The sophomore album is one which is notoriously difficult to write. This is particularly true if a band enjoyed fame and success with their debut, as now there is added pressure which can be poison to an artist. A great sophomore record cannot be too similar to the debut, and it should take a new sonic direction to show progression and diversity. However, it is important to acknowledge and incorporate your original sound for consistency. Many bands struggle to write new material after working so hard on their debut, but rock has churned out some stunning sophomore records throughout history.
10. Queens of the Stone Age – Rated R (2000)
Queens of the Stone Age were a relatively unknown band when Rated R was released in 2000, and this gave them the freedom to get weird with the record. Their debut self-titled release delivered a unique, riff-heavy sound which helped to establish the band, and Rated R would acknowledge this but also go in a new direction. The most notable difference is the additional vocals (and bass playing) of Nick Oliveri, who leads on “Auto Pilot,” “Quick and to the Pointless” and “Tension Head.” Mark Lanegan also contributed vocals on “In the Fade,” and he has appeared on each record since. It is an extremely diverse album with heavy, trippy and mellow songs, but the theme of the record is consistent and mainly to do with drugs, alcohol and paranoia. A commercial success, “that weird band from the desert” had breathed new life into the rock genre.
9. Foo Fighters – The Colour and the Shape (1997)
The debut self-titled Foo Fighters album was written and recorded by Dave Grohl, and it was done as a cathartic experience to deal with the death of Kurt Cobain. The album became a success, and Grohl recruited a full band for touring. They would then go into the studio to record The Colour and the Shape, which now remains a fan favorite and an important album in rock history. As with all their albums, it is very much a Dave Grohl record and there was an infamous situation with the band drummer, William Goldsmith, where Grohl re-recorded his drum parts. The album gave birth to the Foo Fighters big rock sound, and features classic songs such as “Monkey Wrench,” “My Hero” and “Everlong,” which are all key parts of their live shows. Following the release, the Foo Fighters were the biggest band in rock and they have never looked back.
8. The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Axis: Bold As Love (1967)
There were only three albums recorded by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and all three are widely considered to be hugely influential and important records. Axis: Bold As Love does not garner quite as much attention as the debut, Are You Experienced, or the third album, Electric Ladyland, but it is still one of the greatest rock albums of all time. Part of the band’s contract deemed that they must release two albums in 1967, so Axis: Bold as Love was written and recorded very shortly after Are You Experienced. This album was slightly more experimental in the recording process, and consequently not many of the songs were performed live. There was also a shift away from guitar playing, and instead this album explored Hendrix’s ability as a songwriter. Sandwiched in between two seminal albums, Axis: Bold as Love is sometimes overlooked, but it is equally as important and influential.
7. Pixies – Doolittle (1989)
Although the Pixies debut album, Surfa Rosa, is now considered to be some of their finest work, it was not a commercial success upon release. Whilst touring this album, Black Francis began to write new songs and they soon found themselves in the studio with highly regarded producer Gil Norton. Norton managed to smooth out the sound and make the band more commercially appealing, whilst at the same time retaining their grunge sound. There was also added instrumentation, an eclectic mix of styles and a range of themes explored on the record. The band would be a chart success, and songs such as “Here Comes Your Man,” “Monkey Gone to Heaven,” “Hey” and “Debaser” would go on to be some of their most famous songs. It would turn out to be a hugely inspirational record, and like Surfa Rosa, it is now considered to be a fan and critic favorite.
6. Radiohead – The Bends (1995)
Radiohead are famous for being experimental and incorporating electronic music into their alternative rock sound, and this began with 1995’s The Bends. Their debut, Pablo Honey, was a grunge/rock album, but The Bends marked the moment where the band shifted styles and began to experiment musically. It is not just sonically that the band expanded, as lyrically Thom Yorke began writing about global and social themes instead of personal, angst driven lyrics. The enormous pressure following the success of the debut almost killed the band (along with the heavy touring), but ultimately this led them to take their music in a new direction. The album was a commercial success and became even more popular years later, with many stating it to be one of the best albums of the ’90s. Crucially though, The Bends ensured that Radiohead could not be pigeonholed and grouped with other British acts.
