Monday, 26 November 2007

THE ATTACK OF THE SECOND ALBUM - How To Make The 'Perfect' Second Album

This is an old piece I wrote for a fanzine that never got published. It's a bit out of date, sorry, but it still rings true.

While listening to Sam's Town by The Killers, I suddenly get an amazing image of a rather flustered Brandon Flowers sitting bolt upright at 3am. Sweat forming on his brow, he suddenly realises that he should be more American, give this pansy British act a rest. I can just imagine him exclaiming to his Mormon wife, “Darling, bring me my cowboy boots and a copy of Born In The USA and for gods sake hide that copy of Dare!”.

Ah, second albums, they're ridiculous aren't they. You work on your début album for years, like an over zealous young girl planning her wedding at 10 years old. It's your life's work and then suddenly its done and you have to do it all again, in a year! And a brain overloaded with this kind of pressure and expectation can come up with some ridiculous things. One of these been the sudden impulse to become more organic. This usually manifests itself in either growing a beard, writing ludicrous songs about highways or deciding that recording in a toilet is a good idea. The British usually go for the toilet recording, the American's for the highways but the resounding hit is always, universally, the ceremonial growth of facial hair. A supposed signifier of masculinity and being a serious artist, but it usually just results in the band in question looking like twats, and people like me calling them accordingly. The Killers are an obvious example but I think I've given Brandon et al enough grief for now, and I'd like to concentrate on knuckle dragging faux Mancunian's Kasabian. Yes kids, Kasabian, otherwise known as the revolution in tight trousers, the indie A Team, the saviours of our little indie souls. I think it goes without saying that I have a slight dislike of Kasabian but I don't think this impairs my judgement of how unbelievably dire their second album is, and the accompanying facial hair (making frontman Tom look like a mixture between Grizzly Adams and Adam Ant). And they're also an exponent of the phenomena I like to call 'Overblown Comeback Video Syndrome'. The belief that to be welcomed back into the music industry's cold, cold bosom you must make a bloated, cinematic mess of a video to accompany your new single. That the hype surrounding your new single will somehow multiply because you dressed up and spent gargantuan amounts of money on a 'director' and an elephant. The video for Kasabian's Shoot The Runner, a turd of a song sounding like Marc Bolan shitting on Doctor Who's Tardis, is exactly this. Overly long and self aware, with the band adorned in military jackets and running around in a field getting shot at (now hang on that gives me an idea for an interesting comeback, inviting fans to take pot shots at Serge's crotch with an unpredictable, sawn off shotgun. OK, sounds far fetched but if it meant they'd sell a million albums they'd do it!) with overblown imagery of children blowing dandelion seeds into the air and then getting shot accompanied by long close ups on Tom's agonised, wrinkled expression. As if grief at a child's death in battle is akin to being a bit constipated. Perfect proof that the amount of records sold has no relation to acting talent.

Anyway, I digress, back to second album syndrome. The next pothole on the road to making a good and relevant second album is trying not to make another Is This It, to use The Strokes as an example.

One of the major problems in the psyche of the musician writing their second album is the fumbling insecurity of stopping and thinking, “Am I replicating what I've done before”. This nearly always leads to a far too removed sound from the first album or some kind of cobbled together concept album about cheese. I think this distancing yourself from your sound is idiotic, why abandon the songs you love, and therefore write for yourself, just because some overly analytical and critical reviewer like me might sidle up and say “that sounds just like the first one that”. It doesn't matter if it sounds like the first one, as long as all the songs aren't exactly the same, there's no age old rule that says 'thou shalt not make the same record twice!'. Why do you have to abandon everything and start again? Music is a progression but over a career, just because a record you made a year or two after you made your début sounds a bit like it in places doesn't mean you should be hung drawn and quartered. That should be reserved for those who go for drastic new directions and fall flat on their smug, self important faces. I think a perfect example of someone who has done their second album with no such fear of repetition are The Rakes. Ten New Messages is great and is a progression, but crucially still retains a lot of the motifs, and ultimately the sound, of their first effort Capture/Release. It's bigger and more ambitious in places but still has that same driving bass and prickly guitar, that same charmingly ordinary vocal. Lyrically however the themes have become more diverse and challenging. Post 7/7 paranoia is a constant theme, where on the last record the theme was going out getting pissed and going to work. This still remains but with that underlying tension, the darker side of human nature and the darker side of the Work Work Work (Pub Club Sleep) lifestyle immortalised on Capture/Release. It's as claustrophobic and tense as seminal records like Unknown Pleasures but also maintains that melodic and at times anthemic quality that The Rakes seem to possess.

OK, so here's a checklist;

1. Beards = Credibility? NO!
2. Don't be afraid to repeat yourself, just don't make the same songs!
3. Concept albums are for Rick Wakeman, men in capes and power metal, not little indie bands.
4. Fancy videos do not make a bad record good, they just show up your non existent acting talent.
5. Don't believe your own hype, if you don't make a good follow up, people won't like you anymore, it's that simple. Worried yet Ricky Wilson?*

*As an update, Kaiser Chiefs did make a follow up, it was shit.

1 comment:

howsmyshoe said...

Oh hai! Rich. I think yu should biscuit your blog to the NME They would snorple it up because they would like your beard so much as it would a grand old coverface for their musical magrags the cover embossed for tactile texture touching

love ya
matt and kate