It’s famously tough following up a successful debut album. Not for these artists, though. Here’s 29 of the greatest ever second albums, from Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ to D’Angelo’s ‘Voodoo’ via a little known album called ‘(What’s The Story) Morning Glory’…
My Bloody Valentine – Loveless: Where most bands struggle for direction on their second LP, unsure whether to stick with the formula of their first and perfect or dart into new territory and risk alienating the fans they made first time around, MBV defined an entire genre with ‘Loveless’. A dizzying shoegaze trip, it tugged at your heart strings beneath pillars of woozy white noise.
Nirvana – Nevermind: ‘Bleach’ was a helter-skelter racket that sold a couple of thousand copies in the US. So far, so good for Cobain’s Seattle slackers. ‘Nevermind’ tapped into something more primal though, a blisteringly nihilistic stare into the abyss of modern life that defined a generation. From that opening snare stagger of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, life was never the same for Kurt.
Neutral Milk Hotel – In The Aeroplane Over The Sea: You’ll have heard the legend that surrounds Jeff Magnum’s cult classic second by now – his twisted dreams of Anne Frank, the paranoia that saw him hoarding rice convinced a Y2K meltdown beckoned. How much of that is myth is debatable. What is beyond question, however, is the haunting imagery of dreamlike songs here like ‘Two Headed Boy’.
Pavement – Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain: ‘Slanted and Enchanted’ was a lo-fi charmer, but on ‘Crooked Rain…’ Pavement really upped the ante. Full of radio-bait jangle-pop anthems, this 1994 classic was at once more and less commercial: its hooky moments, like ‘Cut Your Hair’ and the timelessly sunny ‘Gold Soundz’ were hookier than before, but came sandwiched between screwy non-sequiturs.
Kanye West – Late Registration: Roping in Fiona Apple producer Jon Brion, Yeezy’s follow-up to ‘The College Dropout’, which brought the world hits ‘All Falls Down’ and ‘Through The Wire’, was an even more expansive and ambitious snapshot of the Chicago rapper’s talents. As before, his mix of hubris and insecurity made for compelling listening – especially on the massive ‘Touch The Sky’.
Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique: A loose, spontaneous fireball of clever samples and even cleverer rhymes, the Beasties’ second saw them refuse to let up the energy of their 1986 debut on this 1989 sequel. The record that confirmed what everyone suspected – these New Yorkers were hip-hop legends in the making.
Radiohead – The Bends: Forget the sad-sack Brit-grunge of ‘Pablo Honey’ – this stirring second album was the moment Radiohead showed signs of the genre-bending world-beaters they went onto become. Closing track ‘Street Spirit…’ summed up the epic scale on which Thom Yorke’s bunch were now operating, losing none of the raw emotion of their debut in the process.
The Shins – Chutes Too Narrow: On which James Mercer sharpened the college radio melancholy of of the Sub Poppers’ 2001 debut into something magnificent. ‘Young Pilgrims’, ‘Kissing The Lipless’, ‘So Says I’ – gossamer 1960s-pop inspired gems, the lot of them.
James Blake – Overgrown: After the marriage of ribcage-rattling bass and piano melancholy that made up his brilliant 2010 debut, Blake turned in an even more sophisticated listen in 2013 that earned him a Mercury and saw him leave behind the ‘post-dubstep’ tag that initially lumped him in with the likes of the xx and Jamie Woon. ‘Retrograde’ remains the album’s apocalyptic, raw highlight.
Weezer – Pinkerton: Rivers Cuomo may have turned his back on ‘Pinkerton’ in the years since, rarely revisiting it live, but for a lot of fans, Weezer’s second remains their greatest work – a gnarled, heart-on-sleeve, dog-eared telling of long-distance romance, social awkwardness and sexual malaise. More complex than ‘The Blue Album’ and anything that’s followed from the Californians.
Foo Fighters – The Colour and The Shape: Foos’ 1995 debut was essentially a Grohl solo LP. Songs like ‘Monkey Wrench’, ‘My Hero’ and ‘Everlong’ on album two, however, saw them morph into a more collaborative beast, weathering a stormy period to make this college rock blockbuster: two marriages fell apart, the band lost a drummer and according to Nate Mendel “someone nearly went to jail.”
Hole – Live Through This: Courtney Love may have later described Hole’s 1991 debut was “unlistenable” but it was a critical and commercial hit that made fashioning a sequel presumably pretty daunting. Love shrugged the pressure off remarkably though: “a personal but secretive thrash-pop opera of urban nihilism” was how NME summed up the power chord pop songs of this follow-up.
Dr Dre – 2001: It took the NWA mastermind born Andre Romelle Young seven years to follow-up his formidable ‘The Chronic’. When ‘2001’ finally arrived in 1999, fans were left in little doubt – the man proclaiming to be ‘Still Dre’ over the decade’s most G-funk-slinkingly irresistible beat was still the most forward thinking creative in hip-hop.
The Beatles – With The Beatles: As Beatlemania took flight, for a while it looked like nothing would ever knock ‘Please Please Me’ from its perch at the top of the UK charts. Then came this similarly charming and tune-filled follow-up, which helped The Beatles complete a 51 week consecutive run at number 1 and convince skeptics the Fab Four weren’t the Fad Four.
