If you're an artist, odds are that you want to release a masterpiece. Everybody who dedicates themselves to some activity for their whole life wants nothing more than to do/create something that transcends the medium in which they work. But sometimes creating a masterpiece can turn out to be a curse. What happens when you release something so great -- particularly if you do it early in your career -- that you have no hope of living up to those standards ever again? And for a lot of musicians, that peak came and their careers never really recovered. So here are ten records that doomed the bands/artists to a lifetime of "but is it as good as 'Album X.'"
The Dismemberment Plan - Emergency & I
Poor Travis Morrison. It's clear from your first listen that here is a kid that knows his way around hooks and R&B and jagged post-punk layers of noise as well as anybody that came before or after him. Whether it's the slashing guitar riffs of "What Do You Want Me To Say" or the stoner rock of "A Life Of Possibilities" or the understated melancholy of "Spider In The Snow," Emergency & I
worked in a million fields at once without ever feeling like anything other than the D-Plan and Travis Morrison's unique vision of what dance punk could be. Change
was fine but nobody is getting it's album cover tattooed on them and the less said about 2013's Uncanny Valley
Nas - Illmatic
Sorry, Nas. Stillmatic
was cool, and I really liked Life Is Good
when I reviewed it for Baeble back in 2012, but Nas started his career by releasing a solid contender for the greatest rap album of all time when he was just 21 years old. Every album that Nas has released since then has to answer the same question: is it Illmatic
, and although he's had his fair share of success over the year, none of those records will ever capture the public's imagination the way Illmatic
Wu-Tang Clan - Enter the 36 Chambers
This is going to be a theme for this list. Don't release an undisputed, genre-defining masterpiece right out of the gates. You can't live up to those expectations. Individual members of Wu-Tang would go on to release essential records -- Ghostface's Supreme Clientele
and GZA's Liquid Swords
to name a few -- but as a cohesive unit, there's a solid chance that Enter the 36 Chambers
was the only album that the group released that was worth all of that talent being in one space.
Panda Bear - Person Pitch
I hated Person Pitch
the first time I heard it. This was right when I was first getting into contemporary alternative/indie. I was just finding room in my life for the weirdness of Kid A
and Merriweather Post Pavillion
. "Bros" and "Good Girl/Carrots" are each 12+ minute tracks. That's a lot of hyper minimalist freak folk if you aren't prepared for it. But one night -- as is often the case for many challenging pieces of great art -- it clicked. Noah Lennox was breaking pop music down to its most basic elements and rearranging them in an exuberant, kaleidoscopic display. But Tomboy
and Panda Bear vs. the Grim Reaper
will never be as easy to love.
N.W.A - Straight Outta Compton
This is going to seem slightly unfair. Of course, N.W.A. were never able to follow up Straight Outta Compton
. They never released another full length album. As this summer's blockbuster film of the same name showed
, ego, greed, and clashing personalities (and eventually Eazy-E's death from AIDS) tore the group apart. But, nothing from any of the members' solo careers would ever match Straight Outta Compton
. I can hear you all bleating, "The Chronic
!" or "Amerikkka's Most Wanted
!" but you're wrong, and you know you're wrong.
Guns 'n' Roses - Appetite For Destruction
It's no secret why Guns 'n' Roses never lived up to their potential. Axl Rose is a narcissist of the highest order and when you're ingesting as many drugs as these guys were during the 1980s, it was a miracle that they were able to make music in the first place. But...f***. They were great for just one record. The minute the guitars come in during "Welcome to the Jungle," it's clear that Slash is a titanic force to be reckoned with, and Axl is a self-parody at this point, but his wail on that record is as good as 80s hard rock ever got. And there still isn't a better guitar part from the 80s than the intro to "Sweet Child O' Mine."
Soundgarden - Superunknown
Not only did Soundgarden peak on Superunknown
, Chris Cornell's entire career to come would never come close to matching the majesty of one of grunge's big three records. Soundgarden was never going to produce another record this good, and Cornell know it and so Audioslave was foisted upon the world. We're pretty sure that band's existence is a violation of the Geneva Convention, but then, at least it isn't Cornell's solo work.
The Strokes - Is This It
Oh, yeah. We're going there. Sure, the Strokes are still a band that can headline any music festival in the country if they want, but they've been coasting off the goodwill of Is This It
(and to a far, far lesser extent Room On Fire
) for over a decade now. Julian Casablancas and Albert Hammond Jr. are doing great things with their solo careers, but a new The Strokes album has ceased to be an event cause, let's face it, maybe they were never that great to begin with.
Broken Social Scene - You Forgot It In People
As someone who wants a Broken Social Scene reunion more than anything on the planet, it pains me to admit that Broken Social Scene will never be as good as they were on You Forgot It In People
ever again. For what it's worth, Broken Social Scene have a host of good records under their belt, but much like Emergency & I
, this is their only album that is part of the essential canon of contemporary music.
The Killers - Hot Fuss
Considering the mainstays of radio rock that they've become since Hot Fuss
landed in our laps in 2004, it's easy to forget how fresh and new the Killers felt when they first arrived on the scene. They were one of the first mainstream rock bands to fuse dance music and arena rock in any meaningful way since U2's Pop
. And 11 years later, throw that disc in (odds are you bought this as a physical CD before the MP3 won that format war once and for all); you'll be amazed how fresh it can still sound now. Sure, you remember "Mr. Brightside" and "Somebody Told Me" but even the deeper cuts like "Jenny Was a Friend of Mine" and "Smile Like You Mean It" still have urgency and power today. Too bad they were never this good ever again (though Sam's Town
deserves more love than it got).