When Muse emerged 17 years ago with their barnstorming debut ‘Showbiz’, there were some detractors out there who had them pegged as Radiohead copyists. Follow-up ‘Origin of Symmetry’ demonstrated that Matt Bellamy and co’s vision was skewed spaceward, and the ‘R’ word was quickly forgotten. Here are some more radical second album departures...
Radiohead – 'The Bends' (1995). The Oxford band made a huge impact with the single ‘Creep’ on both sides of the Atlantic, but ‘Pablo Honey’ – which it was released from – was an incohesive, patchy debut. It’s difficult to overstate then just how formidable ‘The Bends’, a swirling, expansive masterpiece, was when it first emerged in 1995.
The Horrors – 'Primary Colours' (2009). The Horrors showed early promise with the bilious ‘Strange House’ when it was released in early 2007, but it was the goth-meets-krautrock class of ‘Primary Colours’ that saw them garner widespread critical acclaim as well as the NME Album Of The Year.
Klaxons – 'Surfing The Void' (2010). Klaxons hit the ground running with their 2007 debut ‘Myths of the Near Future’, but things went slightly awry for the follow-up. A combination of protracted recording sessions, disputes with their record label and a desire to get away from their nu-rave roots saw ‘Surfing The Void’ fail at the box office.
Beastie Boys – 'Paul's Boutique' (1989). The Beasties' ‘Licensed To Ill’ was the first hip-hop album to top the Billboard Charts, even if the trio were vilified by the tabloids for bad behaviour and seen as something of a joke in some quarters. Fast forward three years and ‘Paul’s Boutique’ changed everything – and now, no Top 100 Best Albums Ever list is complete without it.
Lana Del Rey – 'Born To Die' (2012). The singer's first LP was so unfocused that she couldn't even decide to call herself. Forget the lacklustre 'Lana Del Ray AKA Lizzy Grant', though: Lana clearly watched some David Lynch, switched Ray for Rey, and announced herself with the polished, hugely-successful 'Born To Die'.
Nirvana – 'Nevermind' (1991). 'Bleach' was a bruisingly assured debut, but there was little on it to hint that its creators, Nirvana, would become the world's most important rock band. But Kurt Cobain unleashed the killer tunes on follow-up 'Nevermind', and the rest was history.
Amy Winehouse – 'Back To Black' (2006). As jazzy and fun as Winehouse's debut 'Frank' was, it slipped under most people's radars. Some soured romances helped inspire her to write 'Back To Black', though, which went off like a supernova and won five Grammy Awards. Today, it's her tragic swansong.
The Maccabees – 'Wall Of Arms' (2009). At first, The Maccabees were just a run-of-the-mill indie band. And then they unleashed ‘Wall of Arms’ unto the world: a darker, deeper and more expansive album that revealed an ambition few thought they had in them.
Public Enemy – 'It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back' (1988). If ‘Yo! Bum Rush The Show’ was like being hit in the face with a comet, then ‘Nation of Millions...’ was like having that face melted off. Under the production tutelage of Hank Shocklee/The Bomb Squad, the old skool hip hop flavour of the former was shored up with dense samples that were as punishing as Chuck D’s verses.
Bob Dylan – 'The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan' (1962). While Dylan’s eponymously-titled 1962 debut was no misfire, it only featured two complete Bob compositions with a load of reworked folk arrangements besides. ‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’ record in ‘63, though, truly announced a superstar with a couple of readymade classics in ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ and ‘A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall’.
Björk – 'Debut' (1993). Most people know Björk was in the Sugarcubes before going solo, but not that many people realise she brought out a record in 1977 with the help of her stepfather, Sævar. This is perhaps the reason she chose the name ‘Debut’ for her 1993 solo record, despite it being her second studio album, in order to draw a line in the sand.
Charlotte Gainsbourg – '5:55' (2006). Charlotte Gainsbourg, daughter of Serge, brought out ‘Charlotte For Ever’ with the old man’s help back when she was just 14 in 1986. A whole 20 years elapsed before she released an album again, and while she worked with Serge fans Jarvis Cocker, Neil Hannon and Air, the grown up record had a very different complexion.
Eminem – 'The Slim Shady LP' (1999). Eminem showed promise on ‘Infinite’, his 1996 debut which sold no more than 1,000 copies, but aside from decent flow and some smart lyrics, there was nothing to distinguish him from other rap hopefuls. But by 1999 he’d refined the character who’d go on to define hip-hop for a decade under the influence of Dre with the game-changing ‘The Slim Shady LP.
Pixies – 'Doolittle' (1989). Black Francis, Kim Deal et al certainly made a fine racket on debut ‘Surfer Rosa’ and majorly influenced Kurt Cobain while they were at it, but ‘Doolittle’ came with some of the finest hooks the latter 20th century had to offer all on one cohesive and dynamic album. Turns out they could doo quite a lot.
The Stone Roses – 'The Second Coming' (1994). The Stone Roses assured debut would always be difficult to follow up, and with court cases, contractual lockdown and a vicious spat with their former manager, it was little wonder the band over-egged the pudding somewhat with ‘The Second Coming’.
Blur – 'Modern Life Is Rubbish' (1993). Damon Albarn can’t stand Blur’s debut ‘Leisure’, which attempted to conflate the fad sounds of baggy and shoegaze for an unconvincing first offering. ‘Modern Life Is Rubbish’ however set out its stall and introduced us to the cheeky, observational pop steeped in Englishness we’d come to know Blur for.
Paul McCartney – 'McCartney II' (1980). You could say McCartney’s brilliant ‘Ram’ was his second solo album, but given that Linda gets a credit, his true second has to be ‘McCartney II’ which eschewed the melodic superfluity of its predecessor for synthesiser and studio sonic experimentation. It has become a hipster favourite and an inspirational dance record for DIY types.
Liars – 'They Were Wrong, So We Drowned' (2004). Many thought Liars were leftfield enough when they brought out ‘They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top’, but they managed to outweird even their own fans with the witchcraft-y ‘They Were Wrong, So We Drowned’. Angus Andrew’s experimental noise rockers have been confounding ever since.
Arcade Fire – 'Neon Bible' (2007). Arcade Fire’s ‘Funeral’ clattered onto the pop landscape like a giant, ornate sarcophagus ejected from the ether in 2004, and to follow up something so unusual was always going to be difficult. The ‘Neon Bible’ with its Springsteen leanings failed to ignite the same desire, but Win Butler’s troubadours are still very much in demand.