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Chasing the Dragon: Bands That Peaked with Their First Album

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You know what it’s like. Some new band arrives on the scene. Back in the day you read about them in Spin or Rolling Stone, heard something about them on MTV, had a friend mention them in conversation. You eventually ended up at a record store with listening stations, or at a friend’s house or party, and you hear them, and they melt your face. (Nowadays the entire experience happens online with a blog, website, myspace/itunes/limewire triple threat. Not as epic, but still nice.)

Then you run out and buy the album and wear out the record needle or tape, or burn out the CD, or make your computer explode- it doesn’t matter, you just need to keep hearing the album on constant repeat. The album is your heroin and you’d punch your mother in the face for another listen.

And now you’re a fan. A real capital F FAN. You hit the concerts, buy the shirts, subscribe to their mailing list. More than anything, count the days until their sophomore album.

AND THEN IT SUCKS.

You spend the rest of that band’s career Chasing the Dragon- hoping against hope that another album will top or at least equal their first… And it never happens.

This kind of epic heartbreak happens to all of us a few times in our listening careers. Here are the ones that broke my heart the brokest.

AIR: MOON SAFARI

Air - Moon Safari (1998), 10th Anniversary Deluxe Edition [LIMITED]

I was in a Barnes & Noble while home from college. I hadn’t heard the first thing about Nicolas and Jean-Benoit, but the album cover had sweet watercolors and I was huffed on boredom. I remember everything about that moment- the way the headphones felt crammed up against my ears, the way I turned the volume all the way up, the first notes of La Femme d’Argent changing my entire life…

I’m almost positive that Moon Safari is the album I’ve heard the most in my life. For a good five year span any Pure West guy had that album on 24/7 in his car or stereo. That was the soundtrack to our collegiate and post-collegiate lives. It was mellow enough to be background, sublime enough to be foreground, and somehow always perfect.

Walking into the Virgin Megastore that day in 2001, I can’t begin to describe how excited I was to finally hear their sophomore effort, 10,000 Hz Legend… And oh sweet Jesus did that album monumentally and catastrophically SUCK. I didn’t even buy the damn thing.

Talkie Walkie wasn’t a horrid album- a few good singles, and a nice soundtrack to a sunny day. Ditto Pocket Symphony. But I just keep chasing that Moon Safari dragon… I haven’t lost hope. Yet.

RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE

Rage Against The Machine / Same

Do you remember the first time you heard Bombtrack and Killing In the Name Of, and thought, “Holy Flaming Buddhist Monk- did these guys just invent a new genre?” Before I heard Rage, I’m not sure I ever had a soundtrack for being angry. You could argue there was a whole genre called Metal, but compared to Zack de la Rocha’s vocal Hiroshima screams and Tom Morello’s elbow-to-the-face bass, Metal was for sissies. Metal was demonic nightmares. Rage was angry for a far more concrete reason. Plus it made me want to ram through walls Kool-Aid-Man-style.

I was there on day one, in line to buy album dos, Evil Empire. Bought it, tore off the wrapping, stuffed it into my CD player- heaved a monumental sigh and forgot about it. The next two albums, despite a few decent singles, were just more of the same.

I wasn’t even that distraught when they went Audioslaving away.

COLDPLAY: PARACHUTES

Coldplay - Parachutes

Despite the vitriolic rants of Chuck Klosterman, I have to say it- Parachutes was simple, quiet and breathtakingly gorgeous. This was one of those albums where you felt you were sitting in the living room with these guys and they were having musical epiphanies all over the floor. I wrote a short story collection over the course of a few months listening to this album on repeat. I learned a good half of the songs on guitar. I really, really liked these neo-Radioheads.

And then Rush of Blood was released and rightfully ignored until someone re-played Clocks to a record exec somewhere, and all of a sudden it was winning Album of the Year all over the place.

