(A Belated) Music Mondays – 10 Fantastic Sophomore Efforts

After 2010’s Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty, the hip-hop community got to see how good Big Boi really is. With no Andre 3000 pairing, Big Boi made some fans forget Outkast, with an album that was both catchy and faithful to his southern roots.

To call Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors, which drops next Tuesday, a sophomore effort doesn’t feel quite right, since he released six albums with Andre 3000. Regardless, it’s a sophomore solo effort, and compared to fellow rapper with a recent release, Wiz Khalifa, Big Boi definitely succeeded on his second go around. (I’ll get to that next week.)

To honor the upcoming (and future classic) release, here are some of the best sophomore albums.


1. Radiohead, The Bends

Pablo Honey is widely dismissed by most Radiohead fans, especially because the band themselves refused to acknowledge even the album’s most popular track. What made this omission easier was how great The Bends was, which helped propel Radiohead to critical and commercial success.

Within the Radiohead spectrum, The Bends is certainly on the lighter, more traditional side. The simplicity of songs such as “Fake Plastic Trees” compared to songs like “Codex” off of King of Limbs show how much this band has developed. There’s also definitely still a hint of Pablo Honey in this album, in songs like “My Iron Lung” and “Bones.” However, those somewhat turbulent tracks really make softer tracks stand out, specifically “Street Spirit (Fade Out),” which fans consider to be one of the best songs from the Radiohead discography.


2. Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin II

Is it unfair to include a legendary rock group on this list? Of course it is. Does the fact that the band released their second album in the same year as their debut also make this inclusion susceptible? Absolutely. But it’s just too hard to ignore the classics.

Led Zeppelin II might be up their with the fourth album (“Black Dog,” “Rock and Roll,” “Stairway to Heaven,” “When the Levee Breaks”) for Zeppelin albums with commercial appeal. “Whole Lotta Love” was a huge hit in the United States, peaking higher here than it did in the U.K. charts. Other songs such as “Heartbreaker,” “What Is and What Never Should Be,” and “Bring It On Home” also had sticking power, being covered countless times while setting the standard for classic rock.


3. Clipse, Lord Willin’

While one of the greatest contributions to hip-hop, Hell Hath Fury, er…eclipsed their sophomore effort, Lord Willin’ still did a great job introducing this rapping duo. With a hard, southern style and a pair of rappers (Pusha T, Malice) who gelled really well together, Clipse was further proof that the dirty south is hard to beat.

Right off the bat, this album features a hard-hitting hookless track that gives listeners a look into the rapper’s backgrounds. Other Neptune-produced tracks really give this album a distinct feel. There’s just a coldness to songs like “Virginia” and “Grindin’,” balanced out by the funky vivaciousness of songs like “Young Boy” and “Ma, I Don’t Love Her.” When it comes down to it, Lord Willin’ was a huge stepping stone for the hip-hop classic, Hell Hath Fury.


4. Gorillaz, Demon Days

Like Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors, it’s hard to call Demon Days a sophomore effort. Frontman Damon Albarn had been around a while before this animated project, releasing six albums with Blur. The concept of an animated band caught people by surprise, so the big question for Demon Days was whether or not this was a gimmick or actually good music.

But the answer was easy after the album finally came out. Like the self-titled debut album, Demon Days had an eclectic mix of offerings, from spoken word by the late great Dennis Hopper in “Fire Coming Out of a Monkey’s Head”, to the euro-club hit “DARE,” to the moody, synth-heavy “Every Planet We Reach Is Dead.” The first single off of Demon Days, “Feel Good Inc,” was a huge hit for the group, which more or less used the same formula as their first big hit, “Clint Eastwood.” Actually, there were even more Clint Eastwood references…


5. GZA, Liquid Swords 

Maybe this list should just be called “10 Fantastic Albums From Artists Who Left The Group That Made Them Popular.” Because apparently brevity isn’t really my thing. Anyways, GZA’s Liquid Swords really showed what an intelligent rapper “The Genius” is. Supported with clips from Shogun Assassin, GZA’s second solo album became an essential part of hip-hop. It definitely wasn’t the type of commercial music you hear today, but man was it a great album.

