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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Debut Albums Are Not Always Their Best Albums

Before I start, can I say that I hate the self-titled album concept?  Who came up with this?  Forever we have to say, "You know, man.  The one with the such & such on the cover."  What a treat!  Even worse is when it's not even their first record!!!  Or the ultimate, they do it twice!!!

So, how many times have you heard supposed fans talking about how great that first album was?  Even if they're right it's annoying enough that you wish you could bring the artist in question into the discussion, like Woody Allen does in Annie Hall.  Always, in my experience, it would be fans that were of age when the record came out.  Someone born after a band has been and gone can, possibly, not have that prejudice.  (Not until a band drills home a certain playlist year after year to appease that fan base.)

Luckily, some artists have so many different periods that one has to acknowledge something good about each period.  You would think they could anyway, but I've heard Ziggy era Bowie fans slamming his '80's pop as if it had no value at all.  Of course, these people didn't come back to him when it was time for Tin Machine either.  They were too busy praising the latest watered-down indie guitar sounds of the late '80's.

But let's mention a few debuts that would be eclipsed by better records at a later date, beginning with an artist who, thankfully, gave his first record a name:

Julian Lennon - Valotte This 1984 debut was terribly exciting to imagine when first hearing about it, but was quite a curiousity once in hand.  Hmmmm, he's not a rocker.  Good songs, bad songs, great production, overblown production.  Oh well...I'm in!

This album is Julian's biggest seller for obvious reasons.  "Oh my God, he sounds just like his father!" Well, seemingly so at the time, but not when you get used to his catalog over time.  But, nonetheless, he's got that vocal box in his throat.  It's pretty close!

Also, coming after the death of his famous father, everyone was ready to read into every lyric that he was gonna tell us all his thoughts about it.  He didn't. We read into it anyway, at least emotionally.  Once the world was over it, they were done with Julian too.  Didn't help that his first 3 records were heavy with sappy ballads and the sound of session players being very into their instruments rather than songcraft.  But, a funny thing happened on the way to the third album, Mr. Jordan.  Julian started to experiment.  "Now You're In Heaven" taps into the Robert Palmer style hit with a Bowie vocal.  This would be a sign of a masterpiece still to come, 1991's Help Yourself.  His first record with an actual conceptual cover to match, unlike the first three which had his face.  Also, Bob Ezrin, producing (for better or worse).  This is the album to buy.  Go ahead and get the debut though. It has "Valotte", "Too Late For Goodbyes" and the perfect "Say You're Wrong" and the decent, but dated, "OK For You".  Just know you're gonna get stuck with "Jesse".  The song that still makes me wince.  Chalk it up to storytelling necessity, I guess.

Aerosmith - self-titled  All I can say here is that Get Your Wings is so much better than the first album that everyone probably agrees on this one.  (Think the same could apply to Nirvana's Bleach and Rush's first.)

Led Zeppelin - self-titled  To be realistic, I don't think anyone would say that the second record is better than, just more of the same greatness that was this band.  I personally have reached for the second album more.  Probably because of the short-form songs, but now I don't listen to either.  I prefer to imagine their third as the beginning.  Not nice, I know, but its vibe is just less T&A, so I dig it more as a starting point.

Beatles, Stones, Kinks, Who.  Ok, we don't need to bring up any first wave British Invasion groups.  All these bands re-wrote the book on rock history just as soon as they could break out of the mold.  But, their first albums are from that mold (although they contain some revolutionary songs that we all know).

Blondie - self-titled  After the excitement of variety coming from Plastic Letters, one could almost forget to pull this one off the shelf ever again.  It's a must-have, but, Plastic Letters...wow!

Blur - Leisure  One starts to think there's something good going on amid the repetitious drumming, but hold-up !  Modern Life Is Rubbish comes to show that's it's one of the best records of the '60's that happened to be made in the '90's.  (Same could be said for Nick Lowe's Party Of One in '90 sounding like the '50's.)

Duran Duran - self-titled  Sure the first record has some great stuff, but isn't Rio almost perfect ?!

Eve's Plum - Envy  Don't know if this chick is the real deal after starting a dance-pop career as Vitamin C, but the band deserves credit for great music on the album Cherry Alive.  Envy is phony-bologna though.  I do still like the songs "I Want It All" and "Blue" from it, but Cherry Alive is great song after great song.

Fishbone - self-titled  In Your Face puts the extended play debut to shame.  Nothing more to say on this one.  You'll hear the difference.

Fleetwood Mac - self-titled  Rumours came after this Nicks/Buckingham debut and, uhm, like ... the rest is history.

Hole - The last thing I thought I'd ever do is buy a Hole album, but Celebrity Skin is one of the best moments of the '90's.  Great guitar work and great vocals on great songs.  Hats-off to all involved!

Billy Idol - self-titled  Ok, a few bright spots on an otherwise unnecessary album.  A better piece of product is Rebel Yell, but you know this already.

Interpol - Turn On The Bright Lights  Pleased by the updated version of a Joy Division style band, but thanks for Antics and Our Love To Admire.  Well-rounded indie-rock records instead of straight-out imitation of the avant garde late '70's.

Jethro Tull - This Was  Hard to listen to this one when Stand-Up is so good!

Tom Petty - self-titled & You're Gonna Get It  No brainer here.  Petty and the boys got better with age.

The Police - Weird to think that this band got better with every record and quit while in top form.

Suede - self-titled  I think the Suede of Coming Up is a lot more exciting than the debut album.  I'm sure hardcores are gonna think they were somehow better when slow and redundant, but great songcraft always gets a bigger audience.  They may have gone overboard with Head Music, but the first record bores and ya don't wanna bore a paying fanbase.

     

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