From Weezer to Missy Elliott: 10 of the best difficult second albums

Dismissed at the time for being pretentious, bloated or way too WTF, these are the second albums that deserve return visits

Second Coming (1994)
The Stone Roses

Released five years after the Madchester pioneers’ era-defining debut, Second Coming has become synonymous with difficult second album syndrome. Battling high expectations, crippling self-doubt and, in the end, themselves, it’s an album that mirrors its difficult gestation, with songs often hampered by superfluous noodling. The good still shines through, however, not least in the lovely Ten Storey Love Song and lead single Love Spreads.

The Menace (2000)
Elastica

Elastica’s first attempt at following up their classic 1995 debut resulted in two members leaving and the band’s temporary dissolution. The experimental and fractured The Menace eventually emerged, hastily recorded in six weeks. Disavowed by Justine Frischmann in 2013, it still offers glimpses of the band’s arch indie pop nous, specifically in Mad Dog God Dam and Generator.

Show Your Bones (2006)
Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Having seen their indie contemporaries repeat the same formula for album No 2, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were keen to reinvent themselves after 2003’s art-rock explosion Fever to Tell. It wasn’t easy – the band almost broke up during early sessions – but the results were sleeker and more melodic, paving the way for 2009’s pop breakthrough, It’s Blitz!.

Felicitations and jubilations … MGMT celebrate with a wild party.
Felicitations and jubilations … MGMT celebrate with a wild party. Photograph: Graeme Robertson/The Guardian

Congratulations (2010)
MGMT

Following 2007’s Oracular Spectacular, Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser set about dismantling their new pop stardom. This densely packed album eschews short, sharp thrills in favour of Syd Barrett-esque experiments and opaque Eno tributes. Scuffed pop gems such as It’s Working reward the effort, however.

Pinkerton (1996)
Weezer

Riffing on Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, the gloriously emo Pinkerton – the follow-up to Weezer’s 1994 debut – wrong-footed a fanbase still singing along to their hit Buddy Holly. Saturated with the disdain frontman Rivers Cuomo felt towards his success, Pinkerton is now seen as a cult classic.

Room on Fire (2003)
The Strokes

Having unleashed a host of copycats, New York’s garage rock pinups initially wanted something different for album two. Nigel Godrich was hired as producer, before being replaced by Is This It’s Gordon Raphael. The epitome of “if it ain’t broke ...”, the album still delivers a handful of indie classics.

On the fly … Missy Elliott works it.
On the fly … Missy Elliott works it. Photograph: IJ/AllAction/Empics Entertainment

Da Real World (1999)
Missy Elliott

The success of Elliott’s ebullient 1997 classic Supa Dupa Fly set the bar so high it left the rapper creatively paralysed. “I just kept going [to the studio] and nothing was sounding right,” she told MTV. Her producer, Timbaland, demanded that she take a break, with the re-energising holiday not lightening a darker, more paranoid, but no less inventive second album.

Surfing the Void (2010)
Klaxons

Having ridden the nu-rave wave to Mercury prize success with 2007’s Myths of the Near Future, south London haircuts Klaxons quickly crashed down to Earth in a drug-fuelled haze. Three years later, they emerged with a new psych-tinged heaviness – buffeted by Slipknot producer Ross Robinson – and, in songs such as Echoes, gloriously OTT rock operas.

Neither Fish Nor Flesh (1989)
Terence Trent D’Arby

In the late 80s, D’Arby was an undeniable superstar, his debut album, Introducing the Hardline, shifting 1.5m copies in the UK alone. While this hit-free, gloriously pretentious follow-up flopped spectacularly, there are some gorgeous moments, from the soul flex of I’ll Be Alright to the Princely strut of Attracted to You.

Paul’s Boutique (1989)
Beastie Boys

Paul’s Boutique, AKA the “Sgt Pepper of hip-hop”, was a confounding sequel to 1986’s more frat party-adjacent Licensed to Ill. Worried they’d been dismissed as a joke, the New York trio hunkered down with eccentric producers the Dust Brothers to weave together a densely packed, sample-heavy tapestry that would become their defining album.

Contributor

Michael Cragg

The GuardianTramp

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