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Seven Great Sophomore Albums

by Rob Slater on October 17, 2013

A telling sign of longevity for a band or artist isn't the success of their debut album, but rather the ability to deliver with their sophomore record. Bursting onto the scene as a new band or solo artist is just part of the cycle of this world. Bands fade in, have their fifteen minutes, and fade out just as quickly. This is the American Idol culture we live in now, for better or worse. However, some bands stay and stake claim to our attention. They deliver on that second album and cement their legacy.

For every success story I'll list below, there are those on the other side. The Strokes' follow up to 2001's Is This It didn't quite deliver, to say the least. And who can forget Hootie and the Blowfish's follow up to 1994's classic Cracked Rear View? Everyone can, and everyone did. It was called Fairweather Johnson, in case you want to stump your friends in trivia sometime soon. Nonetheless, here are seven great sophomore albums worthy of your attention and admiration.

Nirvana: Nevermind (1991)

If you asked a group of people to name Nirvana's debut record, most will probably deliver this 1991 grunge masterpiece as the answer. They're wrong, as you might expect. Nirvana's debut came in 1989 when they released Bleach. For comparison, Bleach didn't chart at all in America. Nevermind, to date, has sold ten million copies.

There are few moments in music that grab you quite like the opening of "Smells Like Teen Spirit." The release of energy and angst that personified the early 90's Seattle scene is palpable in the first few notes and continues throughout the record. Nevermind is a rock masterpiece from start to finish and completely erased any memory of Bleach.

Led Zeppelin: Led Zeppelin II (1969)

Many would probably be surprised to learn Led Zeppelin's debut self-titled album initially received negative reviews. In fact, the band's first album to reach number one in both the UK and US came with the follow up, Led Zeppelin II. With tracks like "Whole Lotta Love," "Heartbreaker," "Ramble On" and "Moby Dick," this album was a home run from the start. Charting at #1 in 1970 in almost every country (peaked at #2 in Norway), there is no doubt Zeppelin II put the British rockers on the map.

Dave Matthews Band: Crash (1996)

Fans of DMB may dispute the fact that Crash was the band's second album. In fact, Remember Two Things was mostly a live album with only a couple studio tracks. Under the Table and Dreaming, released in 1994, served as their first studio album and proved to be a hard act to follow. Reuniting with producer Steve Lillywhite, DMB delivered one of their strongest and jammiest albums to date.

Adding Tim Reynolds on electric guitar as well as acoustic guitar, and with LeRoi Moore picking up a baritone sax for the first time, the band provided the blueprint for successful follow up albums. Confident, powerful, and unapologetic, DMB delivered mega hits like "So Much to Say," "Two Step," "Lie in Our Graves," "Tripping Billies" and "#41." And, of course, there was that "Crash Into Me" song. DMB released Crash in 1996 and never had a problem filling a room after that. Their third album, Before These Crowded Streets, would also make a list of best third albums.

Beastie Boys: Paul's Boutique (1989)

Ad-Rock, Mike D and MCA are the owners of one of the best 1-2 punches in music history. Following up their mega debut License to Ill with the experimental and somewhat controversial Paul's Boutique, New York City's own put hip hop on the map (again). The beauty of Paul's Boutique is in the triumph. Separated from legendary producer Rick Rubin and fighting the unshakeable "one-hit wonder" tag, Beastie Boys stood and delivered, officially cementing their legacy.This album, in theory, is truly at the heart of the sophomore album struggle.

Radiohead: The Bends (1995)

The Bends lack of notoriety in the world today isn't due to its lack of quality. Preceding records like OK Computer and Kid A is not an ideal situation, but I suppose someone had to do it. Nonetheless, Radiohead's follow up to Pablo Honey showed us Radiohead as we know them today. Tracks like "Fake Plastic Trees," "The Bends" and "High and Dry" foreshadowed what was to come over the next two albums for Radiohead, ultimately launching them into untouchable superstardom.

Foo Fighters: The Colour and the Shape (1997)

When you're looking for an album that churned out massive hits, look no further than Foo Fighters' second offering. Again, a bit of a technicality given that this is the third Foo Fighters release. However, The Colour and the Shape serves as the second full band album. Although there wasn't pressure on the band to deliver a great second album, there certainly was pressure on frontman Dave Grohl. Working hard to shed the Nirvana label, Grohl and bandmates plowed through that barrier and established themselves as a band, not just the side project by Nirvana's drummer.

Look no further than the lead single, "Monkey Wrench," "My Hero" and "Everlong" which all charted in the top ten. "Everlong" became the arena rock song of the 20th century and still remains a showstopper of one of the best live bands around at the moment. The Colour and the Shape still remains the Foo Fighters' best selling album in the U.S. and sent the band into international stardom after charting #1 in the U.K.

Justin Timberlake: FutureSex/LoveSounds (2006)

Another artist on the verge of giving into the label of his former role, Justin Timberlake paved the way to becoming The President of Pop with his 2006 album FutureSex/LoveSounds. After 2002's Justified still left questions about whether the former NSYNC frontman would reunite his former crew, FutureSex solidified Timberlake as a solo artist. And a good one. The man who made big band pop cool again delivered with three number-one hits including "SexyBack," "My Love" and "What Goes Around Comes Around."

Musically, Timberlake morphed into a new person on this album with rock-infused dance tracks rarely seen in that time. Drawing on influences like David Bowie and Prince, Timberlake built and expanded on the Michael Jackson comparisons. FutureSex/LoveSounds was considered a surprise to many critics, with most shocked Timberlake had this type of musical prowess in him. When all was said and done, Timberlake's sophomore effort charted #1 on six charts worldwide and sold over four million copies in the U.S.

Honorable Mentions: The Band (The Band), Aenima (Tool), Sounds of Silence (Simon and Garfunkel), The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle (Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band),



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