On the “Difficult Second Album”
I’ve just given Sleigh Bells’ second album Reign of Terror another try and I’m still not sold.
I can’t put my finger on just what it is that I’m struggling to connect with. Sleigh Bells are a two piece band consisting of Derek Edward Miller (guitar) and Alexis Krauss (vocals). Their first album, Treats, was unlike anything I’d heard before. It was like pop music but with massive levels of distortion on everything – I’m talking guitar, bass, keys and drums, all with highly unpoppy levels of distortion. And I loved it. With their second album, they largely copied the formula of the first and yet I’m struggling to connect with it. This has got me thinking of the issues bands have in pleasing all reviewers and all bands. Although I’m using the second album as an example in this post, and I stick by it being the hardest album any band will make, but it can just as easily be applied to any follow-up album.
You’ve released your first album. It’s been fairly popular, you’ve had largely positive reviews, you have a decent fan following. It’s been a few months and you’ve decided to start work on your second album. At this point you are never going to please everybody.
You can release an album similar to your last album and have *some* fans/reviewers say that you’re stuck in a rut, that you’re a one trick pony, that you have no innovation. That would suck.
You can release an album different to your last album and have *some* fans/reviewers say that you’re alienating the people who made you what you are, that you’re totally indulging yourselves, that you should have stuck with “what you were good at”. That would suck too.
Of course you could always mix it up – have plenty of songs that sound like your first album and a few that are heading in a new direction. The last thing you want is to end up with a disjointed album that sounds more like a Now compilation than your own work.
You only need to look at second album reviews for any number of bands to see what I mean:
Bloc Party, A Weekend in the City:
Good review – “They’ve the technical ability – that was clear two or three years ago – and now they’re beginning to let their hearts into the process as well as their heads.”
Bad review – “[…]the direction in which Bloc Party has traveled is entirely unsuited to its strengths.”
Maxïmo Park, Our Earthly Pleasures
Good review – “Our Earthly Pleasures would be pushing for classic certification, but for now it’ll have to be content to be a marked improvement upon A Certain Trigger.”
Bad review – “[…]they’ll need to pull out all the stops to recover their poise after this worrying misstep.”
You’ll notice that these 4 reviews pull heavily from their previous albums rather than judging them on their own merits. The second album. It’s a tricky one, and you’ll never please everyone.
Sleigh Bells’ Infinity Guitars, from their first album Treats: