The Legends Are Mortal:
10 Dissapointing Follow-Up Albums
The bands and artists who create fine work often have the unenviable task of following it up. The pressure can be immense – critical expectations and fans’ eyes on you – and many fail to fulfil the hype and keep the pressure on. It happens to the best musicians so I have been looking at some of the high-profile albums that have caused critics to screw up their faces and ink-up their red pens. It can be hard following on from such a celebrated album and creating something as important and strong. From Lady Gaga to The Strokes: a peek into the bands/artists who created sensational albums and then took their foot off the gas pedal.
The Beatles – Let It Be
There is never a truly bad album in the cannon of Liverpool’s finest, The Beatles. Not only one of the greatest bands ever to have lived: they inspired so many other artists to follow them and become more daring with music. Throughout their career you can chart the various phases and how their music evolved. By 1968 – following their eponymous album and its strains – there was hostility in the group. Various members leaving and coming back – Ringo particularly unhappy as a Beatle – many felt ‘The White Album’ would be their final call. Although Abbey Road was the final studio album recorded: Let It Be was the final release – recorded just before Abbey Road – and has an appropriate amount of fatigue and tension. Not as gleaming, wondrous and memorable as their previous work: band tensions and the omnipresence of Yoko Ono perhaps added to the problem. A few classic cuts emerged – including McCartney’s title track and The Long and Winding Road – but by and large, it was a patchy effort. The band did rectify things for their swansong but Let It Be is the product of a group losing their brotherhood and connection in music – only bringing some of their genius to the album.
Oasis – Be Here Now
No band in the 1990s had such respect, acclaim and importance as Oasis. Definitely Maybe was their defining debut and gave the world such instant classics as Live Forever and Cigarettes & Alcohol. That record brought the Manchester band to prominence and showed they were arbiters of the modern Rock revolution – proper lads who knew how to pen a great tune and not give a f**k about anything. (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? Arrived in 1995 – the year after their debut – and can be argued to be a better record. More emotional depth and tenderness can be found: plenty of rock-solid anthems nestling alongside. No matter what your views on both albums there is a unanimous feeling towards (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?: one of the best albums of the 1990s and a natural continuation from a truly world-changing band. Be Here Now was under immense pressure to complete a staggering 1-2-3 and failed to do so. If the first two albums from Oasis were booze-tinged with a bit of marijuana: Be Here Now is a cocaine album from start to finish. Bravado, braggadocio and arrogance can be heard in every number – Oasis were never sort of self-confidence. If (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? suggested a call-to-arms and need for unity: Be Here Now was that message fed through a bulhorn. Songs went on too long – most of the tracks are over five minutes in length; four exceeded the seven-minute mark – and the production was too bland to do the finer numbers justice. Stand By Me could easily rank alongside the finest Oasis compositions – although that is essentially chorus-heavy and lacks depth – but it is the highlight from an otherwise average album. It was the fastest-selling British album at the time and the popularity and fond reviews bowed to public expectation. In hindsight, many have reassessed their views and recognise Be Here Now as the point where Oasis started to show cracks.
The Stone Roses – Second Coming
It is hard to think of an album that was as celebrated and revered as The Stones Roses’ debut masterpiece, Bringing together elements of the rave culture and sparkling gems of ‘60s Pop: the album captivated music lovers in 1989 and introduced one of the most influential bands of the time. Critical reception was positive when the album was released yet The Stone Roses has gained more retrospective acclaim and respect. Influencing so many contemporaries and still sounding fresh today. Hopes were high for their follow-up but several factors contributed to the sense of disappointment. A five-and-a-half year gap between albums was one; the fact the band withdrew from arena touring for most of that time was another. Second Coming boasts typical; funky workouts and tribal grooves but released in the Britpop era and it seems out-of-place. Not capturing the same imagination, zeitgeist-defining wonder of their debut: it is a record with occasional flashes but not much else. Not quite a disaster but not an album that you’d readily associate with one of Britain’s best groups. New material has surfaced the last year which gives hope of a third album from The Stone Roses – that will be exciting to see.
