When the Stone Roses were falling to bits on stage at Reading in 1996, those in attendance must have thought there would be no way back for Ian Brown and his cohorts. 45,000 or so souls singing their lungs out to ‘I Am The Resurrection’ at London’s Finsbury Park last weekend would beg to differ. The second coming proper (i.e. now) has certainly stoked up anticipation for new material, but it’s remarkable to think the band are held in such high esteem on essentially the strength of one eponymously-titled album.
The old teaching aphorism – “must try harder” – certainly doesn’t apply here; “must try hard once and then do fuck all for 20 years,” would make a more appropriate school report for some of the artists we’re about to look at. Laziness, madness, addiction, stupidity and bunking off a visit to the careers advisor have all played their part in thwarting great artists from achieving even more. Oh yes, and death, which by all accounts has an unerring finality to it.
Here are ten artists with a reputation built on one brilliant album and a whole lot of mythology besides.
Jeff Buckley, ‘Grace’
They say death is a good career move, but Jeff Buckley’s ascent to superstardom was surely only a formality, alive or dead. Sadly for us, it was the latter he inadvertently chose when he decided to take a dip in the Mississippi River one May evening in 1997. The album ‘Grace’ is a towering example of how to make one stunning record that weaves elegiac beauty with violent discord seamlessly. Posthumous record ‘Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk’ is an arresting listen but feels very unfinished.
Sex Pistols, ‘Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols’
No band has ever come close to destroying itself under the spotlight of infamy as stylishly as the Sex Pistols did, and the blueprint for burning bright and imploding spectacularly with one classic album under your belt was laid down in 1978 when singer Johnny Rotten announced his departure at the Winterland Ballroom stage in San Francisco following a tumultuous tour of America. Middle England might have only seen a motley bunch of spitting, swearing malcontents who apparently couldn’t play, but ‘Never Mind The Bollocks…’ puts paid to that theory; it’s a snarling, overdriven monster of a record and most guitar bands should listen to it and hang their heads in shame, even 35 years on.
Lauryn Hill, ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’
If the Sex Pistols are the posterboys for making one great record and then disintegrating, Lauryn Hill’s career looks more like a cautionary tale, and Lauryn Downhill might be a better epithet. The R&B singer had great success with the Fugees and then went onto even bigger things with ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’ – it sold 20m worldwide and picked up five Grammys. That was in 1998. Since then Lauryn eschewed show business, and brought up her six children. Recently Hill was jailed for three months for tax evasion, though things could be looking up. The long-awaited ‘The Return’ is slated for a release via Sony later this year.
The Notorious B.I.G., ‘Ready To Die’
The Notorious B.I.G was to many the greatest rapper to ever touch a mic, though his output was truncated due to a drive-by shooting in 1997 in Los Angeles. His murder remains unsolved to this day, while the one album he brought out in his lifetime – ‘Ready to Die’ – has gone quadruple platinum since his death and influenced a plethora of MCs from his own friends Jay Z and Puffy to future rappers who never knew him personally. ‘Life After Death’ was released posthumously weeks after the shooting.
The New York Dolls, ‘The New York Dolls’
The New York Dolls – the glam punk five piece that actually predated punk (splitting in 1976 following five years of service to lipstick and hairspray) had an immeasurable impact on rock ‘n’ roll, influencing Kiss, Aerosmith, the Sex Pistols and eventually The Smiths (Mozza still cites them as his all time favourite band). They also inspired fledgling groups from the New York scene they spawned, including Talking Heads, the Ramones and Blondie, though they didn’t spawn much in the way of albums: their self-titled first is the only one anyone cares about, and records made post-2006 when key members had already wriggled off their mortal coils don’t count, right?
The La’s, ‘The La’s’
The La’s Lee Anthony Mavers has gone down in musical history as the indie godfather of underachievement, thanks in part to his band only ever releasing one self-titled album. The Liverpudlian troupe, which also featured a pre-Cast John Power, resurfaced for some sporadic shows, though one should try extracting hemoglobin from rock before expecting any more material from this bunch. The La’s influenced everyone in the north-west – the Stone Roses included – but despite the killer hooks Mavers hasn’t been coaxed out of his hermitic existence, like the J.D. Salinger of skiffle-indie.
Sixto Rodrigez, ‘Cold Fact’
You’ve seen the film, enjoyed the long lost music, and bought the whole story about an artist disappearing into obscurity whilst becoming a superstar on another continent. Sixto Rodrigez’s ‘Cold Fact’ was a monster LP down in South Africa, unbeknown to said Detroit-based artist throughout the whole of the 70’s and 80’s. The as-yet-untold epilogue to this story, though, is perhaps even sadder than the unfulfilled promise explored in the Searching For Sugar Man movie. Fact is, Rodrigez’s live shows are perhaps even worse than the Stone Roses in ’96, according to many. Just for yourself:
Yazoo, ‘Upstairs at Eric’s’
Yazoo were already splitting up by the time they came to release their second album, though their first – 1982’s ‘Upstairs at Eric’s’ – had already firmly established them as synth pop greats even in the short 18 months they were together. Alison Moyet and Vince Clarke went onto greater parallel success than they’d achieved together, but Yazoo invented the singer/moody keyboardist dichotomy that became a mainstay of 80s Top of the Pops performances, and left the world songs as fabulous as ‘Don’t Go’ and ‘Only You’.
The equivalent of websites such as Is Thatcher dead yet? and Has Torres scored yet? in the 90s would surely’ve been haveelasticamadearecordyet.com. The capitulation of Elastica in the face of members leaving and rumours of drug addiction became the stuff of legend, while their self-titled 1995 debut remained their only work for most of the decade. ‘The Menace’ finally dropped in 2000, and it contained five of the six songs from a self-titled six-track EP they’d released the previous year to prove they were still alive. Safe to say, it didn’t menace the charts.
Klaxons, ‘Myths of the Near Future ‘
Klaxons are another band that spent a while away whiling away the hours only to return to discover their public had moved on. 2007’s ‘Myths of the Near Future’ established the band as figureheads of the nu-rave scene, quickly going platinum and picking up the Mercury Music Prize that year. Rumours abounded that Klaxons were enjoying life a little too much and might be doing some “arsing about”. Tales of the band having to shelve reams of material and re-record the entire second album all over again became commonplace. By the time ‘Surfing the Void’ hit shops in 2010, people were asking “Klax-who?” They’re poised to bring out a third later this year, and one wonders whether it’s not too late for Klaxons to expunge themselves from the one album wonders list.
Any more suggestions of one-album wonders?
You can read a massive review of the Stone Roses at Finsbury Park in this week’s NME