What ya gonna do when the novelty is gone?
Critics, apparently, like novelty. Or perhaps it just becomes easier to criticize a band the second time around. Either way, as we explore below, reviewers seem to be more willing to praise a debut album -- and quicker to find fault with a sophomore release -- as evidenced by a decade's worth of Metascores.
This week sees the release of one of the year's most-anticipated second albums: Congratulations by MGMT. In 2008, the New York-based duo released Oracular Spectacular 76 to positive reviews, and the band quickly gained a following (and even a Grammy nomination) thanks to songs like "Kids," "Electric Feel," and "Time to Pretend." The new album, however, is far less single-oriented than its predecessor, and early reviews are less effusive than those for the debut.
If Congratulations indeed fails to match the success of Oracular Spectacular, MGMT will not be alone. Rock history is littered with examples of bands that received massive acclaim for their debut albums, only to falter -- critically, commercially, or both -- on their second outing. While some, like De La Soul, eventually bounce back and go on to long and successful careers, other groups, like The Stone Roses, never recover from their sophomore slumps.
Below, we take a look at bands who recorded some of the most critically-acclaimed debut albums of the past decade, to see how they fared upon their return to the studio.
A few who got even better
It is possible to follow-up a critically-acclaimed debut with an even better second album? For a handful of artists over the past decade, the answer was yes.
|1||Start Breaking My Heart||2002||76||↑12||9.0|
|2||Up In Flames||2003||88||8.6|
Before Dan Snaith received his Ph.D. in mathematics -- and before he recorded several acclaimed albums under the name Caribou -- he released his debut LP of melancholic electronica under the name Manitoba to positive reviews. Up in Flames, however, upped the ante (and the energy) considerably, with a denser, more organic, and more original sound. (Both albums were subsequently re-released under the Caribou name.)
|1||Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes||2004||79||↑9||8.5|
|2||Return To Cookie Mountain||2006||88||8.0|
In some ways, Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes was TV on the Radio's sophomore slump, coming as it did after the release of the band's acclaimed EP Young Liars. While not as consistently strong from start to finish as the group's later releases, it nevertheless earned TVOTR strong reviews and the Shortlist Music Prize. Cookie Mountain's stellar reviews were matched by third album Dear Science, 88.
|1||Almost Killed Me||2004||78||↑8||9.0|
The classic rock-influenced indie-rockers make consistently strong albums; the band followed their debut with three straight studio albums that hit 85 or higher. Album number five, Heaven Is Whenever, is due in May.
Several who duplicated their success
While topping an acclaimed debut doesn't happen often, many bands have been able to at least come close, with a second album that's comparable in quality. Recent bands who have received virtually identical (plus or minus a few points) high Metascores for their first and second albums include Atlas Sound, Beirut, Broadcast, Engineers, Junior Senior, Los Campesinos!, Pale Young Gentlemen, She & Him, The Streets, Titus Andronicus, and the following groups:
|1||Asleep In The Back||2002||82||↑2||8.4|
|2||Cast Of Thousands||2004||84||9.3|
The innovative British alt-rockers have received more critical acclaim (including a number of awards) than commercial success, but they have yet to release a mediocre album.
|1||Up the Bracket||2003||78||↑2||8.8|
While Up the Bracket established the garage rockers as one of Britain's top new bands -- and eventually placed second on NME's best of the decade list -- the group's self-titled follow-up managed to secure even better reviews, and debuted at #1 on the British charts. The band imploded soon thereafter, although they have since reunited and have live dates scheduled for later in 2010.
|1||Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not||2006||82||0||7.1|
|2||Favourite Worst Nightmare||2007||82||8.0|
It wasn't just the critics who were fans; Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not is still the fastest-selling debut album in UK rock history. A very young band that attracted a lot of Internet-generated buzz in a short period of time, the Arctic Monkeys seemed destined to become one-album wonders, never to be heard from again. Except that a funny thing happened: their second album earned even more stellar reviews and awards, and also immediately shot to the top of the UK charts.
|1||Everything All The Time||2006||78||0||8.3|
|2||Cease To Begin||2007||78||8.2|
Consistency has paid off for the Seattle indie-rockers; after two albums for Sub Pop, their upcoming third disc (Infinite Arms) will find them on a major label for the first time.
|2||Sound Of Silver||2007||86||8.1|
Speaking of consistent, James Murphy has managed to collect raves for each of his two LCD Soundsystem albums, and both appeared on numerous top 10 lists at the end of the years in which they were released. He'll go for the hat trick in May, when This Is Happening surfaces.
|1||The Hour of Bewilderbeast||2000||78||↓1||8.5|
|2||Have You Fed the Fish?||2002||77||8.4|
We still consider Damon Gough a one-album wonder. Badly Drawn Boy's Mercury Prize-winning debut probably would have scored even higher with a little trimming and possibly better sequencing. Even so, the artist has never come close to topping it, either commercially or critically. Yet, at the time, enough reviewers enjoyed the sound of Gough's second studio album, Have You Fed the Fish?, to cause almost no drop-off in Metascores.
|1||Turn On The Bright Lights||2002||81||↓1||9.5|
Here's another entry that surprised us. If you had asked us to guess, we'd have pegged Antics as scoring 5-10 points lower than Interpol's stellar debut, even though we knew the second album was a bigger commercial success. As it turns out, that wasn't the case; critics had virtually equal praise for the two discs. Interpol's slump didn't come until their third album (and major-label debut), Our Love to Admire 70.
