Everyone knows the drill… band comes out with an awesome album that critics and fans both love, sells mega-copies, and is a cultural touchstone. Now comes the follow-up album. Everyone’s expectations are sky-high. Can they do it again? What will they do next? Will it sell as many copies? The label’s marketing department goes into hyperdrive as the band is on magazine covers, TV, singles are released early, I-Pod commercials are cut. Then the album comes out. Disappointment. Maybe the band went into a different direction and the new fans are turned off. Or the band tried to recapture what they did on the last album and it's too similar, or they just missed the mark.
I’ve always maintained that it’s unfair to expect a band to come out with two mind-numbingly good albums in a row and the second album often suffers from expectations. But we shouldn’t dismiss the follow-up just because it’s not as good. In fact here is a list of much-maligned follow-ups that deserve a second (or third, fourth, fifth) listen.
Weezer – Pinkerton. The classic example of a follow-up album disappointing new found fans. After the engaging Weezer, Pinkerton didn’t have any quirky hit like The Buddy Holly Song. What it did have is cool rock songs that would establish the Weezer sound for years to come. The criticism this album generated practically broke Rivers Coumo. Today Pinkerton is considered (rightly so) a misunderstood classic.
Radiohead – Kid A. After recording one of the best albums in the last 20 years with OK Computer, expectations were through the stratosphere for Kid A. Unfortunately for its fans, Radiohead decided to go for a Pink Floyd-influenced electronic freak fest. The reaction was so strongly negative that Radiohead quickly released Amnesiac which contained more accessible songs from the Kid A sessions. Even today Kid A divides fans. Some think is was a classic, others believe that it’s a bunch of mindless drivel. I fall into the first camp.
Nirvana – In Utero. After Nevermind, Nirvana could never meet expectations for In Utero so they didn’t even try. Sonically mushy, much harder rocking, a song called Rape Me. It almost seems like Nirvana was trying to turn off all but its most avid fans. And it did. Its reputation still is pretty sully, but the songs rock. If it had preceded rather than followed Nevermind, it would be considered a classic that presaged what was to come.
Albums that deserve their bad follow-up reputation:
R.E.M. – Monster. After Automatic For The People, a switch to hard rockin’ songs that just didn’t work.
U2 – Vertigo. A couple of good songs, but not even in the same league as All That You Can Leave Behind.
Any others that I missed? What are some of your favorite albums that have a bad reputation?