a good chorus, and if you ignore the fact that they already basically recorded “Bone Driven” two years earlier as “Glycerine,” it’s even sort of chilling. But there aren’t any songs as pointlessly joyous as “Comedown,” or as non-sensically rocking as “Everything Zen.” And if you’re one of those “whatever, I don’t pay attention to the lyrics” people, try listening to 60 minutes of poetry on par with “I am poison crazy lush” and see if you’re still singing the same tune afterwards.
Live – Secret Samadhi
What Came Before: Throwing Copper, Live’s dramatic and earnest album featuring “Lightning Crashes.”
What Happened: Growing up in southeastern Pennsylvania during grunge’s lingering termination was a strange experience. The unlikeliest of characters garnered fame and critical acclaim, a hypothesis proved when York, PA’s own Live reached a national audience. Their sensitive shtick, replete with their nonsensical adoption of Eastern philosophy, saturated radio markets and their singles became staples of the alterna-rock format. Those things, combined with the urban myth of Ed Kowalczyk’s alleged Klan membership and subsequent reform cemented the folklore of our homegrown Dave Matthews Band, who traveled the circuit between Hershey and Philadelphia so frequently even at the height of Throwing Copper’s success that it was difficult to see it as anything other than a politician’s attempt to solidify their homebase before venturing elsewhere.
And for a moment it worked. Thanks entirely to good timing, Live released Secret Samadhi while America recovered from the Counting Crows hangover they’d nursed the previous summer and a few months before it would endure the same with the Wallflowers; Radiohead released a long single ignored by radio, and Pearl Jam’s Yield came out later that autumn. My college roommates wondered if Live were really the American rock band and others did too. Michael Stipe appeared onstage with them as he hedged his waning popularity against that brand of tagalong stardom. But if anything, Secret Samadhi’s bogus spirituality held the door until Madonna walked through it later that year, rekindling the debate that the dance music takeover hadn’t breathed its last gasp. Continuing in the same puritanical vein as Throwing Copper, the lead single “Freaks” dates itself with references to Geraldo, as well as “Lightning Crashes” and its peculiar Freudianism didn’t appeal.
The Verdict: Whether or not anyone was ready for “Lakini’s Juice” seems beside the point now. The lyrics from “Rattlesnake” were enough to make anyone cringe, even though they appealed to the selfsame consumer base they’d previously so carefully cultivated—cut and pasted references to exurban locales and the time-honored tradition of congratulating the vague, bittersweet notion contained in the phrase “well, at least you made it out of [insert former Pennsylvania steel/coal/casket boomtown here].” Live settled for a record that sounds rushed after three years in the making, a record so forgettable that it’s hardly ever in used bins anywhere; maybe the plain black packaging camouflages the album to the shelf or perhaps it’s just what passes for local pride here.
[J T. Ramsay]
Hootie and the Blowfish - Fairweather Johnson
What Came Before: Only one of the biggest-selling debuts of all time and the sound of the precise middle of the road
What Happened: I mean really, everyone saw this one coming a mile off. Who was really gonna care about another Hootie album? The debut's blandly pleasant, inoffensive sound seemed specifically designed to reach as wide an audience as possible, and it worked, but that's hardly a viable strategy for creating a lasting fan base. Hootie appealed to millions of people who really don't care all that much about music. Of course, listening this easy quickly made the band unavoidable, and the backlash was swift, beginning before their popularity had even peaked. The band's very name had become a punch line by the time the first million units were shifted.
More than anything else, Fairweather sounds like a classic case of a band that had ten years to write their debut and six months to write the follow-up. It still sold a couple mil based mostly on name recognition (I assume), but without a hit single on par with any of the debut's ubiquitous four, the album quickly vanished and the band settled comfortably into their inevitable footnote status. Fairweather's lone lasting historical significance is that Jim DeRogatis's merciless thrashing of it (which never ran in the magazine) was reportedly the primary impetus for his firing as Rolling Stone's reviews editor.
