The Difficult Second Album

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 12th January 2010.

There’s a saying in the music industry that you have your whole life to write your debut album, and about 6 months to write your second. This explains the phenomenon known as the difficult second album. Many artists have gone supernova with their debut offering, selling millions of units, only to have their next album land in the bargain bin within months of release. Let’s get the scalpel out and perform autopsies on some not-so-hot sophomoric records.

After appearing as a child actor on Canadian TV’s You Can’t Do That On Television, Alanis Morissette released two pop albums in her home country to little fanfare. However, in 1995, a now adult Alanis unleashed her new hard edged rock sound in the form of Jagged Little Pill and the rest is history. Co-written with Grammy Award winning songwriter Glen Ballard (he co-wrote Michael Jackson’s Man In The Mirror), Morisette’s international debut sold 30 million copies worldwide. Featuring such hits as You Outta Know, Head Over Feet, You Learn and Ironic (correct title: Coincidence), this album of angry female independence is now considered a 90’s classic.

Her follow-up, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, was released in 1998 to critical acclaim but sales were disappointing with sales stalling at 3 million copies. Of course, that’s 3 million more records than I have sold, but in the music business, that’s a sure sign that your audience has started to lose interest. I would suggest that the blending of Alanis’ interest in Indian spiritualism into the lyrical content, along with a wordy and weird album title, confused all but her die-hard fans.

Alanis has continued to release albums to ever declining sales and in 2005, attempted to recreate the magic (and sales) of Jagged Little Pill by recording an acoustic version of, you guessed it, Jagged Little Pill.

Terrence Trent D’Arby hit the charts in 1987 with his debut album Introducing The Hardline According To. Born in New York, D’Arby enlisted in the US Army and was posted to Frankfurt, Germany before being discharged 1983 for going AWOL. His soulful voice and good looks helped his first album sell over 12 million copies on the back of hit singles such as Sign Your Name, Wishing Well and Dance Little Sister.

In 1989, D’Arby’s second album, Neither Fish Nor Flesh: A Soundtrack of Love, Faith, Hope & Destruction was met with scathing reviews and struggled to sell 3 million copies worldwide. A pretentious album, with an even more pretentious title (is there a pattern here?), this is a very difficult listen. The indulgence permeates every oddly named song. TTD was last seen on our shores in 1999 at the opening of the Sydney Olympic Stadium as guest replacement for Michael Hutchence in INXS. Coincidentally, this was the beginning of INXS sadly becoming their own tribute band, but that’s for another column.

Hootie & the Blowfish released their debut offering, Cracked Rear View, in 1994. A year later, it was 1995’s biggest selling album, shifting 16 million copies. Featuring adult orientated FM friendly singles such as Only Wanna Be With You and Let Her Cry, this is another classic 90’s album with strong, emotive lyrics and catchy melodies that insist that you sing along.

Unfortunately, Fairweather Johnson, their 1996 follow-up, is pretty much the same album, showing little development in this promising rock outfit. Lacking a hit single or two with an irresistible melodic hook, it sold a disappointing 3 million copies worldwide. For the record, confusingly, none of the band members were named Hootie.

Whilst my debut album is unlikely to ever be released, let alone recorded, if it ever eventuates I plan to avoid the difficult second album syndrome by naming it “Greatest Hits”.


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