One Album Wonders Part 1 – the Debut Smash

We’ve all been there when the latest band comes out and their debut album is fucking lit. I mean, seriously these guys are going to be next big thing. I can’t wait to tell my friends about this new artist I discovered. Now whenever they are on TV I can smugly tell people that I heard of these guys before everyone else. That’s what’s important to me – people thinking that I discover new bands and help catapult them to fame.

But sometimes, the good times stop rolling and the band can’t follow up their smashing debut with anything even remotely as good. It’s like when M. Night Shyamalan wrote and directed Unbreakable, everyone thought he was going to be the guy. Now people only remember him for ruining the Avatar film.

Despite this, we keep coming back to the band, hoping that their next project will finally live up to the expectations of the debut album. It never materialises. We all have personal tales of having our hearts broken with each successive disappointment.

Kid Cudi - Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager
Kid Cudi is never going to match Man on the Moon, Jack. It’s over.

As music fans we go through the five stages of grief as we struggle to come to accept the grim reality:

Denial: Album two comes out and it is pretty decent, maybe even good. You think everything will be ok, as you play the songs and convince yourself it’s as good as the first one. But it isn’t. You won’t listen to these songs a year or two later.

“It’ll be fine! Even the Beatles had mediocre albums…I think. I’m sure the guys will get it together for the next album and everything will be wonderful again!”

Ben Howard I Forgot Where We Were
I told myself I liked the last Ben Howard album. I haven’t listened to it since 2014

Bargaining: Album three comes out, expectations are lower, but you are still crushed when you hear another mediocre album.

“I’d give anything to have the old sound back”. “What if I devote the rest of my life to helping others. Then can I wake up and realise this has all been a bad dream?”

Anger: This can strike at any time. Usually when the crushing mediocrity gets too much.

“How dare the band do this to me!” “I just heard their latest song on the radio and I had to turn it off because of how awful it was!”

This is similar to when an artist completely changes their sound to get on the radio and alienates older fans. Just ask people who got into The Weeknd back in the House of Balloons days.

Depression: When album four comes out it makes you feel sad. You’re not even angry any more. You grimly play the first track, braced for disappointment.

“I thought the last album was bland, but this is actively bad. I don’t know why I keep going back to the well for more bitter disappointment”.

By this point you are listening out of morbid curiosity. No good can from this.

Sad people
You tell yourself it’s ok. But it isn’t

Acceptance: Not every band widow can enter this stage. Most just get locked in a bitter cycle of depression, bargaining and anger. Acceptance requires letting go and accepting that your one-time favourite band are now terrible.

“I didn’t even realise those guys were still going. I remember when I used to be into them, it feels good to be free. Now the only source of constant disappointment in my life are my children.”

Exhibit A: The Fratellis

The Fratellis are a great example of this. Their first album, Costello Music was totes amazeballs, it came out and everyone loved it. It was indie rock in the style of early Arctic Monkeys. However, instead of colourful stories of taking drugs and meeting strange women in Sheffield; The Fratellis sung about the drugs and women of Glasgow. A winning formula.

The Fratellis - Costello Music

We have to accept that the first Fratellis album was recorded when the band were in a creative and personal space that they no longer inhabit. It’s like expecting the Arctic Monkeys to leave their glamourous Los Angeles life of models and sun tans and go back to getting drunk on the streets of Sheffield.

I recently went to a Fratellis concert, a ten year tribute to Costello Music. A bad sign, because the band has only been going for twelve years. Their last album was released in 2015, but people only want them to re-live the glory days.

The band played some of their newer material, but the lackluster crowd reaction just made things awkward. Hearing the newer songs just bummed everyone out. If the concert was 2 hours of “Chelsea Dagger”, people would have been happy.

People clearly agree; here are the band’s top 5 most popular songs in Spotify. All from the first album:

The Fratellis top Spotify songs

Exhibit B: Kid Cudi

Kid Cudi - Man on the Moon: The End of Day

This one hurt. Cudi’s debut Man on the Moon came out in 2009 and immediately felt like a new sub-genre was born, psychedelic hip-hop. I loved the album to extent that I have lived much of my adult life in denial about Kid Cudi’s musical ability. With each disappointing project, my hopes were raised for a triumphant return to form.

