20 records that prove the sophomore slump doesn’t really exist
We're putting this "sophomore slump" nonsense to rest, once and for all.October 2, 2020
YUNGBLUD doesn’t come across as someone who’d sweat superstition. Sure, he’s proven himself to be introspective, sensitive, even insecure. The new track from the Doncaster growler, “god save me, but don’t drown me out,” will be included on his forthcoming second album, Weird!. Sophomore efforts are inherently daunting affairs for musicians, especially when that debut record exploded the way YUNGBLUD’s 2018 debut did. Hence, the much-exaggerated “sophomore slump,” a term strewed about in the music industry for decades, referring to an effort that’s inferior to its precursor. Music lovers, of course, know there’s no such thing. What critics call a sophomore slump, many a die-hard would refer to as a “fan favorite.” Here are some sophomore records that prove the whole thing is little more than an urban myth.
Nevermind – Nirvana
We can call it a day right here, can’t we? Point proven right outta the gate. A record most call the best of the decade (some even say ever) that gave the world “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “Come As You Are,” “Lithium” and “In Bloom,” and it’s the Seattle trio’s second release. It’s also the first with Dave Grohl behind the drums, which many fans regard as key. The late Kurt Cobain, interestingly, went into the studio with producer Butch Vig quoted as saying that he was listening to a lot of the Knack as he wrote the tunes that would make up Nevermind. Yep, the band behind “My Sharona.”
The Colour And The Shape – Foo Fighters
While we’re on the subject of Grohl, his own follow-up record boasts songs such as “Everlong,” “Monkey Wrench” and the absolutely epic “My Hero.” (Ironically, the record, Grohl has said, was inspired by his divorce from wife, Jennifer Youngblood.) The album peaked at No. 10 on the Billboard 200, plus earned them a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Album. To this day, it remains Foo Fighters’ biggest-selling record in the United States.
Live Through This – Hole
Keeping things in the family, so to speak, Courtney Love’s second Hole record was not only her band’s best, but it was truly her only whole record. Buoyed in large part by the brooding, cathartic single “Doll Parts,” standout tracks further include first single “Miss World” and “Violet.” While going platinum and awash in critical accolades upon its release, the timing actually doomed the record: It was released the week after Love’s husband Cobain was found dead. Rumors persist that he basically wrote the entire thing, though Love and the band have always maintained that it was as much urban myth as the sophomore slump itself.
Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge – My Chemical Romance
With the singles “I’m Not Okay (I Promise),” “Thank You For The Venom,” “Helena” and “The Ghost of You”—not to mention bonecrushers such as “It’s Not A Fashion Statement, It’s A Deathwish”—it’s almost as if My Chemical Romance got all Jersey at the very thought of the “sophomore slump” and punched it in the face. Repeatedly. Certified platinum by 2005, sweet revenge is exactly what it was, “to all the non-believers.”
Siamese Dream – The Smashing Pumpkins
“Cherub Rock.” “Disarm.” “Today.” Sophomore slump? Seriously? There’s a trifecta of ’90s anthems from rockers as disparate as they were unified at the time of the album’s writing. When it came time to record, however, the tension in the studio was palpable. Vig (yes, the very same producer of the aforementioned Nevermind) was at the helm, with frontman Billy Corgan in agreement that as pleased as they were with their first production together—the Smashing Pumpkins debut album, Gish—they wanted to truly raise the bar here. The recording was a grind, but the results were clearly worth it.
Collective Soul – Collective Soul
Despite the Georgia-born rockers’ debut record, Hints, Allegations, & Things Left Unsaid, being a strong one front to back, Ed Roland and company just screamed one-hit wonder with their smash hit “Shine.” From the instant hit “December” to the swirling, anthemic “The World I Know,” their self-titled second record let everyone know things were just starting to truly….jell.
Purple – Stone Temple Pilots
Stone Temple Pilots epitomize the subject matter at hand: How to follow up a debut like 1992’s Core, a chart-topper that went multi-platinum before the next year was up and spawned songs such as “Plush” and “Creep”? If any band had the threat of a sophomore slump nagging at them, it had to be these guys. What did they do? Rise to the occasion. Purple coughed up some of STP’s songs ever, such as “Vasoline,” “Interstate Love Song” and “Big Empty,” with the late Scott Weiland’s haunting, intense vocals on that last one making it the perfect fit for a film soundtrack that would eerily epitomize him: The Crow.
Antichrist Superstar – Marilyn Manson
Rock opera and concept album simultaneously, Antichrist Superstar is considered the first record of a trilogy. It offered up Marilyn Manson classics such as “Tourniquet” and “The Beautiful People,” the latter of which many would regard as the band’s first bonafide hit. Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor was one of a handful in the booth, playing the role of both producer and chief antagonist. The antagonism was reportedly at such an all-time high, all the way around, Manson would later refer to it as instrumental to the making of the record.
The Downward Spiral – Nine Inch Nails
On the subject of Reznor, following up his band’s stellar debut, Pretty Hate Machine, must have been daunting as well. Nine Inch Nails were, and remain, peerless as far as their unique sound is concerned, almost defying genre. They pulled it off, though, and much of that could be attributed to second single “Closer.” A brooding, foreboding rocker that serves as a fork in the road on the record, it steers the listener toward the powerful final track, “Hurt.” Hell, Johnny Cash dug it.
