To paraphrase a common adage, a band has a lifetime to write a debut disc and six months to write the second one. While that may be less true these days when it's not unsual for artists to spend two or more years on a new record, traditionally sophomore albums haven't always gotten the respect they deserve.
Think about how The Clash's "Give ‘Em Enough Rope" is remembered, as compared to the band's 1977 debut or the next record, "London Calling." Or about The Jam's ultra-rushed "This is The Modern World."
The debut always has something going for it that the follow-up can never match: the spark generated by the arrival or a new sound, a new style, a new personality as it ignites the tinders of what's expected.
What got me thinking about this was the recent deluxe reissue of U2's 1981 disc, "October," even now much discounted in comparison to 1980's "Boy" and 1983's "October."
It's been sort of accepted that the band records its live set - or the best of it -- for its debut. The second disc usually gets built from the leftovers and whatever new stuff it managed to pen while on the tour bus promoting that first record.
The result is almost always a somewhat mixed-up affair that is witness to the way in which it was assembled.
Again, see "October" and "This is the Modern World," two records that have ups and down and an almost ramshackle, jalopy-style (thanks CK) feel. But don't dismiss them. There are brilliant moments on both, and not always in the tunes released as singles. Think of "I Fall Down" in U2's case of "Life From a Window" by The Jam.
Stereophonics' second disc, "Performance and Cocktails," had this kind of vibe, too, but there were enough great moments, that you could overlook the odd dud.
Sometimes, a second record is more of the same. And sometimes that works, as in the case of The Police's "Reggata d'Blanc," which was a natural, if short, progression from "Outlandos d'Amour." It sounded a little slicker, but the band's style hadn't changed much. And the record was great and well-received. The same can be said about Elvis Costello's "This Year's Model," except that unlike its big brother, it boasted the fire of The Attractions.
Jimi Hendrix's "Axis: Bold As Love" was more esoteric than its predecessor -- much like "October" was compared to the pretty accessible "Boy" -- but other than die-hard Hendrix fans, it's not generally considered essential, like "Are You Experienced?" or "Electric Ladyland," which followed it.
Sometimes a band really finds its stride on record two. Although many still claim Oasis' "Defintely Maybe" as their fave disc by that Manchester band, there's no denying that the brothers Gallagher and company really struck a chord with the follow-up "(What's the Story) Morning Glory," which moved the band from theaters to stadiums in a single swoop.
Another sophomore record I like is "Konk" by The Kooks. While the first CD was pleasant enough, the second one had a unified sound that grabbed me. Although some critics disagreed, to me it's a much better statement from this Brighton band than the debut.
What are you favorite sophomore efforts?
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.