Kid Cudi Facebook post
People still give me grief about this status to this day. Fully deserved

With each passing year, I have had this foolish optimism beaten out of me, in the musical equivalent of supporting West Ham.

Hope died in 2015 with the release of the horrendous Speeding Bullet to Heaven; literally one of the worst albums I’ve ever had to listen to. The whole thing is just incomprehensible through the drug-induced haze, and not in a good way.

Kid Cudi - Speedin' Bullet 2 Heaven
Abandon all hope, ye who enter here

Then The Life of Pablo came out last year and Cudder sounded fantastic on his two featured tracks. Kanye West has always brought the best out of Kid Cudi, as West executively produced Man on the Moon. It should be noted that Cudi came to prominence on West’s GOOD Music label and was instrumental to the atmospheric brilliance of 808s and Heartbreak.

My hopes were raised for Kid Cudi’s much-delayed 2016 album Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin’; instead we got a bloated project that overstayed its welcome at a staggering 1h 26 minutes in length. Literally the length of the film Chronicle, but instead of coherent ideas and song structures it was just a collection of hummings.

Picture the film Chronicle, but all the dialogue was hummed

When you have been suckered into emotional investment after an exceptionally good first album, it can be difficult to let go. I clearly still haven’t learned my lesson.

Exhibit C: B.o.B

In 2010, B.o.B released B.o.B Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray, which was pretty good, combining hip-hop with a strong indie rock influence. The album was littered with successful singles like “Nothin’ on You”, which went #1 in the UK and US singles charts and introduced the world to Bruno Mars.

B.o.B Presents: The Adventures of Bobby Ray

Aside from commercial success there were thought-provoking moments like the rock track, “Letters from Vietnam”, where we get the story of a soldier in the Vietnam War and his doomed romance with his girlfriend back home.

Many of the tracks on the album were self-produced and B.o.B sang many of the hooks; he seemed destined to dominate hip-hop for the rest of the decade.

The 2012 follow up, Strange Clouds was classic Sequel Escalation. An action movie sequel usually contains the same story as the first, but with more fights and explosions; Strange Clouds showed this trope in album-form.

Rambo films - death count

Case in point, Morgan Freeman narrates the opening track. Was this necessary!?

morgan freeman - bombs away
Literally the first lines on the album

Freeman builds up a dramatic idea of a war between good and evil, teasing a potential concept album. This is immediately ignored on the second track “Ray Bands”, a song about how there are loads of gold diggers in Bobby Ray’s life now that he’s successful. The biggest waste of Morgan Freeman since Evan Almighty.

B.o.B was last seen claiming that the earth is flat:

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson tried to inject some (confusing) science to help Bobby Ray understand that the Earth is round.

Bobby Ray is a rapper, and the evidence against him was overwhelming. He responded the only way he knew how. By releasing a diss song about why an Astrophysicist is wrong about the curvature of the Earth. The song is creativity-titled “Flatline” and blames a Zionist conspiracy for suppressing the truth:

I’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate B.o.B for recording the most ignorant rap song of 2016; narrowly beating Gucci Mane and Kanye West’s “Pussy Print” to the prestigious honour.

pussy print lyrics - gucci mane and Kanye West

The Flat Earth Society has now welcomed B.o.B into their ranks, their official statement reads:

“Bobby Ray Simmons, Jr. has been championing the Flat Earth cause as well other unconventional ideas like celebrity cloning… his efforts included a recent release of his mixtape E.A.R.T.H. highlighting the flat earth and other controversial issues on Earth Day 2016.”

I think it’s safe to conclude that B.o.B isn’t going to record another album of note and is fast becoming the Tila Tequila of hip-hop. Let’s move on.

B.o.B - flat earth society
Pictured: The only plaques B.o.B is getting these days

There are many artists out there that impressed with their first project and never managed to live up to the lofty expectations they set. It’s a tightrope act.

It’s important to remember that producing just one album of transcendent quality is more than many artists can manage and that should be commended. Let’s just let the good times roll and not get too upset when people fail to match these expectations.

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Host of Culture Hash, writer of music, TV and film opinions

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