The perks of being a successful musician are undeniable and well known.
There is frequent ego massage, the right to demand only blue Skittles and red socks on your tour rider and a life totally free of the banalities of office life. That means no idle chitchat with co-workers about their various medical conditions and no boring corporate outings. I’ve also been told that attractive women have something of a passing interest in men of this particular occupation.
Sure, the benefits package isn’t peerless, and you have to work a weekend here and there, but being a rock star is not bad work if you can get it.
But all of that — the women, the Skittles and the socks — hinges on one’s ability to write great songs and do so on a regular basis.
This is a feat much harder than it seems, and one that has claimed the relevance of many artists and bands once seen as “the next big thing.”
We Are Scientists, Bloc Party, Editors, Kid Cudi and The Cool Kids all put out records so promising and buzzworthy that their continued success seemed like a foregone conclusion.
That is, until their lackluster follow-up records were released and it became clear that all had succumbed to the dreaded “sophomore slump.”
And it’s easy to see why this happens so frequently in popular music.
The records that put each of these artists on the map were all conceived purely, without pretense and, perhaps most importantly of all, without the pressure of having to again find lightning in a bottle.
Even otherwise successful artists have succumbed to this musical phenomena.
The Strokes followed up the iconic “Is This It?” with the dreadfully lackluster “Room on Fire;” Kanye West’s “Late Registration” was an abject disappointment; Lauryn Hill never offered another full-length album after releasing “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” in 1998.
The sophomore slump is insatiable, and it is sizing up another crop of promising new bands.
Music lovers, myself included, are eagerly awaiting more albums from Young the Giant, Foster the People, The Head and the Heart, Two Door Cinema Club, and Mumford and Sons, who will release “Babel,” their long-awaited follow-up to “Sigh No More,” in September.
If history is any indication, one of these albums will be a masterpiece and the rest will leave us wondering what might have been.
I’m willing to wager “Babel” will fall into the latter of these two categories. Marcus Mumford’s shrill, gravely voice became significantly less enjoyable upon repeated listening of “Sigh No More.” I hope I’m wrong but I don’t think I will be.
Besides, Mumford has since married actress Carey Mulligan. Life is not so hard, pal.
This week, we celebrate artists who defied the sophomore slump and proved that their success was no fluke.
Here’s hoping the next album from The Head and the Heart is a masterpiece. I’ll be a little shattered if it isn’t. No pressure, though.
• The Gaslight Anthem, “ ’45’” — Not technically a sophomore album but The Gaslight Anthem followed up 2010’s “American Slang,” a record that broke this New Jersey band into the mainstream, with the equally great “Handwritten.”
• Arctic Monkeys, “505” — Arctic Monkeys exploded onto the scene with “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not” and proved they belonged there with “Favourite Worst Nightmare.”
• The White Stripes, “The Hardest Button to Button” — “Fell in Love with a Girl” put Jack and Meg White on the map. Songs like this kept them there.
• Panic! at the Disco, “That Green Gentleman (Things Have Changed)” — I may have been the only one impressed by this band’s 2008 release, “Pretty. Odd.,” but the follow-up showed undeniable musical growth and promise. Sadly, the band broke up shortly thereafter.
• Coldplay, “God Put a Smile Upon Your Face” — “Rush of Blood to the Head” is Coldplay’s “The Godfather Part II.”
• Ra Ra Riot, “Shadowcasting” — I feared Ra Ra Riot would not be able to top 2007’s “The Rhumb Line,” but they came awfully close with “The Orchard.”
• Keane, “Leaving So Soon?” — “Hopes and Fears” is a phenomenal record. “Under the Iron Sea” might be better.
• Adele, “Someone Like You” — Leave it to Adele to elude the sophomore slump in such dazzling fashion.