Yesterday, when I wrote about Mika’s new song and how it sounds nothing like his earlier material, I also mentioned that I thought his second album, 2009′s The Boy Who Knew Too Much, was kind of a letdown. It just doesn’t hold up against the glam-rock goodness of his debut.
That’s part of the reason I’m glad Mika’s going in a new direction. Maybe a shake-up will get him hopping again.
And that got me thinking about other disappointing follow-up albums: Projects that were okay, but that paled beside what came before them. Here are three good examples, plus some info on what happened to the artists who released them.
Why was it disappointing? – I know we’re not supposed to criticize Lady Gaga‘s music ever again, but hey… what can you do? Born This Way has several great songs (“You & I,” the title track, “Hair,” “Heavy Metal Lover”) and one absolute diamond (“The Edge of Glory”), and I’m not sorry I own it. But a year after its release, I don’t reach for it the way I still reach for The Fame Monster, which I’d say is Gaga’s masterpiece (so far.) Too many of the songs are bogged down in clunky religious and sexual imagery, and too many of them sound forced and heavy. There’s not an ounce of humor or lightness on the album, either in the production or in Gaga’s attitude. Instead, there’s a pervading sense that this music is Good For Us. (This might be why Born This Way has sold less than half as many copies as The Fame.)
And look: I dig Lady Gaga’s serious-minded approach to celebrity, and I’ve always been impressed by the way she embraces the gay community. But I still wish she’d lighten up a little. Every now and then. For five minutes.
What happens next? We don’t know yet, although Gaga will reportedly reveal her new album title September. Personally, I’m excited to hear it. I may not have loved Born This Way, but I’m still a major Gaga fan.
Why was it disappointing? Breakaway, K.C.’s second album, was basically the definiing pop record of 2004-2006. The songs were everywhere, and they all ruled. So how did she follow it up? With a misguided attempt to prove that she can be reallyreally dark and reallyreally hard and, oh yeah, write all her songs herself, thank you, without any help from your pop music producer types.
Oops! That didn’t work out. There are some good ideas on My December, but they all feel half-finished. “Sober,” for instance, could be beautiful if it weren’t so aimless, and you can feel the killer hook that’s trying to escape from “Don’t Waste Your Time.” But at the end of the day, nothing really works.
What happened next? Clarkson kept co-writing a lot of her material, but after My December underperformed, she re-teamed with high-profile producers and re-embraced her power-pop sound. The result? Her two best albums, All I Ever Wanted and Stronger, both of which delivered a number one single.
Why was it disappointing? Snow Patrol made it big because of their power ballad “Chasing Cars,” but that song was just one bright spot on the spectacular album Eyes Open. Seriously, that record just rules. The melodies and hooks are strong across the board, and the band does power-pop energy (“You’re All I Have”) just as well as sweeping sadness (“Make This Go On Forever”). Plus, “Set the Fire to the Third Bar,” with Martha Wainwright, is a risk that pays off. Ominous and powerful, it sounds like a spiritual predecessor to Gotye and Kimbra.
But somehow, that energy is gone on the band’s follow-up album, A Hundred Million Suns. I don’t know how it happened, but on this record, all the formulas feel tired and strained.
What happened next? Snow Patrol has continued releasing albums, but they’ve never recaptured the spirit that made Eyes Open such a keeper. But hey… at least they produced one great album. That’s more than most bands.