The Verdict: When we were pitching ideas for this piece I suggested this album kind of as a joke, even going so far as to volunteer to listen to it. I think my editor assigned it as a dare, to see if I'd really do it. Well Todd, I did. I'm listening to it right now, and it's the gentlest torture imaginable. I mean, it's not bad, just utterly forgettable. At the start of each one, I immediately forget everything about the previous one. For the record, let me add that I went back and listened to the singles off the first album, and I can say without shame that "Let Her Cry" is a good song. Seriously. Good guitar lines, appealing singalong chorus. Fairweather does not have a single good song. Not one. But what did you expect? It's Hootie! Who cares? Why are you even reading this? If you've gotten this far without just scrolling ahead to the next blurb, your job allows you far too much free time. Get back to work.
The Stone Roses - Second Coming
What Came Before: The self-titled debut that set the tone for British guitar pop for the next decade
What Happened: The warning sign is right there on the back of the CD case: the five elaborately delineated production credits, each a subset of permutations of five different knob twiddlers replete with painstakingly negotiated qualifiers like "partly recorded by" and "initial recording by," summarize a depressing tale of money, drugs and egos combusting into a morass of angry walk-outs, impulsive firings, and one postponed release date after another. At their peak, the Roses were the leading lights not only of Britain's popular music sound, but of its youth culture as a whole. They followed the debut with a pair of singles that expanded their sound and seemed to point to a future of limitless musical invention. But after a prolonged legal battle with their label, they signed a seven-figure deal with Geffen and proceeded to spend the next four years lazily shoveling every penny of it up their noses, occasionally popping into the studio to noodle around with some endlessly unfinished tracks. When the album was finally finished it was greeted with a lukewarm reception from legions of disappointed fans, and following a series of mediocre performances and cancelled appearances, the band mercifully called it quits.
The Verdict: The eventual result is perhaps that much more frustrating because it's not entirely awful. In fact, there are a few truly magnificent songs that hint at how good the album could have been with just a bit of focus, perhaps a producer who could have put the hammer down and forced them to work. The sound is crisp and expansive, and anything but a rehash of the debut; John Squire's guitar playing is often inspired and occasionally brilliant. But after the first three songs, there aren't two good songs in a row anywhere on the album, and any momentum kicked up by a killer track here and there is soon bogged down by yet another half-assed sketch. Ultimately unsatisfying, but ah, what might have been...
Time Won't Pass Me By: Forgotten Albums by Forgotten Artists
Arrested Development – Zingalamaduni
What Came Before: 3 Years, 5 Months and 2 Days in the Life Of…, the Pazz & Jop-winning, top-ten hit spawning conscious-rap breakthrough
What Happened: If hair metallers thought that they got a raw deal after grunge broke in ’91, they should’ve tried being Arrested Development in ’95. Though for a moment in 1992, it might’ve seemed like Arrested Development were going to be the future of rap—and with three huge hits and unanimous critical acclaim, you’d be forgiven for having thought so—that moment certainly didn’t last long. In December of that same year, Dr. Dre released The Chronic, and that was that for the AD crew—positivity and afro-centrism were ousted by g-funk and a return to street knowledge. Not that this was a bad thing—imagine a rap world where Jurassic Five were as hard as it got—but it certainly didn’t bode well for AD’s second album, and by the time of Zingalamaduni’s release in 1994, people decided they’d rather listen to the “a game of HORSESHOOOOOOES” woman than the rest of the gang. Arrested Development disbanded in 1996.
The Verdict: Despite the Grammys, the Pazz & Jop, and the Rolling Stone Best New Artist of the Year award, it didn’t take people very long to realize that 3 Years, 5 Months and 2 Days in the Life Of… wasn’t exactly a masterpiece (hands up, anyone who’s listened to “Raining Revolution” or “Children Play With Earth” in the last ten years), so it’s hard to gauge exactly how much of a disappointment Zingalamaduni was. Certainly, it’s not great, as the afro-centrism gets a bit heavy at times, and there certainly aren’t any pop singles on par with “People Everyday” or “Tennessee.” But still, people could’ve found reasons to like this album if they wanted to—it’s just that no one really cared enough to do so.