Aside from boasting one of the best songs within the Wu-Tang discography (the one above), Liquid Swords had other great tracks with some Wu-Tang alumni features as well. In fact, “Cold World,” “Duel of the Iron Mic,” and “Shadowboxin’,” arguably the best songs on the album, had features from Inspectah Deck, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Method Man, and Masta Killa. They also all featured sound clips from kung-fu movies, but that’s beside the point.


6. System of a DownToxicity

“WAKE UP. BGSDKJWEOXSVSS, MAKE UP…YOU WANTED TO.” People not knowing the lyrics to “Chop Suey” aside, Toxicity was a great album for the metal community. So many people were introduced to the genre through System of a Down’s (very) accessible sophomore album. At the same time SOAD stayed true to their roots with some heavier songs, but there was certainly a little something for everyone.

Toxicity definitely had an effect on listeners, drawing in new metal heads. Songs like “Toxicity” really showed that even if it’s raucous, there’s still musicianship in metal. Serj Tankian has one of the best voices in all of music, let alone  metal, and John Dolmayan, like most drummers of the genre, has some serious chops. Though not on display in Toxicity, Daron Malakian has some pipes too. While Toxicity, with tracks like “Prison Song,” “Psycho,” and “X,” is not for a passive listener, songs such as “Aerials,” come off as a great match for listeners looking to branch out.


7. Outkast, ATLiens

While it didn’t have the singles that Stankonia and Speakerboxxx/The Love Below had, ATLiens was a tighter, better album. Outkast’s second effort didn’t venture away from Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik‘s, but built upon it. Aquemini would also follow the same southern/jazzy/funky feel, before the group went off in a new direction, with their fourth album (Stankonia).

The titular track is absolute fire, and deservedly the album’s namesake. Aside from “ATLiens,” other tracks such as “Wheelz of Steel,” “Jazzy Belles,” and “Mainstream,” pay dues to their southern roots, and like UGK and Nappy Roots, helped shed light on the subgenre. And trust me, Big Boi’s latest “sophomore effort” is up to par with ATLiens.


8. Why?, Alopecia

When Elephant Eyelash first came out, Why? might not have been the question, but rather “What The…?” An odd folk/indie rock/hip-hop group whose genre-defying eccentricities pale in comparison to its lyrical ones, Why? somehow found success with their sophomore effort, Alopecia. A sardonic and dark album, Alopecia, borders on unlistenable. At the same time, it’s incredibly addicting and catchy.

Singer Yoni Wold can come off as whiney and a hipster stereotype, but his voice is just perfect for this mash-up of genres. There are few upbeat songs on Apolecia, but “A Sky for Shoeing Horses Under,” and “Simeon’s Dilemma” offer some lighter instrumentation. Other songs such as “The Vowels Pt. 2,” “The Hollows,” and “By Torpedo or Crohn’s” offer that distinct Why? sound. If you’re looking for something different, this is certainly the album for it.


9. Nirvana, Nevermind

When people think of Nirvana albums, the thought process goes Nevermind, In Utero, and then uh…Bleach? Nirvana’s debut album became an afterthought after the Seattle band’s manic-depressive Nevermind came out. The majority of the band’s best-known songs come from this album, including their biggest hit, “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” which has a whopping 91 million views, a high total for a song that was released pre-YouTube. 

Nevermind is an essential album for any music fan. Partially propelled by the tragic death of Kurt Cobain, this album got a second coming and is still relevant today. It even turned an entire city into a grungy stereotype, spawned garage bands for years to come, and launched the career of rock ‘n’ roll journeyman David Grohl. Aside from the megahit, there are equally great songs such as “In Bloom,” “As You Are,” and “Lithium.” The album offers the best Nirvana had to offer and is an immortal album in the rock community.


10. Kanye West, Late Registration

With plenty of production credits under his belt, it took West until 2005 to release his second ever album. Late Registration still held onto Kanye’s soulful sampling roots, but eventually set him up to be the pop cultural icon that he is today. Kanye had enough pull in the music community from his work with Jay-Z that he had plenty of features in both The College Dropout and Late Registration, which certainly helped him here.

One of the most popular singles of the 00s, “Gold Digger” became huge, thanks to a nice little push from Jamie Foxx’s incredible performance in RayLate Registration also boasts the diva-esque “Diamonds from Sierra Leone,” and Lupe Fiasco’s big break via “Touch the Sky.” West didn’t completely deviate from his style in his debut, however, and the thoughtfulness of “Roses,” and “Hey Mama” really show that as well.


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