5. The Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dream (1993)
The Smashing Pumpkins may not command the respect that they used to, but their seminal work in the ’90s should not be forgotten. Their sophomore record, Siamese Dream, is considered to be their greatest album and one of the best releases of the ’90s. It is the record which saw them plant their flag as a key figure in alternative rock, but it was fraught with issues throughout recording, largely due to the pressure after the success of their debut, Gish. Corgan’s desire for perfection saw him record most of the instruments himself, but despite the unhealthy process, it resulted in a stunning album. Corgan’s depression resulted in very personal, yet beautiful, lyrics, plus the high production values and sonic depth create a unique and distinctive sound. It may have been a particularly dark time for the band, but this resulted in an incredible album and their finest work.
4. Black Sabbath – Paranoid (1970)
Black Sabbath paved the way for hundreds of heavy metal and hard rock acts, and their influence can still be felt in the industry today. Their second effort, 1970’s Paranoid, had a huge role in this, and many critics believe it to be a genre-defining record. Their eponymous album came out earlier in the year, and critics were still struggling to come to terms with the crushing sound that Black Sabbath were delivering. The onslaught of riffs continued with Paranoid, with songs such as “Paranoid,” “War Pigs” and “Iron Man” going on to become signature songs. Like their debut release, it seemed many critics were not quite ready for Black Sabbath at the time (although it topped the UK albums charts), but now, looking back, it is considered to be their greatest album and one which defined the style and sound of heavy metal.
3. Jefferson Airplane – Surrealistic Pillow (1967)
Psychedelic rock would not be what is if it weren’t for 1967’s Surrealistic Pillow. It is therefore one of the most important and groundbreaking albums of all time, and it was also a commercial success that saw them rub shoulders with The Beatles and the Rolling Stones in the late ’60s. The album differs heavily from their debut, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off, which was released a year earlier. The most notable difference is the change in lineup, which saw the introduction of vocalist Grace Slick and drummer Spencer Dryden. Jefferson Airplane and the likes of The Byrds, The Yardbirds, and The Mamas & The Papas were developing this unique brand of folk rock and psychadelia, and Surrealistic Pillow became the first huge psychedelic rock album by a band from San Francisco, introducing the world to the buzzing scene that was developing there.
2. Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin II (1969)
Easily one of the most influential albums of all time, Led Zeppelin II is often considered to be one of the greatest albums in music history. Unlike many bands, they did not take their time getting to work on this record and it came out the same year as their debut. It was written and recorded whilst touring, and this contributes to the frantic and spontaneous feel of the album (it was recorded in a number of studios around England and North America). It is heavier than their first record, but it, of course, has their signature blues and folk sound which makes them so instantly recognizable. The album contains some of their most famous tracks of all time, including “Whole Lotta Love,” “The Lemon Song,” “Ramble On” and “Moby Dick,” and this would help the record to become their first #1 album in the U.S. as their popularity continued to soar.
1. Nirvana – Nevermind (1991)
Nobody could have predicted just how successful Nevermind would become, and it helped launch Nirvana, and the entire alternative rock scene, into commercial success. It is therefore a game-changing album with historical, social and cultural significance. Although hard to predict why it was such a success, it was more attractive to a mainstream audience than the debut, Bleach, due to the masterful production of Butch Vig. Vig managed to bring out the pop potential without losing the signature heavy sound, and Cobain also began writing music which was more melodic and used the loud/quiet dynamic that helped the Pixies to become successful. Songs such as “Come As You Are,” “Lithium,” “In Bloom” and, of course, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” became hugely popular singles and retain their popularity today, as does the entire album, which is considered to be an important landmark in music and cultural history.