Elastica – The Menace
What Came Before: Elastica, the classic Britpop debut album
What Happened: In this case, it’s much more like what didn’t happen. Elastica broke out at the height of Britpop in 1995, but a whole lot changed in the five years they were away, both within the band and outside it. First and foremost, Britpop ended—killed by the Gallaghers’ drug-fueled ego and their legions of talentless followers, among other things—leaving Elastica more or less in the cold. What’s more, Justine Frischmann’s relationship with Damon Albarn—a coupling that had them briefly labeled the king and queen of Britpop—dissolved in a very public setting, prompting the latter to create one of the greatest breakup albums in history: Blur’s 13. As if that wasn’t enough, guitarist Donna Matthews and Justin Welch both exited the band during the making of the album. By the time The Menace was finally released in 2000, it’s uncertain what kind of album could have possibly saved their career, but The Menace certainly wasn’t it—taut, distorted, and downright harsh in spots, the album peaked at #24 in the UK and failed to spawn a top 40 single.
The Verdict: Many were disappointed when The Strokes’ Room on Fire—a tighter, more refined update of their debut—was released in 2003, saying that it ultimately lacked progression. Now imagine if The Strokes had waited five years to release Room on Fire—long after the end of the New Rock Revolution—and you’ll have some appreciation of why The Menace was received so coldly. However, like Room on Fire, this album is far from a complete dud—you won’t find another “Connection” or “Stutter” here, but if tight, exciting, post-punk dissonance is your thing, you’ll wanna give The Meance a listen (again).
Crowded House – Temple of Low Men
What Came Before: Crowded House’s 1986 eponymous debut, a surprise platinum success thanks to the Number Two hit “Don’t Dream It’s Over” and Top 10 follow-up “Something So Strong.”
What Happened: Temple of Low Men’s rococo arrangements by producer/keyboardist Mitchell Froom made Crowded House sound like The Ramones by comparison. The first album was no classic either. Blame Froom’s habit of piling Mellotrons and trumpet solos atop singer/guitarist Neil Finn’s underdeveloped material, like Finn was Suzanne Vega or something (where is she anyway?). But the good songs are strong and true; Finn has the rare gift of owning a voice as lovely as his melodies, so that “Can’t Carry On” and “World Where You Live” (terrific Eddie Vedder cover!) match the hits.
With the exception of the graceful “Better Be Home Soon” (which stalled at Number Forty-Two on Billboard’s Hot 100 Singles chart), none of Temple of Low Men’s songs were memorable. Cynicism doesn’t suit Finn’s talent, which is best at evoking rapture. His sweet-smell-of-success clichés curdle the brashness that made even the previous album’s duds ingratiating: he’d much rather have a cabin than a mansion in the hills, he cheats on his wife (“Into Temptation”) and, even using synthesizers as lubricant, it takes him five minutes to come (“When You Come”). In other words, Temple of Low Men is a textbook example of the Second Album Blues. The mix is annoying too: no bottom. The public responded in kind: Temple of Low Men peaked at Number Forty, ending Crowded House’s American commercial fortunes.
The Verdict: To be fair, the summer of 1988—when Faith and new jack swing ruled—wasn’t kind to guitar-pop, and Crowded House were too slick for the college charts anyway. It’s worth remembering that Crowded House wasn’t an instant hit either, a flop until aggressive marketing, the band’s live reputation and radio’s love affair with “Don’t Dream It’s Over” turned it around. Temple of Low Men’s failure did some good, though: 1991’s Rubber Soul-esque Woodface, a partial collaboration with Neil’s brother Tim, was a surprise British hit and their best album. And, yes, college radio played it.
