A Discussion on Number Twos (albums, that is!)
OMG, The Strokes are in town this month. About 6 years ago, I would have lost my fucking mind about this. “JULIAN AND NICK ARE SO GOOD LOOKING AND GOOD AT GUITAR PLAYING I HAVE TO SEEEEEEEEE THEM”, with squealing and jumping up and down quickly ensuing. But with age, I suppose, comes a heightened sense of calm in all things musical celebrity (actors are different. I would loose my mind now if I met John Malkovich for example), and I no longer give much of a shit about The Strokes.
I LOVED their first album, “Is This It”. It was the sound track to my TEE Art Folio creation, and all the happy fun summer times that come with being a teenager in Kalamunda. I still listen to it when the occasion calls for it, because, honestly, I believe it to be a classic. But then they released their second album, “Room On Fire”, and I lost interest. Turned out they weren’t really that good after all.
While Room on Fire had that same bitter-sweet, catchy, dance-y, driving around on a Friday afternoon in the sun kind of feel, it just wasn’t as energising. Everything sounds the same in essence, but I think my disappointment lay within the slightly slicker production, which killed the rawness that I found so attractive in the band.
Another band who’s first album I adored, and who’s second album disappointed entirely, is TV On the Radio. “Desperate Youth and Blood Thirsty Babes” is incredible. Unlike anything I’d heard before it, I listened to it over and over in a variety of states, and it never failed to make an impression on some part of my psyche. Every track is golden. Then they released “Return to Cookie Mountain”, and while it had that one stand-out crazy dance track (“Wolf Like Me”) that I would dance so hard to at Amplifier that I would have to rush off the dance floor to vomit, as well as the great opening track (“I Was a Lover”), the rest of the album as a whole was pretty average. They were my favourite band for a little while there, based purely on D.Y.B.T.B, but albums two and three killed it for me. Apparently not for everyone else though, because album number two was met with more acclaim from the music critics.
Then there is Portishead. Their first album, “Dummy”, was exactly what my 14 year old self needed to hear in order to start viewing music in a different way. There is only one song on that album I don’t really like, but I forgive them because every single other track is beautiful and haunting and melancholy and delicate and all the good things. But listening to their sophomore release, the self-titled “Portishead”, it doesn’t hit quite as hard (or softly, as is more an appropriate description). Ten years later however, they released “Third”, which totally blew my mind and made everything a-okay in Tahlia vs. Portishead world.
There is something difficult and daunting about the second album, especially from bands who have massive hype after their first. The record label is there in the background, pushing for something fast so they can make more money as quickly as possible, with little thought or appreciation for the creative process and artistic integrity. What would have originally taken however long was needed until they were ready to record and release, is now sped up to meet the demands of everyone outside of the band itself, often to the detriment of the song writing, as is the case with my first example, The Strokes.
There’s a saying in the literary world: “You’re only as good as your second novel”, and I believe that this holds true, to an extent, for musicians too. For example; while it is definitely not my favourite of their releases, Radiohead showed a great step forward with their second album “The Bends”. That album started the Radiohead Cult in the late 90’s, and they’ve had an incredible career since. Led Zeppelin were exactly the same. But with a band like The Strokes, and countless others, a second album that shows little musical progression or ingenuity just sets them up for frustration.
The music industry is a funny thing. It’s nice to know that the internet is changing the attitude towards making, recording and releasing music. It seems to be going for the better. But it’s probably handy to just keep this in mind, all you guitar playing boys and girls- don’t put all your eggs in one basket; save some of your more interesting songs for album number two. It will probably be worth the wait, for musician and listener alike.