Sophomore Slump? Comparing the Second Albums of Buzz Bands

  • Comments: ↓ 69 user comments
  • Publish Date: April 10, 2010

What ya gonna do when the novelty is gone?

Image
1st Album
↓5 2nd Album
76 71
Image Image
MGMT Album Comparison
(as of April 15, 2010)

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.

Manitoba [aka Caribou]
Album Year Metascore Change Users
1Start Breaking My Heart 200276↑12 9.0
2Up In Flames 2003888.6

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.)

TV on the Radio
Album Year Metascore Change Users
1Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes 200479↑9 8.5
2Return To Cookie Mountain 200688 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.

The Hold Steady
Album Year Metascore Change Users
1Almost Killed Me 200478↑8 9.0
2Separation Sunday 2005868.8

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:

Elbow
Album Year Metascore Change Users
1Asleep In The Back 200282↑2 8.4
2Cast Of Thousands 2004849.3

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.

The Libertines
Album Year Metascore Change Users
1 Up the Bracket 200378 ↑2 8.8
2The Libertines 2004808.8

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.

Arctic Monkeys
Album Year Metascore Change Users
1Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not 2006820 7.1
2Favourite Worst Nightmare 200782 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.

Band of Horses
Album Year Metascore Change Users
1Everything All The Time 2006780 8.3
2Cease To Begin 2007788.2

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.

LCD Soundsystem
Album Year Metascore Change Users
1LCD Soundsystem 2005860 7.6
2Sound Of Silver 2007868.1

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.

Badly Drawn Boy
Album Year Metascore Change Users
1The Hour of Bewilderbeast 200078↓1 8.5
2Have You Fed the Fish? 2002778.4

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.

Interpol
Album Year Metascore Change Users
1Turn On The Bright Lights 200281↓1 9.5
2Antics 2004809.0

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.

Vampire Weekend
Album Year Metascore Change Users
1Vampire Weekend 200882↓1 8.0
2Contra 2010815.6

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.

Cut Copy
Album Year Metascore Change Users
1Bright Like Neon Love 200481↓2 8.8
2In Ghost Colours 2008799.1

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.

The Arcade Fire
Album Year Metascore Change Users
1 Funeral 2004 90 ↓3 9.4
2 Neon Bible 2007 87 8.7

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.

Franz Ferdinand
Album Year Metascore Change Users
1Franz Ferdinand 200487↓4 8.5
2You Could Have It So Much Better 2005838.2

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.

Gnarls Barkley
Album Year Metascore Change Users
1St. Elsewhere 200681↓5 8.3
2The Odd Couple 2008768.2

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."

Kings of Leon
Album Year Metascore Change Users
1Youth & Young Manhood 200379↓5 8.9
2Aha Shake Heartbreak 2005748.2

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 New Pornographers
Album Year Metascore Change Users
1Mass Romantic 200087↓5 9.7
2Electric Version 2003828.3

The indie-rock supergroup rebounded from their "decline" with their third disc, Twin Cinema 85, although their scores dropped again on album four.

Wolf Parade
Album Year Metascore Change Users
1Apologies To The Queen Mary 200583↓5 8.6
2At Mount Zoomer 2008789.1

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.

Basement Jaxx
Album Year Metascore Change Users
1Remedy 199988↓6 8.5
2Rooty 2001829.5

Despite the slight decline for album two, each of the electronica act's first three albums received strong reviews from critics; albums four and five, not so much.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Album Year Metascore Change Users
1Fever To Tell 200385↓6 8.2
2Show Your Bones 2006798.0

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.

The Mars Volta
Album Year Metascore Change Users
1De-Loused In The Comatorium 200382↓7 9.5
2Frances The Mute 2005758.3

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.

Maximo Park
Album Year Metascore Change Users
1A Certain Trigger 200575↓8 8.6
2Our Earthly Pleasures 2007678.0

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.

The Go! Team
Album Year Metascore Change Users
1Thunder, Lightning, Strike 200586↓9 8.6
2Proof of Youth 2007778.7

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.

British Sea Power
Album Year Metascore Change Users
1The Decline Of British Sea Power 200386↓10 8.5
2Open Season 2005768.5

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.

Junior Boys
Album Year Metascore Change Users
1Last Exit 200489↓10 8.2
2So This Is Goodbye 2006799.0

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.

Scissor Sisters
Album Year Metascore Change Users
1Scissor Sisters 200481↓10 8.9
2Ta-Dah 2006718.1

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.

Editors
Album Year Metascore Change Users
1The Back Room 200676↓11 8.2
2An End Has A Start 2007657.6

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.

The Field
Album Year Metascore Change Users
1From Here We Go Sublime 200790↓11 6.5
2Yesterday And Today 2009797.8

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.

The Strokes
Album Year Metascore Change Users
1Is This It? 200190↓12 8.6
2Room On Fire 2003788.2

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.