Huh?: Artistic Statements and Breaks With The Past
Goldie – Saturnz Return
What Came Before: One of the biggest selling single artist jungle albums of all time, Timeless.
What Happened: Goldie says: “I'm destroying the myth that if your first album is good, the second one can't be. That myth is knocking on my door and I'm dragging it in and kicking its head in…I've got every fucking crisis in my life and gone WALLOP! and nailed them all.” Everyone else said: pretentious. It should have been obvious, really. Coming off the success of the 20+ minute title song from his last album, in the run-up to his newest album came the announcement that his newest album was going be a double-disc set. And contain a song sixty minutes long dedicated to his mother.
Also under examination? Goldie’s previous suicide attempt and his infamous temper. In so doing, Goldie helped to put his name among those drill ‘n bass pranksters as those trying to push the genre forward in ways that many purists hated. His compositions, which had always been long, now came under fire for their very reach.
The Verdict: As far as the second-disc goes, there are few moments that match “State of Mind” or “Jah the Seventh Seal” from Timeless. The most memorable tracks (in a bad way) are all collaborations: the limp Gallagher guitar contribution “Temper, Temper,” the ill-fated rap/jungle track with KRS-One, and “Letter of Fate,” credited to Goldie’s Inner Soul (!). But looking back on it, “Mother” crucially holds up as one of the most expansive and wide-ranging tributes of all time. While most aren’t going to sit through its extreme length, if you make the time, the rewards of an extremely coherent mish-mash of styles is more than enough to make up for the second-half’s excess.
ABC – Beauty Stab
What Came Before: 1982’s The Lexicon of Love, which spawned two big MTV and radio hits in “Poison Arrow” and “The Look of Love,” a karaoke standard for pseudo-smoothies till this day.
What Happened: Following up Lexicon is like trying to match The Great Gatsby: an attempt doomed from the start. Secondhand soul better than Young Americans. Bass lines that pop and crackle like the Gap Band. Bryan Ferry remade and remodeled as a pun-happy Elvis Costello, all rhinestones and romeos and sampled cash registers.
Lexicon was watered down by the likes of the Style Council and Spandau Ballet, its de luxe arrangements pirated by producer Trevor Horn for Frankie Goes to Hollywood.
ABC commander Martin Fry would have none of it. For 1983’s Beauty Stab, the band abandoned the marimbas and Mantovanni for rawk power chords and declamatory singing. On “Bite the Hand,” keyboardist Mark White plays guitar like he practiced with a tennis racket an hour earlier. Most of its songs are as politically informed as a can of hair spray. When Fry barks, “Cash corruptible! Tax deductible!” he’s like a guy who’s noticed his grocery receipt for the first time. Yet Beauty Stab is touching, the sound of young men with too much money and too facile a talent for one-liners getting back at the philistines who dismissed them as nancy boys. A shame the one-liners are as clumsy as the foreplay (“She’s a vegetarian except when it comes to sex,” Fry declares in “Unzip,” which is actually a pretty good one).
The Verdict: Fry never followed the advice of his greatest lyric: if you judge a book by the cover, then you judge the look by the lover. ABC were only as good as their source material—less Clash, more Roxy Music, Martin! Chastened, ABC would return to sequins and sequencers on 1985’s How To Be a Zillionaire, scoring their last great hit in “Be Near Me”; and 1987’s Alphabet City, whose “When Smokey Sings,” embarrassingly, failed to honor its namesake. Guess Fry was reading the wrong lexicon.
Air – 10000 Hz Legend
What Came Before: Moon Safari, the space-age lounge-pop masterpiece that we were somehow convinced counted as electronica.
What Happened: After three years during which their debut became ubiquitous background music in hair salons and bachelor pads everywhere, Air (“French Band”) returned with their proper sophomore effort. An emphatic attempt at stylistic growth rather than a rehash of past success, the new album retained the vocoder fixation and synth-drenched ‘70s worship of its predecessor, but featured rockier and more fully realized songs, meanwhile indulging in darker, Floydian impulses. The striking cover depicted a juxtaposition of retro-futuristic science fiction elements and the deserts of the American West; improbably, the album’s music manages to follow up both of these thematic gestures. But despite lyrical whiffs of cyborgian dialectic and shades of Radiohead’s technophobic anxiety, not much congeals as far as an overarching “concept” goes.
