Debut albums can be both a blessing and a curse. As the musical world’s first introduction to a band, they not only define the band’s sound but also become the critical yardstick to which all future releases are compared. We can get so hyped on amazing first releases that we develop even greater expectations for the sophomore and future records to come, leaving plenty of room for criticism and, on occasion, disappointment. Although all succeeding creations aren’t always considered flops, sometimes it just all comes together just once, and music magic is only made on the first go.
We’ve tracked down 16 bands from the indie, heavy and punks scenes who fall victim to this curse, and never managed to live up to the lofty expectations set by their debut albums. Here they are in no particular order…
1. Guns n’ Roses, Appetite For Destruction (1987)
“But that album doesn’t have ‘November Rain’ on it!” I can hear you shouting. True, but the album that did give us that perennial guitar epic, Use Your Illusion I, also has a shit-ton of filler on it. At over 75 minutes, the record is sprawling and, for the most part, highly skippable. At almost 25 minutes shorter, Guns n’ Roses’ debut, Appetite for Destruction, is lean, mean and entirely essential listening, introducing the world to massive riffs like ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ and ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’. Watch Slash himself tear into them and more here.
2. Interpol, Turn on the Bright Lights (2002)
Turn on the Bright Lights packs a visceral punch of emotion and post punk/rock feels. Its meandering compositions and moody, down-beat tunes are intricately fused with ragged instrumentals that prove to be incredibly powerful and impactful. The inspirations drawn from legendary bands such as Joy Division are evident, however Interpol adds a hypnotic variety that truly makes their debut stellar.
The group’s subsequent 2004 disk grasped virtually equal praise, however, comparably speaking, successive releases seemed to considerably fly under the radar, resulting in a slight detachment from the indie music scene.
3. The Stone Roses, The Stone Roses (1989)
The true definition of a slower burner, The Stone Roses dropped in early 1989 to little fanfare. It wasn’t until a performance on music television programme Top of the Pops later in the year that the album began to generate buzz and it came to be regarded as the first example of a new ‘Madchester’ sound which uniquely blended Manchester’s alt rock, psych rock and EDM scenes. Despite spending five years on its follow-up, the band found themselves unable to recreate the giddy mix and jolt of energy of The Stone Roses, and disbanded only a year later. Although Oasis and Blur may be remembered as the quintessential Britpop bands, The Stone Roses started the movement.
4. The Strokes, Is This It (2001)
The Strokes have progressively made new strides from album to album, with each instilling worlds of excitement within fans. But simply put, Is This It created an unmatched, revolutionary game-changing blaze of hysteria. The illustrious NY quintet’s modern take on classic garage rock effortlessly beamed through this tightly packed and razor sharp masterpiece. Evoking nothing short of feel-good vibes, the aesthetic of the record, with its unapologetic wit, fuzzy grit and uncensored narratives, attributed a sense of indispensability and uniqueness that still remains today. The following 15 years has seen the band undoubtedly involve, but the old sound often trumps the new when you ask fans.
5. Ramones, Ramones (1976)
A potentially controversial choice, but hear us out on this one. Whilst the band released an almost overwhelming 13 albums after their debut, none packed as big a punch. There’s no denying the greatness of later-era tracks like ‘I Wanna Be Sedated’, ‘Sheena is a Punk Rocker’ and ‘The KKK Took My Baby Away’, but the fact of the matter is that these tracks were all spread across different albums, and were the clear standouts of otherwise meandering works. At just 29 minutes, the first album however is a true sonic assault from start to finish, with a perfect tracklisting and no extra fat. As we explained in our 40 year retrospective on the album, the combination of speed, hooks and stylistic stupidity made Ramones into the perfect template for early punk. If punk can be likened to a religion, then Ramones would be the bible.
6. Slipknot, Slipknot (1999)
Speaking of intense debuts, you can’t go past Slipknot’s massive self-titled effort. Like Ramones defining the punk movement, Slipknot truly revitalised metal, upping the aggression and rawness of the genre to a level hardly before seen. Under the guidance of veteran producer Ross Robinson, the band pulled off the seemingly impossible feat of translating the chaos and intensity of their live show into an album. With moshpit anthems like ‘Wait and Bleed’, ‘Spit It Out’ and ‘(sic)’ still being regular staples at Slipknot gigs, it’ll be almost impossible for the band to ever top this monster of an album. Many eardrums still haven’t recovered…
7. The Killers, Hot Fuss (2004)
Standing as their towering achievement, The Killers released Hot Fuss in mid 2004. Brimming with ravenous hooks, irrepressibly catchy chorus’ and lyrical and instrumental ambition, the refreshing retro synth rock sound created by the charismatic Las Vegas lads on this record reached heights that proved unattainable for promising follow-ups such as Sam’s Town. Hot Fuss gave rise to a hefty list of anthems that became definitive of the band’s identity (‘All These Things That I’ve Done’, ‘Somebody Told Me’, ‘Mr. Brightside’, etc.), and as a result, succeeding releases faded into the background.
8. The Mars Volta, De Loused in the Comatorium (2003)
The Mars Volta had it pretty easy for their debut album, which was always going to be massive. Unlike many of the other albums on this list which could have easily flopped, the two primary musicians in the band, Omar Rodríguez-López and Cedric Bixler-Zavala, already had a proper groundswell and musical history from their acclaimed stint as At The Drive-In. Add to this legendary hard rock and rap producer Rick Rubin, Red Hot Chili Peppers’ players John Frusciante and Flea, renowned session musician Justin Meldal-Johnsen and art direction from Storm Thorgerson (Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath) and you’ve got one of the biggest debuts ever. Unfortunately, future releases couldn’t recapture this dizzying magic and De-Loused remains their best selling and most loved released.