Vs. – Pearl Jam
Eddie Vedder, Stone Gossard and co., too, found themselves having to top a debut that delivered blow after blow, from the chest-pounding “Alive” to “Even Flow” to the game-changing “Jeremy.” It can be argued that they didn’t, but it came awfully close. This writer, however, believes they topped that first effort. Handily. “Animal” cemented their status as the wicked, unapologetic rockers they appeared to be first time around, with “Go” and “Dissident” as further proof, while “Daughter” offered up a side of the band unseen up until that point. It would serve to be a bridge to the alt-folk that would safely deliver them to legend status. Don’t even get us started on “Glorified G” or “Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town.” Genius.
Home – Sevendust
Sevendust are one of those bands who really had to grind it out to make it happen, and they continue to be. From myriad name changes—from Rumblefish to Crawlspace to Sevendust—to rotating personnel, they brought singer Lajon Witherspoon on along with guitarist Clint Lowery and recorded an eponymous debut that sold 310 copies its first week. But the boys hit the road in support of it so hard that it ultimately achieved gold status and paved the way for Home, a sophomore effort that peaked at No. 19 on the Billboard 200 and doled out three singles, two of which also charted (“Denial” and “Waffle”). On Home, they found theirs, plus included a ditty aptly titled “Rumble Fish.”
Clumsy – Our Lady Peace
One of Canada’s biggest bands, Our Lady Peace’s second record was their breakthrough one. Songs such as the title track, “Superman’s Dead” and “4AM” made the rounds on Top 40 radio stations and kept popping up on WB television shows (Hey, it was the first home for Smallville, so there is a fluidity there.). Critics were quick to count Raine Maida and the rest out after that, but then the band broke through again with Gravity, the album that gave ’90s music lovers tunes such as “Somewhere Out There” and the stellar “Innocent.” It was just the early 2000s by then.
Dirt – Alice In Chains
Not to be confused with the Mötley Crüe tell-all (and recent hit Netflix biopic The Dirt), this is the Alice In Chains record with “Rooster” on it. Does anything really need to be written after that? What’s more, “Rooster” was the fourth single off the album, following more in-your-face rockers such as “Them Bones” and “Would?.” Hell, Dirt is such a beast that one tune has Tom Araya from Slayer lending his lungs. Arguably their best, Dirt was also the last record the band made with all four original members.
The Open Door – Evanescence
What makes the second album by Evanescence such a standout isn’t just songs such as “Call Me When You’re Sober” or the Grammy-nominated “Sweet Sacrifice.” It’s the fact that it was recorded over a period of 18 months, fresh after the departure of not just bassist Will Boyd but also band co-founder/guitarist Ben Moody. Damn. The band even lost their manager and almost guitarist Terry Balsamo, who had suffered a stroke. The Open Door is quite literally what the band needed. And strode through.
From Under The Cork Tree – Fall Out Boy
Here, the sophomore effort proved to be the breakout record, too. Lead single “Sugar, We’re Goin Down” showed fans and critics alike that going down was exactly what the band weren’t going to do. “A Little Less Sixteen Candles, A Little More ‘Touch Me’” further established Fall Out Boy’s fondness for long song titles, and the record went platinum twice over by 2006. The unique partnership of singer Patrick Stump writing all the music and bassist Pete Wentz handling lyrics proved formidable and continues to be to this very day.
Does This Look Infected? – Sum 41
While Sum 41‘s follow-up to their debut record, All Killer No Filler, may not have been as successful commercially, it certainly steered clear of both slump and filler. “Still Waiting” and “The Hell Song” confirmed their alt-rock status and both spent a considerable amount of time in the lap of Alternative Airplay charts. As recently as 2016, the band showed tongue could still be planted firmly in cheek and guitars could still be cranked all the way up for sold-out crowds with their Don’t Call It A Sum-Back tour.
Riot! – Paramore
By album No. 1 Paramore were already demonstrating that they not only liked to stretch their legs—they also wanted to push boundaries. This sophomore effort has no time for genres. From alt-rock to emo-pop, the band churned out hits such as “Misery Business” and “crushcrushcrush,” the latter of which could be found on every video game imaginable, from Rock Band to Guitar Hero. Suffice it to say, it crushed the curse.
No Need To Argue – The Cranberries
Not only is No Need To Argue a killer second album, but it’s also the band’s best-selling. How could it not be with a lead single such as “Zombie,” the ultimate in ’90s gnashing and moshing? To date, it has sold 17 million copies worldwide and led to the band’s next two albums landing in the top 20 of the Billboard 200. Tragically, we lost foot-stomping lead singer Dolores O’Riordan in 2018, but few people know that she wasn’t the only singer the band ever had. She replaced Niall Quinn just in time to record their first record, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We?.
Last Splash – The Breeders
It’s easy to forget that the Breeders were originally a bit of a lark for Pixies bassist Kim Deal. Or maybe “side project” is a better way to go. But it bred a catalog of music, including this second album, which was certified platinum by June 1994. The title of the album comes from a line in lead single “Cannonball,” with the video accompanying it directed by none other than Spike Jonze. Talk about street cred.
A Beautiful Lie – Thirty Seconds To Mars
Actor Jared Leto’s “little band” were dismissed over and over until they just couldn’t be dismissed anymore. Thirty Seconds To Mars were, and remain, simply too cohesive of a unit, with Leto downplaying his Hollywood A-list status perfectly while being a full-on rock star at the same time. Long before becoming an Oscar winner, his band released this beast, with singles “Attack,” “From Yesterday” and the fist-waving anthem “The Kill (Bury Me)” ultimately winding up being just a taste of what was to come.