Chasing the Dragon: Bands That Peaked with Their First Album
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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…
I’m absolutely kidding.
I know I’m missing a lot- help me out- confess your greatest musical letdowns.