Essentially, Legend is just a weirder and more idiosyncratic album than Moon Safari. The public had little sense of what to make of it—by and large it was dismissively and somewhat lazily tagged "experimental.” Even those who dug its drift attested that it required multiple listenings to reveal its pleasures. And you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who’d argue for its superiority to the debut. These days, most people can hardly even remember the title correctly.
The Verdict: Although the meek, confused reception Legend received upon release was perhaps overly harsh, it wasn’t unexpected. If its appeal is inherently more limited than the universally enjoyed Moon Safari, that’s probably the result of a deliberate and wise choice not to replicate their earlier style. After all, that course could easily have precipitated their relegation to the stagnant backwaters of “chillout.” Legend, as stylistically sprawling as it is, still sounds wildly creative and utterly fascinating. And while nothing can match the mindblowing “Sexy Boy,” there are plenty of standouts, including the dusty Beck collaboration "The Vagabond," the hypnotic "People in the City," and the crunchy rock of “Radio #1.” Plus, the MacTalk-voiced "How Does it Make You Feel?" (described in Stylus’ review as “a complete mockery of Moon Safari and those who are enraptured by it”) features one of the best punchlines in pop.
[K. Ross Hoffman]
The Long Shadow of the Predecessor: The Maligned Classic
Neil Young – Time Fades Away
What Came Before: Harvest, the autumnal and evergreen popular highlight of Young’s career.
What Happened: When Neil Young fired guitarist Danny Whitten because of his drug use and gave him enough money to get home, Whitten went out and used the cash to buy the drugs that killed him. And while three of Young’s most powerful albums came out of the experience, coming on the tail end of Harvest and “Heart Of Gold,” the last thing many fans wanted to hear was Young sneering “Fourteen junkies / Too weak to work,” let alone his harsh words for LA, the church, and his own childhood. It’s weird enough that Young chose to record a live album of all new songs; weirder still to do it in a sound wholly unlike your last, much-loved album in front of hostile crowds just wanting the familiar. By the end of the record the whole band is wailing out “You can live your own life,” and fans were similarly dismissive. It’s no surprise that this one was never released on CD.
The Verdict: There’s no question Time Fades Away is a change after Harvest, but it’s also as good as On The Beach and Tonight’s The Night, the two justly lauded albums Young made next. The ragged drive of the title track, “Don’t Be Denied” and “Last Dance” are among Young’s finest rockers and “Love In Mind” is a severely overlooked ballad. If this had been reissued, it would be rehabilitated by now.
De La Soul – De La Soul is Dead
What Came Before: 1989’s 3 Feet High and Rising, the coming out party for Native Tongues.
What Happened: De La’s ill-fated follow up to their wildly successful debut suffered from a twofold jinx. Commercially, 3 Feet High and Rising far outsold any hip-hop act within the stylistic ballpark. Critically, Posdnuos, Trugoy, and Mase (not to mention producer Prince Paul) were facing the inevitable backlash from near-universal praise for their first effort as well as several inaccurate and unfair labels. The album’s performance as a whole created the classic setup for a sophomore fall.
Intellectual laziness in conjunction with 3 Feet High’s psychedelic album cover and the song “D.A.I.S.Y” (Da Inner Sound Y’all) left the group with the moniker, “neo-hippies.” Additionally, the Native Tongues Posse (De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Queen Latifah, etc.) and especially De La were held up as rap’s shining beacon of positivity in the face of more dangerous acts like NWA. As evidenced by tracks like “Pease Porridge,” De La Soul’s members were less than happy with their peacenik brand.