Did anyone bother to listen to this album in its entirety? It’s three great singles wrapped up in an album full of insipid posturings as a more insipid U2. And if you didn’t have enough, X&Y should’ve been released with a big-ass photo of Bono’s head on the cover, as it was literally an unreleased U2 album! A monumentally boring one, at that. Viva la Vida’s pretty great– a pretty great BRIAN ENO album. Damn dudes, if it ain’t broke, don’t go all Edge on us. Back to basics, boys- back to basics.

GUNS N ROSES: APPETITE FOR DESTRUCTION

Appetite for Destruction

I’m bracing myself for a lot of hate on this one, but I need to say it. These dudes released one of the defining albums of our time. Then while sitting in a pool of women one afternoon, conspired, “Hey, why don’t we come up with one more classic album worth of songs, then sprinkle them over the rest of our CDs? For filler we can just write some misogynistic rants, sweet-ass covers, and rambling WTFs. What do you say, gents?” (In my fantasy, Axl calls everyone gents.)

GNFNR went from rock gods to a singles band in one fell swoop.

GREEN DAY

Green Day Dookie

Damn that first album was a ball of lightning. Then they decided to peddle the most annoying riffs known to man. Just about everything they’ve released since Dookie makes me want to vomit, kill myself or shoot the radio.

COUNTING CROWS: AUGUST AND EVERYTHING AFTER

Counting Crows August & Everything After

I like to think of their first album as August, and every subsequent album as Everything After. Any band that decides to re-record their first album acoustically knows it’s the only reason people love ’em. (I’m looking at you, Alanis.)

KANYE WEST: THE COLLEGE DROPOUT

Kanye West - College Dropout

The first earth-shattering album was followed by a bunch of self-parody. Seriously- you go from an album with strong, expertly-articulated thesis statement, and follow it up with lines like “they’d do anything for a Klondike, I’d do anything for a blonde dyke” and “I shop so much I can speak Italian” ?!? At least with 808 he’s been herded towards sincerity again…

NIRVANA: INCESTICIDE

Nirvana Incesticide Vinyl LP Record Album

I’m absolutely kidding.

I know I’m missing a lot- help me out- confess your greatest musical letdowns.

2 thoughts on “Chasing the Dragon: Bands That Peaked with Their First Album”

  1. Andy Marino says:

    I had the same reaction upon hearing that first Rage Against the Machine album in 7th grade (I still remember flipping out, watching the “Freedom” video). But I disagree with your assessment of Evil Empire; that album’s the one I actually return to the most. It’s raw (produced by Brendan O’Brien, who did the new Mastodon) and stands out from the rest of their output because Tom Morello actually reigns himself in and makes weird noises instead of shredding for every solo. Also, the “I wanna be Jackie Onassis” part of “Tire Me” kicks ass.

  2. Badger says:

    Your article is I guess still about bands you personally have heard for the first time then never gotten that high again. I would like though to point out that Dookie is the third Album by Green Day. Both previous ones were on Lookout! Records with the band going ‘major label’ for Dookie (although they left iirc correctly the original album rights with the original label. I would not have assumed you would have heard of the first album but am surprised you have not heard Kerplunk. I quite like the American Idiot album (if listened to beyond the singles, which were just OK as a bunch) although I do think they went into a lull which trough’d at Warning.

    Also, Insecticide, again only minor as you say you are joking but it is a compilation album of early work and the third overall album. These are two I know are not first albums, have not checked the others.

    I agree with them all as best albums though, except Kanye West, I have not heard the whole album. Perhaps because it has a picture of a furry on the front (I do get that it is a mascot), or maybe because he is a gay fish.

    Do not give up hope on that dragon though. I am a big Doors fan and yes, I would probably chose their first album, the last two (with Morrison) were awesome as well, albeit in a slightly different style.

    Pink Floyd as well, hard to chose between three albums for the best one but none of them is the first one.

    Those are bands from long, long ago though (The Doors Ablum will be 45 this year) so perhaps chasing the dragon is more common these days

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