Michael Jackson – Bad
Following the tremendous success and celebration of Thriller: many artists would crumble under that pressure and be unable to live up to that hype. Thriller has gone on to become the biggest-selling album ever and rightfully so. Its standout title track – and THAT amazing video – sits naturally alongside street-beat dramas Beat It and the slinky anxieties of Billie Jean. Throw in Human Nature and Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ and you have a legendary album by anyone’s standards. Bad arrived five years after Thriller and gained plenty of positive reviews from critics. There are those that feel Bad is less filler-heavy than Thriller and a more solid effort. That is true but Bad contains fewer true epics and standouts; its production is a little theatrical and its sounds treading the same ground as Jackson’s previous work. Bad is only a let-down in terms of Jackson’s standards – compared to any other musician it is a triumphant and sensational work. Dirty Diana and Smooth Criminal are two of Jackson’s best-known tracks and it is hard to fault his confidence and songwriting. What Bad misses is the same drama and accusation as Thriller. Leave Me Alone is the closest thing to a Billie Jean or Beat It – something Jackson would remedy on the remarkable Dangerous.
Terence Trent D’Arby – Neither Fish Nor Flesh
At one point the British media were touted Terrence Trent D’Arby as the next Prince: in fact, the man himself was keen to make those comparisons and big himself up to the hills. His debut, Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent D’Arby, gets near to fulfilling those lofty ambitions. Sign Your Name and Wishing Well are noted as true classics and songs, once heard, are very hard to forget. If D’Arby was claiming to be the most important artist/album-maker as The Beatles/Sgt. Pepper’s’ then some of that ego was fed into some remarkable songs. Two years after his debut and Neither Fish Not Flesh is a little too ambitious and some of its aims do not fully hit the mark. Middle East strings and an even more varied palette means the songs are a little too wide-reaching and unfocused. Neither Fish Nor Flesh does not contain the same instancy and consistency of its forefather. Perhaps pretentious in places and a shadow of the debut: D’Arby still proved he was worthy of close investigation; a musician that could never be boring or terrible. His 1993 album Symphony or Damn regained some of the command and brilliance of Introducing’ but Neither Fish Nor Flesh struggled to gain commercial foothold – the record company rejected it and compelled D’Arby to change his name to Sanandra Maitreya.
Primal Scream – Give Out But Don’t Give Up
Like The Stone Roses; Primal Scream were another band that swung into music with an exceptional album and failed to keep that momentum going. To be fair, the Scottish band was on album number three by the time Screamadelica arrived. Not only (did that album) transcend the time and places it was recorded but ranks as one of the finest records from the 1990s. Kaleidoscopic, colourful and trippy: nobody I know has a bad way to say about the album. You hear songs like Movin’ On Up and Loaded and surrender to their charms and primal powers. Given the legacy and love that album cemented: one would hope its follow-up would at least contain some of the brilliance and sound of its predecessor. Give Out But Don’t Give Up draws its influence from classic Rock and Blues – Screamadelica took from Psychedelia and glistened because of it. Not only did Give Out’ lack the passion, flair and variegation of Screamadelica: it sounded like so many other bands at the time (1994). Rocks is the track we all associate with Give Out But Don’t Give Up yet how many other songs from that album will you be able to name? Primal Scream are still recording today but missed a trick with Give Out But Don’t Give Up. Too disciplined and well-mannered and missing that experimental touch: it is a record worth some attention but not one you will come back to time and time again.
Bob Dylan – Self Portrait
Bob Dylan’s career is so long and varied it is challenging keeping up – few artists are as prolific and surprising (even in his 70s). Blonde on Blonde arrived in 1966 and remains one of Dylan’s greatest achievements; following that, the marvellous John Wesley Harding arrived the year after. Nashville Skyline came out in 1969 and the political landscape had changed dramatic. The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and riots broke out in some major cities. Richard Nixon was sworn in as the new U.S. President (in 1969) and a great deal of hostility and tension ran throughout the nation. Dylan, renowned for his political statements and of-the-moment commentary, used Nashville Skyline to look at positivity and love – a dramatic commercial shift that was warmly received by critics and showed how nimble Dylan was. Given the times, a 1970 album from Bob Dylan (one hopes) contain political references and a reflection of the times. Self Portrait is a double-album of well-known songs and Dylan originals. Not since his debut album has Dylan received such lukewarm reviews. Upon the release of Self Portrait, many assumed Dylan to be a spent force. If the ‘60s had killed The Beatles then Dylan looked like following them. A few half-decent songs can be found but largely it is a forgettable record that ranks among the worst albums from Dylan’s (largely wonderful) career.
