It doesn’t require a particularly musical mind, nor a social mind of any description, to be conscious of the well-known expression, and observation of sorts, ‘the difficult second album’. It’s an interesting and defining concept, that a band or artist, however successful their first effort should be, the next offering the public will receive can do a lot or a little for them in consideration of the rest of their career. The majority it is assumed will struggle with maintaining whatever magic or hype they created during the glow of their first musical landmark. Some will come back with a third album that brings them back from the brink of nothing, realising what they’d done wrong. Others may just quit all together, living off the royalties from one successful album or even single until they must renew their CV and get to work at a second-hand car garage. HOWEVER, there is a minority, that will crack the mainstream music scene with an astonishingly great first album, and then with the second, they’ll get bigger, they’ll transcend from a new act, to a cult favourite, or they’ll just modestly maintain what they have already created, and they’ll nurture it and keep themselves atop of the music scene until they decide otherwise. In this feature, we concentrate on the latter group and celebrate those that conquered ‘The difficult second album’.
In 1976, the Ramones released their self titled first album. By this point they were already garnering respect of music fans worldwide, mainly in the UK, and became inspiration for bands like the Sex Pistols, The Damned and The Clash to form and lead the movement that became known as punk in the late 70’s. The first album was met with odd reviews, as this strange gang of four from new york, clad in leather and looking like a walking cartoon strip, began to inspire and move people, with their wall of sound, and fast paced chainsaw like guitar riffs. With songs like ‘Blitzkreig Bop’, ‘Beat on the Brat’ and Judy is a punk’, how could they top this, and how could they keep this image alive? In 1977 the answer came in the form of ‘Leave home’. An incredible album, with wall to wall icon songs, that doesn’t hide the strategy at all behind topping the first album. Just do it more, and do it better! If ‘Blitkreig bop’ was a Ramones anthem, then here’s ‘Pinhead’, a live performance main stay, and the song that introduces the lyrics ‘Gabba gabba hey’, which we’ve all seen on t-shirts. If ‘Now I wanna sniff some glue and ‘Judy is a punk’ were ripping and tearing, straight up punk songs then here’s ‘Suzy is a headbanger’ and ‘Gimme gimme shock treatment’. ‘Leave Home’ was also the album where they really, really introduced that surf pop sound, found in some pf their later albums. Tracks like ‘Oh oh i love her so’ and ‘I remember you’, are so sentimental, and romantic that if the up-tempo riffs and the bands general appearance weren’t shocking enough, then the extension of direction they took on the second album certainly was. A legendary band, with a legendary start, but most importantly, at least on this night, a legendary follow up.
Early 2007 saw the return of Bloc party. A band that a few years previous had shot to fame amongst the indie kids and sixth formers of this world, and led the way in what would become the mid noughties indie revival. You know, when we all liked The Kooks and Razorlight and all those other bands that indie DJ’s still play because they forgot that music continued to be released after that. Songs like Banquet and Helicopter became important songs at any indie night, and i can say from experience, they still are because they just go down so well with the crowd. So when the second album was released, it drew a lot of attention from the old fans, and was met with mixed reviews. Personally I’ve never had any doubt that the second album was bigger, and better than the first. Everything that ‘Silent alarm’ had, so did ‘A Weekend in the City’. If you loved Helicopter for its spontaneous and sharp guitar riff, then you’d almost certainly love the guitar riff in ‘Song for clay (disappear here)’, and if you we’re amazed by the drums featured on ‘Like eating glass’ then the bass heavy, tribal inspired drum beat on ‘The prayer’ will surely tickle your fancy. Many would say that, there was no evolution, or expansion on what Bloc party created with their debut album, and i would totally agree, but what they did do was maintain a great, unique sound and continued to record exciting, edgy new music. Let’s face it, they could have started doing overly produced, electronic, repetitive music…(see Bloc party’s third album).