Public Enemy – It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back: The frantic rhymes on Public Enemy’s June 1988 second album were as politically powerful as hip-hop has ever managed – almost every single one of Chuck D’s lines a sloganeering shot to the heart of mainstream America’s racist core. A worthy follow-up then to 1987 debut ‘Yo! Bum Rush The Show’.
Amy Winehouse – Back To Black: Almost too honest and soul-bearing to listen to since her tragic death in 2011, Amy’s ‘Back To Black’ made no bones of the singer’s struggles in love and wrestles with drug and drink addiction. ‘Rehab’ had the whole world dancing – ultimately to the tune of a North London’s girl’s death knell. Heartbreaking.
Daft Punk – Discovery: When in doubt, do disco. The duo’s debut had been in thrall to Chicago house – to the point where, enjoyable though it was, its title ‘Homework, felt kinda literal. A move towards buzzing 1980s synths and huge hooks on this second LP saw them become an otherworldly dancefloor force to be reckoned with: ‘One More Time’, ‘Digital Love’, ‘Harder Better…’, all anthems.
Bjork – Post: The Icelandic sonic adventurer’s second album was written after upping sticks to London, and as a result came threaded with homesick melancholy. That, and the trip-hop production chemistry of then-boyfriend Tricky, made for a more complex listen than on her intriguing first outing and an art-pop auteur was born.
Adele – 21: What can we say about ’21’ that its opposition-crushing, music industry-reviving (almost) commercial success hasn’t already? The fact that the London singer’s second effort, full of piano ballad brsvery and girl next door charm, continues to drift around the top end of the UK charts four years on, as the world patiently awaits ’26’, is testament to the strong emotional pull.
Interpol – Antics: The sharp-suited New Yorkers lost none of their ties but maybe loosened their ties a little for the poppier ‘Antics’, arriving after ‘Turn On The Bright Lights’ made moody post-punk pin-ups of Paul Banks and co. Lead single ‘Slow Hands’ was good. ‘Evil’ was great. Album centerpiece ‘C’mere’ was even greater.
Slint – Spiderland: A milestone in post-rock. Darkly poetic, David Pajo’s guitar lines were – true to its title – webs of menace and intrigue, over which throaty groans and reams of spoken word painted stories of lonely sea travellers and vampire men. By the time it was released, the band had gone their separate ways, only adding to the mystery surrounding ‘Spiderland’.
Arctic Monkeys – My Favourite Worst Nightmare: Not as instant as their first, but an impressive evolution for Alex Turner’s lot. ‘Brainstorm’ and ‘Teddy Picker’ were brilliantly nasty, built on spit ’n’ sawdust riffs and acerbic lyrics, while the likes of ‘505’, ‘Old Yellow Bricks’ and ‘Only Ones Who Know’ showed just how far they’d kicked on since ‘Whatever…’.
Vampire Weekend – Contra: The skittering Afrobeat-ish pop of New Yorkers Ezra Koenig and co hit new levels of sophistication on ‘Contra’, which sold 124,000 copies in its first week en route to 2010’s end of year lists. ‘Hortchata’ and ‘Holiday’ remain effortlessly brilliant.
Oasis – (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?: Is there a more knockout one-two on an album anywhere than ‘Wonderwall’ into ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’? The hits didn’t stop there though as the Gallaghers hit their swaggering stride on album two: Cast No Shadow’, right up to the ace ‘Champagne Supernova’, made them Manc mega stars.
The Smiths – Meat Is Murder: Need a reason why ‘Meat Is Murder’ sits among the greatest ever second albums? Here’s three: the ballroom brood of ‘That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore’, the intense burn of ‘How Soon Is Now?’ and in the form of ‘The Headmaster Ritual’, one of the best openers ever. Pure Moz and Marr gold.
Blur – Modern Life Is Rubbish: On ‘Leisure’, Blur were but a bunch of boys in floppy fringes and baggy trousers. This more profound, despairing follow-up on the other hand was a maturer marvel, attempting to revive and reinvigorate classic British pop. Listening back now, it’s like a younger sibling to ‘Parklife’, that changed the course of their career.
Led Zeppelin – II: In their original decade and a bit together, this was the best thing Page, Plant, Jones and Bonham created: an experimental monster full of hard blues riffin’ and sleazy funk shuffles. ‘Whole Lotta Love’, the album’s thrilling opener, was only the tip of the iceberg.
D’Angelo – Voodoo: An album so good, it took the Virginia son of a Pentecostal minister 14 years to work out how to follow it up, eventually dropping ‘Black Messiah’ in early 2015. ‘Voodoo’ was more spontaneous and funky than his 1995 ‘Brown Sugar’, inspired by the birth of his first child in 1998, with a neo-soul sound that sought to take R&B in an exciting new direction.
Madonna – Like A Virgin: Not content with being simply pop flavour of the month after the success of her debut, Madge sought out Nile Rodgers to man the controls on this second, primarily due to his work with David Bowie. The results were as provocative, challenging the puritan beliefs of Christian America, as they were seriously danceable.