Second Album Syndrome

It’s no secret that a lot of bands find making their second album more nerve-wracking than their first, for a multitude of reasons. After the initial high of actually releasing their debut, and depending on how successful it was, there’s the fear that it will never match the acclaim of their debut. Arctic Monkeys are a prime example of this, ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’ was the UK’s fastest selling debut album, reached number 1 in both Ireland and the UK and cemented their place in music history. Their second album ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’ was never going to be able to live up to its predecessor. But the Arctic Monkeys still released it almost a year after their hugely successful debut instead of mulling over it for too long.

Other bands, namely Klaxons, seem intent on delaying their second album for as long as is humanly possible. Why? Probably because they know it’s unlikely they’ll release another ‘Golden Skans.’ Or, alternatively, some bands could be hoping their second album will launch them into the mainstream, like My Chemical Romance’s ‘Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge’ or Paolo Nutini’s ‘Sunny Side Up.’ Also to be considered is the fear that your band will be dropped from their label if your second album isn’t up to par.

So, who has to worry? Well, do you remember Kate Nash? She’s finally released her follow-up to ‘Made of Bricks’ this year. It’s very likely that she expected it to be scrutinised and compared to her debut (I think everyone knew that it would be). And there’s no doubt that Florence and the Machine will have a hard time matching the success of her debut ‘Lungs’, same goes for White Lies.

The correct formula for a second album, if any, is hard to grasp. Most bands want to change their sound, be more “grown up” but also don’t want to alienate their original fans. It’s a hard game to play. Jack Penate made a brave move after his unremarkable first album ‘Matinee’. While his debut did garner him some fans, myself included, it was only ever okay. He re-evaluated his sound and in 2009 returned with ‘Everything is New’, consisting of more genre flirting as opposed to his previous “indie kid with a guitar” style. And, of course, his second album definitely gained much more positive attention than his debut.

And lastly are the musicians who couldn’t care less about second album syndrome. Dev Hynes, formerly of Test Icicles, seems to eat, breathe and sleep songs. Better known as Lightspeed Champion, has recently released his second LP ‘Life is Sweet, Nice to Meet You’ and has also written songs for various other musicians. Interestingly, in the past he’s hinted that he released other material under a pseudonym. Perhaps a perfect example of someone who appears to have music flowing through his veins, the release of his second album didn’t seem to phase him at all.

Possibly my favourite second album of the noughties is Elbow’s ‘Cast of Thousands.’ It’s a tricky thing, making a second album. The first album is  for you to prove yourself as a musician, by the third one you’ll probably have been pigeonholed. It used to be all about the debuts, maybe this will be the decade of album numéro deux?


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