In response to unrealistic commercial pressure and critical pigeon-holing, De La Soul recorded an album both vastly different in theme and accessibility than what had brought such early sensation. De La Soul is Dead provoked mixed critical response and lukewarm chart performance. Accordingly, De La Soul stepped back from hip-hop’s foreground.
The Verdict: Writers salivated over 3 Feet High and Rising; and some undoubtedly salivated at the prospect of tearing down the critical monument their colleagues had built for De La Soul. In truth, De La Soul is Dead is neither disastrous failure nor unheralded masterpiece.
More complex and eclectic than its predecessor yet suffering from predictable inconsistency; this follow up is certainly a provocative listen. De La Soul’s choices cost them commercial significance, but afforded them stylistic freedom. Despite a fair amount of filler and some throwaway diss-tracks, De La Soul is Dead reaches enough varied heights to become a near-classic.
The Clash - Sandinista!
What Came Before: London Calling, the band’s undisputed classic and a major breakthrough in the States, making the Clash punk rock’s first truly global success.
What Happened: On their groundbreaking 1979/1980 (depending on what country you are in) LP, London Calling, the Clash infused their guitar-led punk rock formula with a healthy dose of horns, keys, and all sorts of styles, from reggae to rockabilly and every stop in between. Spreading the results over a double album set, Strummer, Jones & Co. proved that there was far more to them than most of their peers from the class of ‘77, and that they were willing (and quite able) of taking on any style that struck their fancy. This trait was looked at as a definite strength, and why wouldn’t it?
Sandinista! followed that expansive formula to its logical end—and then kept right on going into realms that no one would have expected. Thirty-six tracks spread across three records and just about every genre the band could fit in there: reggae and dub, rap and hip hop, soul and Motown, piano ballads and raging guitar punk, and more—guest vocalists, violinists, and even a small child singing “Career Opportunities” from their debut. It wasn’t commercial suicide exactly, but it sure as hell didn’t have any hit singles either.
Further madness came in their dealings with Columbia, the increasingly frustrated label. London Calling was a double LP that sold for the price of a single at the band’s insistence. Sandinista! was a triple that sold for the price of a single, and rather than argue with the band, the label capitulated—at the cost of the band’s share of the profits. The ensuing money and managerial confusion hastened the demise of the band, even after their next album, Combat Rock was a bona fide blockbuster.
The Verdict: Sure, you could have made pared down Sandinista!, but that would be missing the point. Take it for what it is—a sprawling epic to get lost in and wade around to your hearts content. Sink or swim, it’s your choice—but you can’t fault the Clash for giving you all that room to roam.
Weezer - Pinkerton
What Came Before: The adored, self-titled debut better known as the Blue Album.
What Happened: Famously called the worst record of the year by an unnecessarily cruel Rolling Stone, the reception to Pinkerton was so ruinous initially that it took them five years to make another record. All sorts of events conspired; the “grunge” music Weezer had been lumped into was dying, the record was a quasi-concept album somehow related to the play M. Butterfly, the record company didn’t really support Pinkerton, and the press reaction was mostly venomous. But high school students across the continent clutched the record to their hearts; when Weezer finally dared to tour again they found themselves faced with hordes of screaming fans and that the fact that they’d helped to invent an entirely new genre: emo. It’s likely the Pinkerton experience scarred Rivers Cuomo a little, but this is an example of a sophomore slump that easily could have been a hit under different circumstances, and, eventually was.
The Verdict: I’ll admit to being one of those high school kids (hey, when you’re 15, “Falling For You” and “Why Bother?” really speak to you), but with the perspective of an extra decade or so I’m ready to argue that this is a better record, period, than the Blue Album. It’s even tighter and hookier than its predecessor, and Cuomo actually channels his angst well (unlike, say, Maladroit). It loses some of the geeky whimsicality that attracted people to “Buddy Holly,” but if all of Pinkerton’s unruly spawn was this good, we’d all be a lot happier (or sadder, as the case may be).
By: Stylus Staff
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