Liars
Album Year Metascore Change Users
1 They Threw Us in a Trench & Stuck a Monument on Top 200277↓13 7.5
2They Were Wrong, So We Drowned 2004648.3

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.

Röyksopp
Album Year Metascore Change Users
1Melody A.M. 200281↓13 9.5
2The Understanding 2005687.9

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.

The Polyphonic Spree
Album Year Metascore Change Users
1The Beginning Stages Of... 200284↓14 6.7
2Together We're Heavy 2004707.7

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.

The Stills
Album Year Metascore Change Users
1Logic Will Break Your Heart 200379↓14 9.0
2Without Feathers 2006656.4

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.

Vivian Girls
Album Year Metascore Change Users
1Vivian Girls 200880↓14 6.0
2Everything Goes Wrong 2009666.6

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.

Tapes 'n Tapes
Album Year Metascore Change Users
1The Loon 200676↓15 7.7
2Walk It Off 2008616.8

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.

The Futureheads
Album Year Metascore Change Users
1The Futureheads 200486↓15 8.8
2News And Tributes 2006717.5

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.

The Magic Numbers
Album Year Metascore Change Users
1The Magic Numbers 200580↓15 7.5
2Those The Brokes 2007656.5

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.

Bloc Party
Album Year Metascore Change Users
1Silent Alarm 200582↓17 8.8
2A Weekend In The City 2007656.3

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.

Grand National
Album Year Metascore Change Users
1Kicking The National Habit 200676↓17 9.3
2A Drink & A Quick Decision 200759 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.

Kaiser Chiefs
Album Year Metascore Change Users
1Employment 200578↓17 7.5
2Yours Truly, Angry Mob 2007615.5

While the English rockers followed their well-reviewed debut with a middling sophomore effort, the second album at least generated a hit single ("Ruby").

The Earlies
Album Year Metascore Change Users
1These Were The Earlies 200584↓17 8.4
2Enemy Chorus 2007679.5

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.

The Elected
Album Year Metascore Change Users
1Me First 200480↓17 9.4
2Sun, Sun, Sun 2006638.4

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.

stellastarr*
Album Year Metascore Change Users
1stellastarr* 200378↓20 7.8
2Harmonies For The Haunted 200558 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.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Album Year Metascore Change Users
1Clap Your Hands Say Yeah 200584↓21 8.5
2Some Loud Thunder 2007637.4

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.

Guillemots
Album Year Metascore Change Users
1Through The Windowpane 200681↓21 8.7
2Red 200860 6.7

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.

Audio Bullys
Album Year Metascore Change Users
1Ego War 200375↓31 8.3
2Generation 200644 9.0

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.

The Metascore is a weighted average of scores from top professional critics, on a scale from 0 (bad) to 100 (good). User scores represent an average of scores assigned by Metacritic.com site visitors on a scale from 0 (bad) to 10 (good). All scores are from April 9, 2010.

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.

We're sorry, but comments are closed for this article.

Comments (69)

  • Josh  

    William has it right. Every single band on this list completely sucks ass, so in turn, every single album on this list sucks ass as well. There literally is not one good band in this entire article.

  • jerome  

    hip list, bros.

  • Nick  

    Why no Coldplay? A Rush of Blood to the Head was one of the highest rated albums of the decade. Hell, it even had a spot on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums list. Yet, it's not even mentioned on here along with their first album, Parachutes.

  • Jake R.  

    For the Beastie Boys, Paul's Boutique was much better than Licensed to Ill. And I am pretty sure I'm not the only person to think this seeing as Paul's Boutique is considered their best and they "Sophomore Album"
    Same with Beck, Gorillaz, Placebo's, MF Doom, Outkast, The Urge,... I can think of tons of groups that defy this. But when you think about it, the second album usually does get a bad wap, but I think its cause expectations are set too high and only the few groups that can meet the high pre-imposed expectations. I think many times the second albums are an improvement just not as big as people are wanting or expecting.

  • Emily Fralick  

    How can anyone with any credibility whatsoever call Neon Bible a misstep from Funeral? No one thinks that.

  • Christopher  

    I start to think that "professional" reviewers just underrate sophomore albums because they are trying to distance themselves from these groups for over-hyping them in the first place.

  • Nathanael  

    What's with all the indie crap?

  • William  

    Wow this is the **** list ever Theres no good bands so all of the first and second albums suck

  • Jerry Curlan  

    I disagree with the critics on The Hold Steady - 1st album was much better. Agree completely that the following had a much better first album than second: Arcade Fire, Kings of Leon, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, British Sea Power (tough to beat "The Decline", & The Strokes. I'll throw in this about a lesser known band on this site - I initially thought Girl in a Coma's debut album was MUCH better than their second album "Trio B.C.", but I was wrong. Their second is a much more mature, full-sounding record, and I can't stop listening to it.

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