You may have read my recent review on HIM’s new album ‘Tears on tape’, (if you haven’t, click here!) which was approached as a massive fan getting the privilege to speak about my favourite bands eighth studio album. Unfortunately the review culminated in indifference and confusion. Therefore, i’m going to take the opportunity to speak some more about them, and this time, in the super positive way i was hoping for previously. The Finnish five piece debuted with their first album ‘Greatest love songs Vol. 666’ in 1997, and introduced seven original goth rock tracks to the world, as well as two covers. One being Chris Issak’s Wicked Game, and the other being Blue oyster cult’s ‘Don’t Fear The Reaper’. Most the songs charted high in Finland and the album has now reached platinum status. The case wasn’t exactly the same throughout the rest of the world. In 2000 however, the second album was released. ‘Razorblade Romance’ was to receive a cult following, firstly throughout Europe, mainly Germany and Scandinavia. But soon after, the bands extremely recognisable logo, the Heartagram, would be seen everywhere, with some fans (including myself) even going as far as to have it tattooed on their skin. The album even reached pro skater Bam Margera, who fell in love with the band, and ended up adopting the logo for his own and produced a number of their music videos. The partnership with Margera would even help songs like ‘Right Here in My Arms’, ‘Poison Girl’ and ‘You’re Sweet Six Six Six’ reach the UK and US, when he used them on his CKY movies, that were huge at the time due to the birth of Jackass. Compared to the first album, the musicianship is stronger, Ville Valo’s voice is better and even his English appears clearer pronounced. The album has the perfect balance of catchy sing along classics, roaring metal guitar based anthems, and heart breaking romantic ballads, and even more impressive is that each song appears to take an element of each, and come off as an all round great album, a rarity in the sense that every song is a strong one. If you haven’t heard ‘Razorblade Romance’, get it and enjoy it. Even the album cover is a winner.
2007 saw the release of The Maccabees debut album, Colour It In. After one listen, I fell in love with the smooth tones of lead singer, Orlando Weeks’ voice accompanied by the fantastic guitar riffs and dance inducing drum beat. I followed everything the guys did since and can remember fondly when second album, Wall of Arms was released in 2009. I was eagerly waiting to see if they could satisfy my ears as much as their debut had. Turns out, they could! And then some! This album for me is definitely my favourite of their now three strong album catalogue (following the 2012 release of Given To The Wild). If you’re looking for an album full of indie floor-fillers, look no further. Featuring songs such as No Kind Words, Love You Better and Can You Give It, this album does nothing but impress. With depth filled lyrics, this was an early indication of what would later became the catalyst of the aforementioned third album. Having now seen the band twice, I notice how proud every member of the band looks when playing songs off the second album and rightfully so, it’s strong, consistent and created to be enjoyed by the masses. With hints of 80’s pop at its best and a touch of Arcade Fire’s raw emotion (no doubt due to Arcade Fire’s ‘Neon Bible’ producer, Markus Dravs working on some of the tracks), there really is something for every music fan out there. If you haven’t already, get this in your collection!
Kings of Leon
2004’s Aha Shake Heartbreak is the follow up to 2003’s debut, Youth and Young Manhood. It’s one of the most confident albums to have been released in the past 50 years and doesn’t hold back from the very start. If you’re looking for a heavy, drum induced track; look no further than The Bucket. Fancy something a little slower and pensive? Milk’s the one for you. This is a blend of skills shining through the powerful voice of Caleb Followill, skills which you can’t learn. You can either hold some of these notes whilst maintaining a perfect guitar riff or you can’t. With further songs such as King of The Rodeo and Taper Jean Girl, it’s pretty likely that at least one of your favourite Kings of Leon song’s features on this album. The album proves that they weren’t just a flash in the pan band trying to break the United Kingdom because America didn’t like them (these were the beliefs of some critics. Critics who have since had to eat their words). Having recently finished the recording of their sixth studio album, the guys have certainly earned their status as one of the biggest indie rock ‘n’ roll bands around. I for one am very glad that they didn’t give up despite harsh critics and continued to make some flawless tracks.