In honor of starting our second year as a full-functioning blog, we decided to make a top ten list of the best sophomore albums, in hopes of a sign of things to come for us. We already tackled sophomore slumps, and hope to avoid the same fate of the likes of Puff Daddy, Hot Hot Heat, and Weezer (Pinkerton…YUCK!). Hopefully you enjoy the next year of reading our little slice of internets as much as we enjoy these next ten albums. One quick note; although we titled the list “sophomore surges”, we simply looked at the best sophomore albums more than the “surge”. In a few cases the second album may not even be as good as the first, but is still great in its own right. Thanks for reading, and as always feel free to give your suggestions on what we overlooked, over-included, or why we just plain suck.
10. Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique
Who ever thought the Beastie Boys would top Licensed to Ill, and proceed to also give a primer in where hip-hop has been, where it is now, and where it is going all on the same record? Paul’s Boutique accomplished all of these things, complete with perfect samples and production by the Dust Brothers.
9. Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin II
Led Zeppelin built off the smashing success of their debut with an album containing one of their top two hits of all time (“Whole Lotta Love”). Zeppelin continued their unique blues stylings in what would become perhaps the most impressive string of great albums in rock history.
8. M.I.A. – Kala
“Paper Planes” may have gotten most of the hype, but M.I.A. followed up Arular with one hell of a banging record. With the help of Diplo and Timbaland, M.I.A. created a record without a down track which intensified the world sound she patented on her freshman effort. Oh, and to be fair, “Paper Planes” deserved the hype and was my ringtone for the better part of a year.
7. LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver
It seems as if James Murphy and company had a plan from the beginning: Create the perfect electro-pop trilogy and then call it quits. That is exactly what happened, with Sound of Silver being the meat in the LCD Soundsystem/This is Happening sandwich. In addition the 3-5 tracks of “North American Scum”, “Someone Great”, and “All My Friends” is one of the greatest three-song stretches in modern music history.
6. Kanye West – Late Registration
Lots of rappers have great debuts and follow them up by partying a lot, losing their creative fire, and releasing a bunch of big-budget stinkers while making sad attempts to remain in the limelight. The initial success of Kanye’s The College Dropout only served to fuel his creative fire, which was continued with the phenomenal Late Registration. From the moment I saw Kanye perform “Diamonds of Sierra Leone” on TV at Live Aid, I knew there was something different about this particular rapper.
5. T. Rex – Electric Warrior
Electric Warrior may not be the best album of the 70’s, but it is easily one of the “coolest” albums of the 70’s. From the epic album cover art to the unique brand of folk-rock T. Rex brought to the table, Electric Warrior should be in way more classic-rock fans’ list of required listening.
4. Nirvana – Nevermind
Bleach was a great debut, but Nevermind set a new bar in alternative rock, borrowing heavily from portions of the record next on the list. Desperation and angst was the name of the game on Nevermind, and I’m not sure anyone has been able to convey that tone quite so clearly than Kurt Cobain on his seminal record. The transitions from soft to loud are as alarming a contrast there has been in rock, but still melds together perfectly.
3. Pixies – Doolittle
With nary a song over four minutes, Doolittle is the opposite of “self-indulgent”, and manages a cleaner production sound than its predecessor, Surfer Rosa. This is significant because bands rarely manage cleaner production without sacrificing the raw intensity that made them great in the first place. Doolittle accomplishes this, and shows why they may be the number one influence on alternative rock in the 90’s.
2. TV on the Radio – Return to Cookie Mountain
TV on the Radio’s follow up to Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes still stands as the crown jewel in their impressive discography. I just remember hearing Cookie Mountain, and thinking “I have never heard anything like this”. Tunde Adebimpe’s impressive, primal vocal range is something to behold, and “Wolf Like Me” remains unmatched in intensity.
1. The Fugees – The Score
The Score is by far my most listened to record of all time. It also probably represents the biggest gap in quality between a freshman and sophomore effort. Blunted on Reality showed a lot of potential, but lacks the polish and clear musical direction of The Score. The album provides the tightest production of Wyclef’s career, the best female rap verses ever recorded, and a great mix of pop culture references, political commentary, and humorous one-liners with some bite.
Todd: Bob Dylan – The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan
Just the second step in Bob Dylan’s quest to become the greatest songwriter of all time, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan is just one of many perfect Dylan albums. Looking back, the reason this may have not made the list proper is because it is a little lost in the shuffle of all the other great Dylan albums. “Don’t Think Twice, Its Alright” and “Girl From the North Country” still rank among my top 5 Dylan tracks.
Wes: Talking Heads – More Songs About Buildings & Food
Wes claims this is the best Talking Heads album, which is completely fair, but an opinion I vehemently disagree with. Either way, it is just another great album in a long line of them, thankfully giving us exactly what the title says: more songs about buildings and food.
Austin: Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP
Everyone assumed Eminem would be a one trick pony, crashing and burning after his initial success with The Slim Shady LP. Marshall Mathers mostly steps away from the gimmicky debut, and launched Eminem further into superstar status. The material is ridiculous but hard-hitting, the delivery is off-kilter but rapid-fire, and the beats rank up there with some of Dr. Dre’s best. Next time you are stupidly saying no to that next tab of ecstasy just remember: “What’s a little spinal fluid between you and a friend?”