It's obvious which album Metacritic users preferred. But critics, as a group, felt that this year's Contra was a worthy follow-up to Vampire Weekend's self-titled debut.
|1||Bright Like Neon Love||2004||81||↓2||8.8|
|2||In Ghost Colours||2008||79||9.1|
While we prefer Cut Copy's catchier second album, critics expressed a slight preference for the Australian electronic-pop act's debut.
They couldn't quite live up to the first album
Other bands -- including Akron/Family, Art Brut, Be Your Own Pet, The Bees, Clinic, The Coral, Fiery Furnaces, Ladytron, Rogue Wave, Secret Machines, The Thermals, and the artists listed below -- failed to match the critical success of their debuts, although they still received a positive response for their sophomore efforts.
If your "worst" album scores an 87, you're doing something right. But debut album Funeral is a decade-defining release, and it could be tough for the Canadian band to ever match that disc's achievements, in the minds of critics or fans.
|2||You Could Have It So Much Better||2005||83||8.2|
It might be a case of diminishing returns for the Orange Juice-influenced Scottish act: their third album, Tonight 70, exhibited a further decline in quality.
|2||The Odd Couple||2008||76||8.2|
The second album from the duo of Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse failed to match the critical and commercial highs of St. Elsewhere (which sold over a million copies in the U.S.), and was also lacking a hit single of the caliber of the debut's "Crazy."
|1||Youth & Young Manhood||2003||79||↓5||8.9|
|2||Aha Shake Heartbreak||2005||74||8.2|
The American rockers attracted more attention overseas than at home for their first two albums, though many American critics liked their debut. The band's most recent release, Only by the Night 63, was much less liked by critics, but proved to be their commercial breakthrough.
The indie-rock supergroup rebounded from their "decline" with their third disc, Twin Cinema 85, although their scores dropped again on album four.
|1||Apologies To The Queen Mary||2005||83||↓5||8.6|
|2||At Mount Zoomer||2008||78||9.1|
Many reviewers loved the indie-rock band's debut album, but were less effusive about the follow-up. The opposite is true for Metacritic users, though the second album attracted less attention on the site. We'll know more about where the band is headed when album three comes out this summer.
|1||Fever To Tell||2003||85||↓6||8.2|
|2||Show Your Bones||2006||79||8.0|
While Show Your Bones was by no means a bad album, it failed to match the commercial or critical heights of the Karen O-fronted band's debut. But the Yeah Yeah Yeahs came back strong with third album It's Blitz 82.
|1||De-Loused In The Comatorium||2003||82||↓7||9.5|
|2||Frances The Mute||2005||75||8.3|
The prog-rock band was never again able to match the stellar reviews for De-Loused in the Comatorium, with additional releases after 2005 scoring well below even sophomore release Frances the Mute.
A drop-off in quality
Our next group of artists encountered an even bigger drop-off in critical reception between their first and second releases.
|1||A Certain Trigger||2005||75||↓8||8.6|
|2||Our Earthly Pleasures||2007||67||8.0|
The UK band's Mercury Prize-nominated debut was a rare rock release on electronica label Warp. While the follow-up sold well, critics were relatively unimpressed; third album Quicken the Heart 61 received an even more lukewarm response.
|1||Thunder, Lightning, Strike||2005||86||↓9||8.6|
|2||Proof of Youth||2007||77||8.7|
The Go! Team seem to be best appreciated in small doses; critics seemed to tire of the Brighton, England-based band's exuberance after the first album.
|1||The Decline Of British Sea Power||2003||86||↓10||8.5|
BSP's debut is one of our favorites of the decade, but we agree with critics about album two: it suffers a bit without Decline's chaos, unpredictability and energy.
|2||So This Is Goodbye||2006||79||9.0|
The Canadian synth-pop group came out of nowhere with their 2004 debut and wowed critics with their chilly, distinctive sound that was both forward-looking and reminiscent of 1980s pop. Perhaps album two simply lacked that surprise factor, or perhaps the songs just weren't as good; at any rate, Metacritic users certainly liked it.
The party band best known for covering Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb" faded from the limelight in their native U.S., although their second album was popular in Britain.
|1||The Back Room||2006||76||↓11||8.2|
|2||An End Has A Start||2007||65||7.6|
Unlike Interpol, to whom Editors are frequently compared, the English band failed to receive strong reviews for their sophomore effort, and experienced an even bigger critical fall-off with their third album, In This Light & On This Evening 59. Fans don't seem to care, however; albums two and three each topped the charts in the UK.
|1||From Here We Go Sublime||2007||90||↓11||6.5|
|2||Yesterday And Today||2009||79||7.8|
Metacritic's highest-scoring album of 2007 was From Here We Go Sublime, an album of minimalist techno from Sweden's Axel Willner. He couldn't duplicate the feat with his sophomore outing, though it, too, received a lot of positive reviews.
|1||Is This It?||2001||90||↓12||8.6|
|2||Room On Fire||2003||78||8.2|
It's another case of diminishing returns. Since exploding onto the indie rock scene in 2001 with Is This It?, The Strokes have been met with declining sales and less enthusiastic critical response for each of their two subsequent albums. A long-awaited fourth release is expected this fall.
|1||They Threw Us in a Trench & Stuck a Monument on Top||2002||77||↓13||7.5|
|2||They Were Wrong, So We Drowned||2004||64||8.3|
The ever-changing band's second LP -- a concept album about witch trials -- proved to be a rare critical misstep. Each of their three subsequent releases received strong reviews, scoring even higher than Liars' debut.
