12 Bands That Peaked With Their First Album
A band’s first album presents their potential, their declaration of intent. With successive albums they improve in songwriting and performance chops, building their legacy. But eventually, most plateau or peak. Internal pressures, label issues, writer’s block, and lack of artistic hunger are just a few factors that can lead to their decline.
But some bands work in reverse. Their first album is so perfect, so acclaimed, that they can’t top it.
Now, it doesn’t always mean they’re 100% spent creatively, just that the lightning in a bottle is more intermittent.
And some break up due to the pressure, leaving one artistic epitaph. Intuitively, they knew to quit while they were ahead.
Here are 12 rock bands and hip-hop groups whose début album gained massive commercial and/or critical success only to fall short afterwards.
If you’d like to buy or preview one of these classics, click on the title highlighted in blue for iTunes, or the album image if you’d prefer it on cd from Amazon.
12. The MC5-“Kick Out The Jams” (1969)
[amazon_image id=”B000005IS1″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Kick Out the Jams[/amazon_image]
This band’s impact on punk and metal cannot be understated, and this live album is critically revered. Their later albums couldn’t match its bombast. The title track is epic. Other standouts include “Rambling Rose” and the trippy free-jazz inflected “Starship”.
11. Interpol-“Turn On The Bright Lights” (2002)
[amazon_image id=”B00006BTCA” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Turn on the Bright Lights[/amazon_image]
Interpol were a return to the echo chamber post-punk sound of bands like Joy Division (who they claimed weren’t an influence. Please.). The album had atmospheric tracks like “NYC” and “Leif Erickson”. But later albums sounded lifeless and uninspired, revealing the clunky weakness in Paul Bank’s lyrics.
*Bloc Party, another 80’s throwback, suffered a similar set back after their strong début “Silent Alarm”.
10. Korn (self-titled) (1994)
[amazon_image id=”B000002AUU” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Korn[/amazon_image]
It’s easy to roll your eyes at Korn, because they inspired a bunch of terrible bands, and devolved into self-parody. But this album was raw, detuned primal scream therapy.
9. The Toadies-“Rubberneck” (1994)
[amazon_image id=”B000V639QK” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]”Rubberneck”[/amazon_image]
I grew up in the same town as these guys, and had the pleasure of seeing their early gigs in local dives. So it was awesome to see them rise to fame on their major label début. The album has zero filler; all alt-rock anthems from start to finish.
But record label pressures made their follow-up take ages to come out and by then their mainstream momentum had dissipated, and they broke up shortly afterwards. They’ve since reformed, and mow maintain a loyal cult following thanks to their killer live shows.
8. De La Soul-“3 Feet High And Rising” (1989)
[amazon_image id=”B000000HHE” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]3 Feet High & Rising[/amazon_image]
This group’s psychedelic vibe gave way to the most original album in hip-hop . But they deconstructed their sound on their sophomore album, alienating fans and critics. Calling it “De La Soul Was Dead” didn’t help. It still has merit, but “3 Feet” reigns supreme. (They’ll be appearing at FunFunFunFest this year). *Amazon Only.
7. The Darkness-“Permission To Land” (2004)
[amazon_image id=”B0000AZKM0″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Permission to Land[/amazon_image]
I recently reviewed their new album. I like it, but its pop-sheen isn’t as satisfying as the harder crunch of their first, which spawned the glam rock hits “I Belive In A Thing Called Love” and “Growing On Me”, the slamming AC/DC romp “Black Shuck” and the Queen-esque “Givin’ Up”.
6. N.W.A-“Straight Outta Compton” (1988)
[amazon_image id=”B000TERLIQ” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Straight Outta Compton (2002 Digital Remaster) (Explicit)[/amazon_image]
The controversial rap epic was a molotov cocktail of sound and lyrics. But their follow-up was weak, and they broke up afterwards. Dr Dre went on to vast fame as an artist/producer, Easy-E died, and Ice Cube ruined his street cred doing films like “Are We There Yet”.
5. The Killers-“Hot Fuss” (2004)
[amazon_image id=”B0002858YS” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Hot Fuss[/amazon_image]
The Killer’s first album was the best 80’s new wave album released in 2004. But it got over exposed and public burnout followed. They seem to have lost their musical mojo ever since, unable to match the heights of their killer (sorry) début.
4. Television-“Marquee Moon” (1977)
[amazon_image id=”B000005IRG” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Marquee Moon[/amazon_image]
This band fleshed out the exoskeleton of punk with more proficient musicianship. The album took critics by storm, but their follow-up floundered and they split up. They reunite intermittency now, with “Marquee” remaining their signature opus.
[amazon_image id=”B002MS5TPY” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]The Stone Roses (20th Anniversary Legacy Edition)[/amazon_image]
The biggest band of the English “Madchester” scene, their first album has psychedelic gems like “I Wanna Be Adored” and “I Am The Resurrection”. They were huge overseas and had a stong cult following in the U.S. But their follow-up took forever to come out, and it sounded bland in comparison. They split due to infighting, but have recently reunited.
2. The Sex Pistols-“Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols” (1977)
[amazon_image id=”B000002KIE” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols (US Version)[/amazon_image]
This album took the world by storm, pissing off elders and eaten up by disaffected youth. Every song on the album is punk perfection. But infighting, management woes, and controversy caused them to implode, with singer Johnny Rotten starting PiL, and Sid Vicious lost to drug addiction.
1. Guns’N’Roses-“Appetite For Destruction” (1987)
[amazon_image id=”B000000OQF” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Appetite for Destruction[/amazon_image]
The best-selling début album ever. Every song is classic. Why? Because Guns’N’Roses were one of the first bands (along with The Cult) to neuter the hairspray metal scene and make rock dangerous again. But afterwards, Axl Rose went into diva mode and their follow-up took years to make.
The follow-up, “Use Your Illusion” was too shiny, busy and over produced to match the raunchy charm of “Appetite”. The band fractured soon after, and while Axl continues on with G’N’R (i.e. solo act), fans long for a real reunion and return to form.