9. Oasis, Definitely Maybe (1994)
Definitely Maybe may not be as widely recognised for its “hit singles” as the likes of Oasis’ sophomore release What’s The Story (Morning Glory), however it is still comprised of a cluster of blistering epic tunes with killer qualities. Ultimately, it is the best well-rounded release by the British powerhouse, containing Oasis’ best tracks in terms of exceptional musically, even with its inclusion of borrowed material. Definitely Maybe oozed a raw confidence and bravado that catapulted the Gallaghers to the heart of the world stage.
10. Television, Marquee Moon (1977)
One of the most influential albums in punk since Ramones, Television’s debut shattered all notions of what the genre could and should be, and kicked off what is now referred to as the ‘post-punk’ movement. The album saw the band trading out power chords, the musical staple punk, in favour of jazzy interplays and countermelodies and were indebted to Miles Davis and John Coltrane as much as Ramones and The Velvet Underground. The playful music was perfectly complemented by frontman Tom Verlaine’s impressionistic style of lyricism which saw him tackling themes and styles as diverse as French poetry and pastoral life. Future albums paled in comparison to this deliriously undefinable work of art, and saw the band simply playing it safe. The future albums aren’t necessarily bad, but they lack the creative and artistic spark which made Marquee Moon such a seminal piece of work which still inspires musicians of all genres to this day.
11. Dio, Holy Diver (1983)
Much like The Mars Volta, Dio had a massive groundswell, allowing them to hit the ground running with Holy Diver. Coming off the back of a highly successful stint revitalising Black Sabbath, Ronnie James Dio assembled a dream team of Vinny Apice (former Black Sabbath drummer), Jimmy Bain (former Rainbow bassist who Dio had sung with) and Vivian Campbell (former Sweet Savage guitarist). Whilst the musicians’ shared passion and friendship locked together perfectly for the first album, their sounds drifted apart on subsequent albums resulting in lineup changes and, as to be expected, sloppier albums.
12. Bloc Party, Silent Alarm (2005)
From a critical standpoint, Silent Alarm was always going to be difficult to outdo. While artistic risks and creativity are indeed commendable, Bloc Party’s, sound divergence and evolution throughout the years lacked the same contagious rhythmic explosion and crafty power ballads as their first LP. Silent Alarm was a refreshing experimentation of sound that gave rise to a versatile wave of ageless bangers. It forever has us missing the young Bloc Party that seamlessly blended rock with feverish, yet danceable beats. We were at the launch of their latest album, and though surprisingly impressive, at this point they’re a different band all together.
13. Rage Against the Machine, Rage Against the Machine (1992)
Like Slipknot and Ramones, Rage Against the Machine exploded out of their gate with their self-assured debut. Whilst the late 80s and early 90s rap-rock scene was dominated by somewhat playful tracks, think ‘Walk This Way’, ‘She Watch Channel Zero?’ and the Chili Peppers’ ‘Higher Ground’ cover, Rage brought a sense of urgency and aggression to the genre, calling for a galvanisation of the left and rejection of the fucked-up politics of the right. The result is a searing political statement which literally bludgeons us over the head with its anti-capitalist agenda from start to finish. Whilst subsequent albums tried, none managed to match the frenzied passion of this one.
14. Black Flag, Damaged (1981)
The curse of the killer first record similarly plagued the hard-hitting California rockers. Governed by Greg Ginn’s supercharged chords and Henry Rollins’ ferocious bellowing angst, Damaged stapled itself as a genre-defining album of the west cost hardcore punk scene during the 80’s. Tracks such as ‘Rise Above’ and ‘TV Party’ became anthems for the disaffected youth, and the lyrical aggression, rebellion and eccentricity found in every track is simply not as prevalent in the rest of Black Flag’s discography.
15. MGMT, Oracular Spectacular (2007)
MGMT caught everyone off-guard with their paralysing, synth infused, psychedelic rarity Oracular Spectacular. The bold stylistics and musicality fashioned a sonic complexity that erupted in commercial success. ‘Time to Pretend,’ ‘Kids,’ ‘Weekend Wars’ and ‘Electric Feel’ became victorious emblems, making it extremely difficult for the duo to create a follow-up of equal caliber. Congratulations diverged heavily the densely layered, electro pop sound that attributed MGMT’s rapid success. ‘Flash Delirium’ and ‘Congratulations’ aside, the stylistic changes arguably didn’t resonate as well as one would’ve expected.
16. A Perfect Circle, Mer De Noms (2000)
Musical supergroups seem to go one of two ways; they give us incredible collaborations like Them Crooked Vultures which perfectly captures the unique sound of each of their members or they give us sloppy messes like Angels and Airwaves who never live up to the promising sum of their parts. A Perfect Circle, comprised of Tool vocalist Maynard James Keenan, producer/guitarist Billy Howerdel and various musicians from Primus, Queens of the Stone Age, Smashing Pumpkins and more, represents both sides of the supergroup coin. Their first album was a dark work of beauty, effortlessly blending the various members’ prog rock, hard rock and nu metal sensibilities and giving us classics like ‘Judith’, ‘3 Libras’ and ‘The Hollow’. Unfortunately their subsequent albums, including a mismatch of sloppy ‘political’ covers, failed to recreate this winning formula and are best described as being musically “all over the shop”. Only problem is, no one’s buying anymore.