Second ThoughtsThe ubiquity of second album syndrome.

Second ThoughtsThe ubiquity of second album syndrome.

  • Words Alice Vincent
  • Photograph Lauren Bamford

When basking in the glory of a breathtaking debut, it can be difficult to imagine that it may ever be otherwise. But what comes up must come down. “Second album syndrome” is a whispered curse in the music industry, born of the theory that artists spend short lifetimes pouring their creative energies into a debut album, only to have to match that success with a second one bashed out in the midst of life-changing fame, touring and great expectation.

Famous examples of the sophomore slump include Room on Fire, the rather predictable follow-up to the Strokes’ genre-changing debut, Is This It?, the Stone Roses’ underwhelming Second Coming and the Who’s not-hasty-enough A Quick One. But the same rule applies even to Queen Bey. Beyoncé’s first solo album, Dangerously in Love, remains her best-selling. She followed in the footsteps of Whitney and Britney, whose debuts are still their most commercially successful.

Second album syndrome can filter into normal life, too. There’s the stress that only becomes apparent after a particularly good first six months in a new job, for instance. Or the persistent work necessary to nurture a burgeoning friendship when the thrill of mutual infatuation dissipates. It’s relatively easy to enjoy initial success in something we didn’t hold high expectations for, but it’s far harder to maintain it for the long haul.

Consider that the pressure put on a second album is relatively modern: 50 years ago, artists were given time to flex their creative muscle; Pet Sounds was the Beach Boys’ ninth record. Perhaps we shouldn’t see our first attempt at something as necessarily being our best ever, but simply the best we could do at the time. And then we can be confident that we will grow and develop once we have gained that experience. Jeff Buckley, who sadly died with just one masterpiece-worthy album to his name, offered the following insight: “If you feel blocked, do not turn to others, but look inside, in silence, for the enemy of your progress.” 

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