The Norwegian electronica duo took three years to release a follow-up to their well-received debut, and the result was something that neither critics nor fans liked as much. They rebounded a bit with their aptly-named third album, Junior 74.
The biggest second album missteps
This final group of bands suffered the biggest fall from album one to album two.
|1||The Beginning Stages Of...||2002||84||↓14||6.7|
|2||Together We're Heavy||2004||70||7.7|
The bombastic choral-pop group brought a change of robes and fuller production to their follow-up to their unlikely 2002 cult hit, but many critics were no longer buying their cult-like cheerfulness. According to Entertainment Weekly, only William Hung released a worse album in 2004.
|1||Logic Will Break Your Heart||2003||79||↓14||9.0|
The Canadian band completed changed its sound for album number two, alienating critics and fans in the process. A third album, Oceans Will Rise 64, also left reviewers unimpressed.
|2||Everything Goes Wrong||2009||66||6.6|
The Brooklyn band was signed to garage-rock label In the Red on the strength of their critically-acclaimed (but just 22-minute) debut album. While the band's following continued to grow, their second album proved to be polarizing among critics.
|2||Walk It Off||2008||61||6.8|
It may be the most original indie rock, but The Loon is filled with addictive tunes and intriguing songwriting. The band's David Fridmann-produced second album? Not so much.
|2||News And Tributes||2006||71||7.5|
Sounding little like anything else out at the time, the UK band's self-titled debut was one of 2004's top albums, generating excitement in the music press. That excitement died down over subsequent releases, which still received positive reviews but failed to scale the heights of that debut.
|1||The Magic Numbers||2005||80||↓15||7.5|
|2||Those The Brokes||2007||65||6.5|
The English four-piece could not capitalize on the buzz generated by their debut release; many critics ultimately were bored with the group's ambitious second album, and the group has done little since.
|2||A Weekend In The City||2007||65||6.3|
One of indie rock's next big things in the middle part of the last decade, England's Bloc Party has continued to sell albums even as they have been fading from relevance, at least from a critical standpoint. The band is currently on hiatus, with frontman Kele Okereke due to release a solo album this summer.
|1||Kicking The National Habit||2006||76||↓17||9.3|
|2||A Drink & A Quick Decision||2007||59||7.0|
The UK dance music duo followed their well-received, '80s-influenced debut with a darker second album that reviewers weren't fond of. Aside from a few singles, Grand National has been mostly silent in the ensuing years.
|2||Yours Truly, Angry Mob||2007||61||5.5|
While the English rockers followed their well-reviewed debut with a middling sophomore effort, the second album at least generated a hit single ("Ruby").
|1||These Were The Earlies||2005||84||↓17||8.4|
Half English, half American, The Earlies scored strong reviews for their first stab at eclectic, psychedelic prog-rock. While Enemy Chorus still attracted a number of great reviews, some critics considered it a failed experiment.
|2||Sun, Sun, Sun||2006||63||8.4|
Blake Sennett impressed critics with his first foray away from his main band, Rilo Kiley. Two years later, critics found a lot less to get excited about.
|2||Harmonies For The Haunted||2005||58||8.4|
The New York-based band sounded like a love-them or hate-them proposition when they released their self-titled debut in 2003. Back then, many critics were loving them, but it was short-lived: neither of the group's follow-up efforts received good reviews.
|1||Clap Your Hands Say Yeah||2005||84||↓21||8.5|
|2||Some Loud Thunder||2007||63||7.4|
The Internet buzz in 2005 was so great for this indie-rock band's self-released debut album -- a start-to-finish delight -- that it was a challenge just to secure a copy of the CD. CYHSY refused to sign with a label and opted to once again self-release their follow-up, although they did work with a big-name producer (Dave Fridmann). The result was hugely disappointing to many critics and some of the group's fans, with both the production and the songwriting coming under fire.
|1||Through The Windowpane||2006||81||↓21||8.7|
The debut disc for the UK four-piece is highlighted by infectious indie-pop gems like the single "Trains to Brazil." But that magic was missing from the second album, derided by many critics as shallow and overproduced to the point of self-parody.
The UK duo's electronica-grime mishmash Ego War won over most critics in 2003. But their slower second album was derided by most critics, and even the band has suggested that it's a misstep.
Let's hear it
What did the critics get right and wrong in assessing the second albums listed above? What other second album failures and successes aren't covered on our list? Join the conversation below.