The Strokes – Room on Fire
Like their British counterparts The Libertines, The Strokes are a band that capture the youthful Punk energy of the ‘70s masters and are easily capable of transfixing the listener with their cool, clout and swaggering bravado. Whereas The Libertines follow-up to Up the Bracket (their eponymous debut) was a phenomenal work that kept their legacy burning – although squabbles and fractions in the band meant it was not as meaningful and strong – The Strokes struggled to follow Is This It with anything as impactful. Their debut was lauded as one of the finest (debuts) ever. Simple, snarling and imbued with Punk bliss: music of the highest order a completely assured and perfect introduction. Critical favourites and darlings of the scene in 2001: its 2003 follow-up, Room on Fire, was always going to be a disappointment. In its own terms – and compared to any other band out there – it would have been a fantastic success and incredible achievement. Is This It was so singular, peerless and joyous, it would be have been near-impossible equalling it. The Strokes seemed to retread their debut on some of the songs and there is a sense of truly to repackage an album rather than create a progressive step and fresh-sounding work.
Lady Gaga – Born This Way
Love or hate her; you cannot deny how much of an impact Lady Gaga has made on Pop music and what a unique force of nature she is. A U.S. version of Björk perhaps: there is eccentricity and outlandish fashion choices but great music to back it all up – a million miles away from Björk’s sound, mind you. Joanne is her latest album out in a few weeks and will be fondly received by her devotees. If we look back at her first two albums – The Fame and The Fame Monster – one can find plenty of superbly-crafted Pop tunes and personality reigning from every note. They were records that introduced Gaga and just how good she was. Born This Way gathered plenty of praise but like Artpop (its follow-up) it seemed a little rushed and overly-excessive. Excessiveness and bloating defined Lady Gaga’s work but nothing on Born This Way rang as clear and proud as on The Fame Monster, let’s say. It is another case of negative-when-compared-with-the-rest-of-the-world on Born This Way. So far, the U.S. singer has not rereleased a poor album but Born This Way feels too desperate to please and perhaps keen to capture quick attention after The Fame Monster – perhaps some more time in the studio would have benefited it. Some critics noted the persistent sloganeering and strong-in-the-face-of-adversity tropes – a lack of subtlety and lyrical maturity perhaps. The sharp and body-rocking beats and moves were all there but Born This Way follows too close to her early work to provide a necessary evolution.
Led Zeppelin – Presence
It seems appalling to put the words ‘Led Zeppelin’ and ‘disappointing’ into the same article. The truth of the matter is Led Zeppelin are as mortal as anyone. 1976’s Presence was certified triple-platinum but is Led Zeppelin’s slowest-selling album and was received with mixed reviews. Perhaps it would have fared okay had it not followed the titanic, world-conquering beast that is Physical Graffiti. That double-album is perhaps one of the grandest statements in all of Rock history – the best Led Zeppelin album in a career that is not short of genius albums. Lead Robert Plant suffered a serious car accident the year before Prescene’s recording and was still recuperating at the time – Jimmy Page deemed the album the most important of the band’s career. Able to face turmoil and obstacles and still sound defiant: this attitude, connection and rebellion swam right the way through Presence. What was missing was the epic anthems and sheer impunity. The band sound almost forced and lifeless throughout an album that betrays their true potential and legacy. Nobody’s Fault But Mine is the album standout and could have easily replaced some of the weaker moments on Physical Graffiti – the fact that album is so astonishing despite poorer efforts says it all. Presence found Jimmy Page exerting more creative control and the band did not tour the album extensively. Not a write-off or terrible album: it is one you only dip into rather than truly absorb and fall in love with.